My résumé is getting shorter. Like a participant in the witness-protection program, I am trying to delete much of my history, but instead of dangerous, my employment in the past decade has simply become irrelevant. Skills I perfected in the corporate world, listed in succinct, active-voice bullet points, do not concern the people I am trying to impress in university English departments.
Turning my detailed corporate résumé into a CV for academe has become an exercise in self-evaluation that extends beyond carefully cutting and pasting.
Adding the new things, the relevant things—a new graduate degree, literary-journal publications, classes taught as a TA—is easy. I carefully add dates in Cambria, a font I have deemed both professional and distinct. But when it comes to erasing my past work and accomplishments, the conversion feels like I'm breaching some internal contract.
I read through the summation of the past 10 years—the whole of my adult life so far, really—and feel an odd sense of pride. I don't kid myself into believing that the work I did was important to the world in any way. My company sold project-management training classes to other corporations, which is as boring as it sounds. But still, I took it seriously, and more important, I was good at it. There was no RateMyAssistantMarketingDirector Web site in which clients could log in and comment on my performance or my attire, and so as long as I kept getting raises I felt confident.
"I was really good at my job," I tell my boyfriend, who did not know me then. "You know how I'm always doubting myself as an instructor now? Yeah, I didn't do that at my old job."
Today, as an adjunct instructor fresh out of an M.F.A. program in creative writing, I bathe in doubt every morning, even if the focus is mostly monetary. Deciding to quit my job three years ago to attend graduate school was not easy. At the time it felt like a cop-out: You can't just spend life doing something fun and interesting, I thought; you have to work.
I now see the error in that kind of thinking. The life of an adjunct is, of course, one of contrasts. Financially, it's quite possibly one of the poorest decisions a person can make, and there is often no health insurance or guarantee of steady work from one semester to the next.
Yet in many ways, it's a great job. Working as an adjunct provides an outlet to "practice" teaching, so to speak, and to be creative in a way for which I never imagined being paid even this small amount. Without getting into a sunny, motivational discussion about following one's dreams, I will say that I am significantly happier working in academe today than I was in the corporate sector. The writing is going better than I expected, and most days, I am eager to arrive on the campus and start the day.
Teaching is still difficult—grading can be overwhelming, occasionally my students act like jerks—but it's difficult in a way that is wholly different from my previous work. Difficult in a way that seems worthwhile.
One of my colleagues recently joked that she decided to pursue a job at the university because she wasn't a morning person and she didn't work well with others. I laughed, but wanted to say, "That's funny, but I am a morning person, and I do work well with others."
And that is at the heart of the great CV switch. Although I have spent a lot of time on college campuses (earning a bachelor's, a master's, and now my M.F.A.), academe still feels foreign to me. The office politics are of a different stripe. Working hard and succeeding isn't necessarily a guarantee of anything in higher education. My old job, though, felt uncomplicated. I was good at working in an office setting, although I rarely found the work satisfying.
Reviewing my résumé, I see that I was promoted four times in five years. I earned awards from the company president in 2002, 2003, and 2006. My résumé brags about those accomplishments. And so, each time I look at my CV in progress, I cannot seem to erase all of that history.
Yet there isn't much of a place on my vita for all the things that brought me pride in the past— even if years of planning meetings, explaining my editing changes to CEOs, and working with very strange people did a lot, as far as I can tell, to prepare me for academic life. English departments aren't interested in knowing that I wrote such hard-hitting white papers as "A Practical Approach to Recognizing and Improving Business Analysis Competencies." Maybe they're not interested, but I would like my future employers to know that it takes skills—skills that I worked hard to develop—to make project-management training interesting, both on paper and in person, in the same way that professors must every day make the arcane interesting in their given disciplines.
A friend has a job interview coming up in the corporate sector, and because we are close, she mentions to me the starting salary. "I've never made that much," she says. "It would be incredible."
Thinking about my dwindling bank balance, I tell her, "That's what I made before I quit to go back to graduate school."
She doesn't say it, but her slightly open-mouthed stare indicates that I have made a terrible life decision.
That night, I dream that my former boss, a haughty lover of plastic surgery, calls and offers me my old job back. "However, some time has passed," she tells me, "and so I need to see if you are still as capable as you once were." In the dream, I am even poorer than in real life, so I walk the six miles to my old office because I do not have $2.10 for subway fare. I am not happy to be back in that dingy, fluorescent-light-filled place, but I remember how I used to be able to afford makeup from department stores, rather than Almay from Rite-Aid, how I never hesitated to go to the doctor, and how I used to take weekend trips and stay in hotels.
The dream version of my former boss hands me a heavy, bulky folder and wishes me luck with the air of someone who does not anticipate my success. I am to fly to a conference, take minutes at a board meeting, and then write up brochure copy about next year's corporate objectives. The work is exhausting and familiar. And as with any bad dream, my tasks get harder as time progresses.
When I wake up, the relief at what lies ahead for my real-life day settles over me. I have to meet with a student, do some grading, and lead what I hope will be a fruitful class discussion about a book I love.
That afternoon, I started deleting my past from my CV. And I realized that, ultimately, I am abandoning those old duties because I never want to do them again. "Managed all Web and media communications" is erased not because it was unimportant at the time—for the company or my own self worth—but because I never want to manage Web and media communications again. Starting at the bottom in a new career in my 30s is not easy, but it is significantly easier than spending the next 30 years doing unfulfilling work.
I've been sending out my CV fully aware that it is not yet impressive, and that my applications for full-time teaching positions are pretty much practice at this point but necessary—satisfying, even. As a shout-out to my former self, I've been leaving a few lines at the bottom of my vita, lines laden with phrases like "prior significant experience in ... ." Those lines mean "this is who I used to be, which makes me better at who I am now."