I defended my dissertation five years ago.
I have been thinking about this update for a long time, because I finally feel like there is a happy ending to this story. When I was struggling to find any type of job, I felt like a failure. I would second guess myself about doing a postdoc (which I skipped thinking it wouldn't help me get my career started). Even when I started working, I had incredibly mixed feelings about my work. I started in an entry level role, writing for high school students. I was embarrassed when people would find out I had a PhD, and mostly wanted to pretend I was just starting from scratch- just ignore the interminable education that no one can make sense of. I was impatient to succeed, to make it somewhere, to find my place, and be able to contribute in some meaningful way.
Comparing myself to my peers wasn't ideal, but I realized that if I had stayed on the academic track, I would have spent another five years before I got my first real job as a real professor. I promised myself that when I was 5 years out, I would be in much better shape, and this would all seem like just a bump in the road. At the very least, by the 5 year mark I might be able to name my career path. But it took my a year (a YEAR of interning, volunteering, freelancing, networking, and hustling) to find my first job. That job was fun, but I was not convinced I was cut out to be a writer. I thought I had impostor syndrome as a scientist? Ha! I cant spell, I know nothing about grammar, and I am supposed to making a living writing? Mercifully, I fell in with some good mentors and role models. I put the nervous energy about my career towards absorbing everything I could about writing for education.
A year after I got that first job, my contract expired. I got a new 1 year contract. That grant ran out, too. I was enjoying the hell out of my free time, and I was consistently making more than I would be as a post-doc. Maybe this is what most people feel like, you handle/cope with/pass the time at work, and then have a rocking real life? But I was tired of wondering if I would ever hit my stride, get a chance to settle in somewhere and make an impact. I worked with a career counselor to be more strategic about my next job hunt. My goal was to land a job that would last more than a year, and might even play to my strengths. I networked, I volunteered, I was hustling.
And it paid off. All of it. The people I met at my first job had landed at new company that was growing their team, and was doing technical training. The team is brilliant, and they were willing to hire me on to learn how to do my job. I am not bad at what they hired me to do (develop eLearning), and I have a smashing time doing things they didn't hire me to do. Next month I am giving two talks - one at a local academic meeting of process chemists, and one at a data visualization meetup. I have two volunteer gigs I got through work helping education non-profits take advantage of their data. Its a wonderful marriage of both my education and my work experience. At 16 months, this is the longest I have ever worked in a professional job.
This job probably isn't as prestigious as being a professor, but its also not remotely as stressful as the tenure track or grant cycles. I get to learn about so many different things, and I haven't been bored since I started. My career has actually started, that I've developed relevant, employable skills that I enjoy using. Recently I have been giving informational interviews- people want to know how I got to where I am. Finally, after 5 years, that time feeling lost and anxious really does just looks like a bump in the road.