Really. It is a job. It’s not a calling.* It’s not the route to superiority. The PhD is a job qualification just the same as a plumber’s license or RN or bookkeeping license or what have you. It qualifies you to teach certain kinds of students and to do certain kinds of research.
Some folks get caught up in the maximization aspect of tenure– all their lives they’ve been getting good enough grades to go to a great college, then great grades in order to go to graduate school, then struggling in graduate school to try to win. There’s a defined path up and pressure to reach for the golden ring of being a tenured full professor at a top R1. Just knowing what to strive for when you’ve been striving all your life can be easier, even if leaving that path might make you happier. The world out there is a great unknown.
Leaving academia does not make you a failure. Once you’ve left there’s a big world outside where nobody cares if you’re a professor. They’re just impressed you got the PhD. And maybe they care more about your car or your house, but you should still make those choices based on your priorities and what you can afford.
Do a cost-benefit analysis about what is important. Weigh the pros, and the cons. Academia has nice things, like flexibility, academic freedom, tenure, working with other PhDs, and so on. But it also has downsides– you don’t get to choose where you live, lower salaries, the tenure clock can be harsh, you may not like those other PhDs you’re tenured with and see all the time, and so on. Think really hard about whether or not what other people think should enter into your cost-benefit analysis.
Do people on the TT feel superior to those not on it? Probably only the insecure ones. The rest of us, the majority of us, don’t really think about anyone but our own little circles of families and friends, just like most people. Most of us on the TT realize that we are partly here because of luck and persistence; we all have friends who are just as smart as we are (or smarter!) who haven’t been able to land a TT job in their field because of the market (or, even more impressively, have done that cost-benefit analysis and have willingly chosen not to!).
For all our non-pf readers, we strongly recommend you read Your Money or Your Life: Revised and Updated for the 21st Century.
See, there’s another way you can win at life by maximizing something, if you still want your ambition to head up a straight path. You can become financially independent. Then if you’re financially independent, who cares if you enjoy teaching students in your spare time or writing papers or doing volunteering or what have you. The rat race is just an aside. And you can feel superior to everyone else stuck striving for something they may never reach.
Or you can just live your life moving forward in whatever direction the future takes you. We all end up at the same destination, so enjoy your individual journey. It takes energy we don’t have in order to care what other people think of us.
*Hint: A calling is what they call it when they want you to do it for no money. If fewer people were fooled by this “calling” garbage, then people wouldn’t be willing to do academia for no money. We want more money, not more dancing dogs. I didn’t get into academia for the money, but I didn’t get in it to be screwed over, either.
How did you choose your job/profession?