Midlife crisis averted

It’s big announcement time. I am leaving my job as a tenured, salaried, health-benefitted full professor at a charming liberal arts college to begin a full-time career as a knitter.


No, actually, I’m not kidding. As of May 2011, I’ll be on leave from Southwestern and I doubt that I will be returning.

The nervousness you hear in my voice is what “disbelief at my own audacity” sounds like. Yes, I’m actually doing it — that thing that just about every crafting blogger says that they want to do but quite reasonably balks at after assessing the very considerable risks. And I could not be happier. Happy but nervous. I repeat this again, nervously, but you know what? I like happy but nervous. It reminds me of that delicious feeling that you get before going out on stage to perform in a play. You could fail so so miserably and so so publicly — but without that risk how else could you get that electric goosepimply feeling?

To cut to the chase: what will I be doing to support myself? Or, to put a finer point on it, what will I be doing to meet my goal of earning at least half what I have as a professor? Mainly working at Hill Country Weavers, a venerable yarn store that has been an Austin institution for 30 years. It’s a great place to work for all kinds of reasons, not least that it has an inspiringly creative and engaging clientele, more kinds of yarn than you thought it was possible to fit in a Victorian bungalow, and an amazing location on Austin’s quirky South Congress Avenue.

I have lots of additional schemes in mind, many of which I have already begun: designing my own knitwear, teaching knitting classes, freelance writing, podcasting…. It’s all very exciting. In fact, it made me a little sad the other day to realize how many years it had been since I had had that feeling.

It’s funny, you know: for over a decade now, I have been mentoring college students who are making their way out into the world of work. There are these things that I tell them over and over again, such as:

  • “People will keep asking you what you are going to do with the rest of your life. You don’t have to know what you’re going to do with the rest of your life. You just have to have a plan for the next few years.”
  • “What can you do with a major in history? Put it in a nice frame and hang it on the wall. And then use what you have learned in all of your classes and go get the most amazing job you can find.”

I have other stock speeches that I’ve built up over time, but it’s struck me in recent months how much I need to heed my own words in these two. Yes, I spent six years in graduate school and then the typical harrowing time on the academic job market trying to get one of the handful of jobs available. Yes, I worked my butt off to earn tenure. And you know what? I don’t regret any of it. I learned so much from being a teacher and a scholar. But I have entered a phase in my life where I need something more tactile. In short, I can’t let the fact that I’ve worked so hard to get to this place in my academic career keep me from pursuing my passions in this new direction.

It has been even harder for me to heed my own advice about planning for the future. I’m the kind of person who needs to know what’s next. Not just tomorrow but a decade from now. The trait has stood me in good stead in a lot of ways, but I have decided that I also could stand to relax that impulse a little. I don’t have to know exactly where all this is heading. I just need a good plan for now, and then we’ll just have to see.

It feels good to release this news out to you all in the world, some of whom are very good friends, some of whom have become dear to me through the magic of online connection, and some of whom are complete strangers. Each step like this makes my decision feel that much more official, and it’s like all my internal organs suddenly got a bit more buoyant. I think I have been putting off this more public announcement (and thus my lack of blogging lately), but in the end, you can’t fight buoyancy.

22 thoughts on “Midlife crisis averted

  1. Congratulations! It felt like walking off a cliff when I did it, but the incredible sense of rightness has been worth it. There are still tough days – times when I despair over the state of the bank account and feel overwhelmed by the unforgivingly 1:1 correlation between what I can produce on a given day and what we have to buy groceries with that week. But I figure life is tough all over, and this path is so much better in so many ways than the alternative.

    • That’s pretty much exactly how I picture it going for me too, Ruth. It gives me a great deal of comfort that after having all of those feelings about financial security, etc., that you still think you made the right decision. You certainly have the talent to make it work.

  2. WOW!!!!!!! That’s amazing!!!!!!!!!! Congrats! And best of luck!!!! I teach high school….and I would jump ship if I could afford it…but student loans from grad school….yeah. Not fun.

    You give me hope though! Congrats on your new adventure!

    • Thanks for your support! I hear you about the loans — I’m at the point where I’m just about to finish paying them off, so that definitely makes this more possible. I wish you all the best on your journey, too!

  3. Wow! Good luck to you. I guess that you are working at that knit shop now? I’m trying to figure out how to get a cool job in a LYS but there are only like two in my area. So I’m trying to get my teaching certification to work at our Michael’s but I don’t know if that will happen.

    Good luck with your designs. They look great!

    • Thanks for the good wishes, Katherine. I’m still working full time at my university until May, so while I am working a bit at my yarn store (mostly teaching classes), it won’t be full-on until this summer.

      I think teaching is a smart road to go. It generally pays a lot better than the hourly rate in yarn stores, plus it will give you more advanced knowledge that you could use to parlay a store job should you decide you want one. You also might want to look into teaching at one of the fiber festivals or knitting conventions.

    • I am very lucky, Mary Lou — that is for sure. If I’m going off the cliff, it’s nice to have a grapple hook and rope with me.

  4. I feel like I just finished a great first novel. The next few months will be filled with anticipation of the release of the next book in the series, for which I will wait in the rain at midnight. You are my hero.

    • Ellen, I don’t know if you realize how much your support means to me. It’s funny: we’ve only known each other a short while, and had even less time together in person, but now whenever I feel moments of self doubt, yours is the first face that pops into my imagination, and you are always saying with utmost confidence, “You can do it!” Maybe you should start wearing a kerchief and roll up your sleeves and make a muscle like in the WW2 posters. 🙂

  5. What an exciting decision! It’s inspiring to see someone make a leap into the unknown. And I am sure that you will be a success. You have the creativity and enthusiasm to make it work. I’ll be looking forward to seeing more of your designs.
    Nancy (from the Folk School class last March)

    • Nancy! How nice to hear from you. I especially appreciate your support, as someone who knows both where I’m coming from professionally and the lure of the knit.

    • … and you win the award for most gut-busting comment, Allyson! It’s encouraging to know that you’ve made a successful go of it.

  6. Pingback: Freebird | Dark Matter Knits

  7. I just stumbled on your blog, and I’m so impressed with your decision. I’m also an academic and I think it’s very brave of you to leave academia. Very inspiring. Now that it has been a few years since you left, do you ever miss it?

  8. Pingback: The big career move, nearly two years on | Dark Matter Knits

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