Reading the brilliant post Another Brick in the Ivory Wall by Natalie Weaver brought back some old feelings about being an ex-academic who finally let go of the search. While the wound reopened a bit, I can honestly say that I’ve come to a calm peace about walking away from my goal of becoming a professor. This was a messy, emotional process, but through the muck, a lotus emerged within me nurtured by equanimity, humility, peaceful detachment, trust, and surrender. Here’s my story.
When I completed my Ph.D. in Women’s Spirituality in 2015, I was on a MISSION to become a professor and finally become credible in the eyes of the world (or, maybe just my father). From the Bachelors to the Ph.D., I had 15 years of schooling under my belt. Throughout the entire journey, I was told that I would probably never secure a position as a professor in Religious Studies or Women’s Studies for a myriad of reasons (e.g., those topics aren’t relevant anymore, there isn’t any money in academia to fund those fields, they only hire from within, etc.). Of course, the scared parts of me believed them, but nevertheless, I persisted, because truth be told, I was called to study religion, spirituality, gender, god/dess, female-centric philosophies, and diverse ethnic worldviews (everything my degree exposed me to). It wasn’t necessarily a choice to study; I felt called to from a soul level.
In any event, “they” were “right.” Two years later, I’m still not a professor. Nowhere near it. Rejected from every application. Not even a bite. The death of this dream felt like a slow and steady electrocution; each shock dissolving my deepest attachment to what I thought my life needed to look like. Sifting through the debris of embarrassment and shame of having a Ph.D., but ending up an executive assistant at a university.
Yet, somewhere along the way, through prayer, meditation, chanting, offering my will to Divine Will, heart ache, yoga, green smoothies, sun salutations, coffee talks with my soul, cocktail talks with my soul, crying in the shower and car, laughing with the moon, surrendering, trusting, and yielding to Divine Guidance, I crossed some major part of the river of despair. I realized that the Divine has a whole different plan than my ego’s—which is really the only Life I want—and that may never, ever include being a professor.
My intent to be a professor was to provide people with empowering information—to pass along what I have been blessed to learn. Being the All Clever One the Divine is, S/he does use me as a conduit to offer the material—through my channel as a part-time yoga teacher. I teach at two different studios, serving every single soul that walks through the doors with sacred movement and words. I remembered walking into the studio I was recently hired at and big, bright paintings of Ganesha (god of the remover of obstacles) and Lakshmi (goddess of good fortune) were there smiling at me. In that moment, I felt like the last grip on “my career” was released. It was as if my palm was fully open and I exhaled like I never had before. I realized my dharma does not belong to me anymore; it’s in the hands of the gods and goddesses. While I will always take action, the outcome is up to Them. Ganesha and Lakshmi have me handled.
My journey into surrender requires belief in an Intelligent, Loving Power that guides my Life. All the research on religion and spirituality gave me a strong intellectual backbone, but it was becoming an ex-academic that propelled me into living some of those principles we have all read in Religious Studies courses:
Faith and trust in an Omniscient Being; dukkha is part of the human experience and releasing the need to control eases that suffering; my atman, who is a part of Brahman, is eternal and will survive whatever she endures in this lifetime; Life has Her own timing, like moon cycles; no matter how much we want to regulate the direction of the Tao, S/he will flow on Yin and Yang terms—sometimes Life is passive (patient and receptive), and other times, Life is active (ready to bloom).
These are no longer concepts; they are living realities inside of me, but arriving to this place was (and continues to be) an intricate journey (that won’t end until my last breath). Although I may never make it into the ivory tower, I believe part of my purpose on this earth is to share information that empowers, heals, and uplifts. I cannot wait for academia to give me permission to do that. If we feel compelled to share ideas that could serve any population, we must find the courage to do that on our own terms. We host workshops in our living rooms, in yoga studios, in parks, in bookstores; we write blogs; we ask to be guest lecturers; we start podcasts or ask to be on one; we self-publish; we manage our time and money to do these things. We find a different way even if it makes our comfort zones cringe.
We also need to pay bills and our student loans, so we are willing to take day jobs. I’m an executive assistant with a Ph.D. I literally order coffee for meetings. But who’s to say that’s not exactly where I’m supposed to be learning lessons in deflating my egoic sense of self-importance? People need coffee for meetings, and I’m happy to help while getting paid for it, and doing the actions I feel called to take to live my purpose.
I whole-heartedly agree with Natalie that we need to be honest to those seeking graduate degrees. In the name of right action, that is only fair. We can tell them about the inequities of higher education hiring. But, if they are still willing, then we can remind them that a little detachment, creativity, and trust go a long way on this journey.
Vanessa Soriano, Ph.D., is a yoga teacher (with an 8-5 job) who completed her Ph.D. in Religion and Philosophy with an emphasis in Women’s Spirituality at the California Institute of Integral Studies. After enduring some traumatic events, she was inspired to study religion and spirituality from every angle possible. Somewhere along that journey, she encountered the feminine face of the Divine and fell madly in love with the Goddess. When the Divine became a woman for Vanessa, she could feel empowerment and healing in a way that was not accessible when the Divine was portrayed in strictly male terms.