The Altac Chronicles, Episode 1: Job (In)Security

Cross-posted from my blog, Words Are My Game:

Mid February, and Spring Training was days away.

He was in Houston, the day after the press conference that announced he was the new voice of the Astros. I went to work because, well, it’s what I do on Thursdays. It’s what I do Monday through Friday, actually. He didn’t know that I was getting increasingly anxious while he drove around Houston looking for a new apartment for our family to live in. I had revealed to my co-workers that he had gotten this unique, exciting opportunity, and that we would be moving to Houston. But when I was alone in my office my heart beat a little faster.

A lot happened in a matter of no time.

He would return that night, only to leave in the next few days for Florida to watch this new team try each other out before baseball season began. I don’t remember if he already had his Spring Training plane tickets, but it was around the corner and it was going to happen. I knew that this was that time of year when he had to leave. I’m used to that.

I’m never used to that.

There is a segment of the population that lives like this, with significant others who travel constantly for work. I’m sure any of them will say, you never get used to it. You tell yourself you are, but you’re not.

There’s always an adjustment period. Your sleep patterns change a little. Your routine changes a little. You have to remind yourself that your significant other won’t come home that night and so whatever dishes you left in the sink that morning are still sitting in the sink at night. You figure out what you’re going to do with the kids, if you have kids. You plan ahead to who is coming when and when you’ll go out with your friends. I can do it alone, I tell myself.

I can’t do it alone.

This time, though, I had to adjust to the thought that I wouldn’t seem him until after 90 days, that when I saw him again we would be in another zip code, months from now. I don’t know if he had to adjust to that idea, or to the fact that he will no longer call Kansas City home. Or that KCI will no longer be the end destination of his flights. Maybe he didn’t have enough time for that. Me, I started dealing with that the moment he asked me “what if I’m offered the job?”

This is not a post about regretting my answer to that question. (I said “we’ll go,” if you’re wondering.) I’m looking forward to the move, and I don’t regret my answer. This is a post about letting go. Letting go of a job and letting go of a city.

He was in Houston looking at apartments. I was jittery, in my office by myself. My anxiety medication wasn’t really helping, I felt. All of a sudden the flood of thoughts appeared from out of nowhere. Where am I going? What am I doing? How do I pick up and just go? I can’t. I can’t.

I have done this before. Leave one place for another. Leave one place because he had a job in another.  I know that some people judge women like me. This post isn’t about that. This post is about how someone who is as career-oriented as I am handles switching.

I did a PhD. I know what it’s like to commit to a career track.

You see, academia has always told us you go where the jobs are. Major League Baseball is like that. However, I decided that I was more comfortable being an alternative academic because I knew it gave me more flexibility, more options. I didn’t like the options the tenure track was offering me. (Or taunting me, your choice.)  But now, now that I leave a job that, frankly, I made mine, I feel the tug of that flexibility.

I broke down that morning. In the quiet of my office, a Thursday when no one was around and when we had no consultations scheduled, I broke down and cried. The anxiety of not knowing what my next step was crumpled inside that spot right in the center of my chest, and the tears came roaring upwards and outwards. I tried to be quiet, so I cried into my scarf. I texted him, barely seeing the letters on my iPhone’s screen. I didn’t know who else to talk to.

I texted him, asking him if he was around to talk. We couldn’t, not right then. He said he could call me later. I had a meeting in half an hour. I felt my chest starting to shake, tears coming up again. I eventually called my mom, the last person I wanted to talk to– I didn’t want her to worry.

She worries sometimes.

I talked through the feelings that were crumpling in my chest. I looked forward to moving to Houston, but I minded leaving my job and my friends, the things that made Kansas City a home for me. After years of frustration, of indecision, of anger, and of confusion, I was finally in much better shape, career-wise, and in a city I enjoy. I felt afraid of leaving that, of leaving that stable environment. I was afraid of going to Houston and starting from scratch. I was afraid of falling into depression again, the kind of depression that kept me wondering about what the heck I was doing with my life if my PhD doesn’t mean anything in the tenure track job market. (I blogged about that too.) I was afraid.

Nowadays I feel more comfortable with the idea, and I know that alternative academic careers are just that: careers. And careers are comprised of jobs. But I still won’t be entirely comfortable until I know where my career continues in Houston.