Whenever I tell someone about my past as a historian, or that I was planning on being a professor, they always ask the same question: “So how’d you end up doing this?” Lately I’ve come to realize that that is not the question they should be asking. There are a lot of reasons why I ended up where I am, working in IT rather than academia, and all of them are because I had certain immediate needs and opportunities. None of those still exist. The real questions are: Why did I not go back? Why am I still here?
The answer, my friends, is simple. I sold out. And I’m happy with that fact.
Tonight I’m going to go play a game that requires me to spend hundreds of dollars on cardboard every year. A few weeks ago I took a rather pretty gal out to dinner and a movie without even thinking about the money it cost me. These are things that middle-class people can do at will.
A few years ago taking a girl out to dinner and movie required mental gymnastics to figure out what I was going to give up to make that possible. I barely had money to spend on food, much less games, books, or HDTV. I had a Netflix account, the internet, and my old game collection, and I had to make it count. What books I did read were for classes or research, and that cost thousands of dollars in non-negotiable money a year. Money I didn’t actually have.
So why am I not a historian anymore? Because, dear Internet, as much as I loved spending all of my time solving centuries old puzzles, as much as I loved my job being to debate with other smart people over minute differences in our views on the sociology of people who were dead before the languages we were using to discuss them even existed…I love my consume whore side more. It’s just true.
I like my job, and I love the people I work with, but I’m not going to pretend I’m changing the world by being here. For all that I was accomplishing intellectually as a historian, part of me was deeply unhappy that I couldn’t enjoy a lot of the simple pleasures in life. Now I can buy a Kindle book without even thinking, I can order a pizza without wondering if I can pay rent, and I own a house. Would I eventually have obtained all of those things in academia? Of course! The difference is the time frames involved. Five more years of living in complete poverty and another five after that of publish-or-perish hell? In another seven years here I’ll be making twice what I would have made even with tenure.
So yeah, I sold out. I sold my intellectual soul for my materialistic pleasures. Sometimes I still worry that I’m not the person I could have been because of it. But most of the time? Most of the time I’m just happy that on Friday night my friends & I can go out for steak and pool without requiring an act of congress.