… is hard to do.

Brauhster made a comment that retiring from one’s career is akin to divorce. I think that this is a good point. There are many parallels.

The mental change one undergoes or must undergo to leave one’s career is similar to breaking up a long-term relationship. This is significantly different from hopping from job to job which is more comparable to a series of flings, that is, high frequency serial monogamy.

I was “married” to my career for almost 17 years (counting my initial obsession, my masters and phd, and my two postdoc positions). This qualified as about half my lifetime at the time, which can be considered a long time no matter how old you are. It was in that sense not just been a job, but more like a partner; and in this case a partner, who has been with me far longer than any of my flesh and blood partners. It was what I thought about in the shower in the morning (get your mind out of the gutter 😛 ) and it was the last thing I thought about before I went to sleep. Sometimes I have gotten up after going to bed to write down a few notes.A career can also be thought of as a partner in terms of how you interact with it. Is it prestigious (hot?)? Does it require sacrifice e.g. you have to move to Podunk, Elbonia to stay with it? Does it take you to interesting places? Does it do performance reviews? Does your marriage have to be renewed every two years? Does it make you think? Do you have fun together? Does it provide well for you? Is your relationship meaningful? Does it love you back? Does it exploit you?

Ever thought of how your career is as a partner?

(Post your answer in the comments, creative types may draw and submit a picture 😎 )

Some break ups are easy to narrow down to a single cause (e.g. your partner one day without provocation decides to squeeze the toothpaste tube in the middle, WTH?! 😀 ), but many break-ups come about because of so-called “irreconcilable differences” which in euphemistic business parlance turns into “to pursue other interests”; so practically the same thing. In that case one spends, in my case, years trying to reconcile those differences, and if it works, great, and if it doesn’t, well, not so great.

The alternative is to live in “convenient/comfortable misery” — something I hear a lot e.g. “I don’t like my job/spouse/whatever, but I like the security and predictability and changing would be too risky/much work …”

With such an “irreconcilable differences”/”pursing other interests”-type break-up, both career and partner-wise, I think one generally remains on a friendly footing, after all, there are still things about the partner one likes that caused the attraction in the first place. However, the partner or career is just not going to be so much a part of one’s life as it once was. “I’ll call you, … eventually”.

I also think, but I may be biased by personal experience or personality, that effectively such break-ups are not as instant as the single event of the break-up suggests. For instance, I started considering other options 4 years before I finally quit (after the first “irreconcilable differences surfaced”), I put out material feelers a year before I quit, and I found a likely replacement 6 months later, all while continuing to give my present situation “yet another chance” up until the final point in time trying to make it work. After that it happened pretty fast. “Like telling your partner, you’re seeing someone else”-kind of fast 😀

The funny thing is that while things change externally at that point, very little really changes internally. Some have asked me how I’ve felt about it. Answer: “Nothing, really”. In that sense, “we” probably grew apart long ago.

I guess none of this really applies if you’re what is called “professional”. Now I expect some arguments because not everybody understand the word “professional” in the same way I do. For me to be a professional means turning your brain-skills into a machine component as much as “humanly” possible. I do not see any particular virtue in that (seems like a soul-less protestant work ethic inspired means of controlling the creative class) and in my opinion that is no way to live. Consider whether you would be willing to treat your relationship to your spouse on a “professional” basis or whether you’d marry someone who was a “professional” spouse? We call this prostitution. Why should your career, your life’s work, be like that?

Originally posted 2009-03-19 11:05:22.