Monday, August 31, 2015

Book review: Leap by Tess Vigeland

I have been anxiously awaiting Leap: Leaving a Job with No Plan B to Find the Career and Life You Really Want (link to order through the author's website) ever since I heard author Tess Vigeland interviewed on "How She Really Does It." Plus, since I have explained that I recently went through my own leap, I figured it couldn't hurt to see what advice she had to offer someone else. I wanted it so much that I forgot I had pre-ordered the text and also pre-ordered the version.

I didn't get any how-tos on what to do next, as much as I feel like I could use them, but I did get some validation that I am not the only one who dreads the question, "So what do you do?" because I don't know if I should say what I am doing now, what I used to do, or cobble together a combination of the two.

Like the author, I had what I felt like was a "cool job," one that other people thought they wanted to have too. I say thought they wanted, because everyone sees the fun part of being a faculty member, teaching classes and having a (somewhat) more flexible schedule. They don't see the long hours grading papers, the boring committee meetings, the campus machinations that made me feel like a cog in a wheel, or the ever-diminishing resources and the increasing responsibilities. Still, I liked that saying I was a college professor gave me an instant credibility to some people, and now, I feel like I am in a much less impressive-sounding role. I also, like Vigeland, feel icky for wanting people's approval enough to care that my job doesn't sound cool anymore.

There is also the common thread of loss, of feeling like I have given up part of my identity, one I worked very hard to achieve. The constant self-doubt that caused her to name her second chapter "Oh Sh!t" is all too familiar to me.

Reading the book did make me glad that my leap had a little more of a safety net, though, because I didn't have the big salary Vigeland had at her own job (even though she admits that she didn't take her own great advice and save before taking her leap), and I really could not have afforded to have no income while I figured out what to do next. Some of the people in her book had stories that were not so bright and hopeful, and I appreciated that she covered that side of the story. "Leap and the net will appear!" is a lovely thought, but you can't take it to the bank. I also know that I would have felt depressed and guilty if I took a risk and didn't immediately find a new opportunity. She admits that taking a leap is a luxury that is reserved for people with a certain level of resources, and I think some of the existential crises that she went through were a function of being from the kind of background where people take that kind of money somewhat for granted.

I felt like Vigeland's tone rang a little hollow when she said, when protesting the need to go do something amazing, "What if I decide to work at Starbucks?" and then backpedaled saying of course working at Starbucks is a respectable job. I'm not sure that she would really understand what it would be like to live off that kind of money, or what it would be like to do that kind of job. I haven't worked at Starbucks, but I have waited tables, and it's exhausting and hard and at the same time, low-status. There is nothing relaxing or fun about that kind of work.

Overall, though, the book had a fun, quirky tone. If anything, I think she oversold the value of taking a leap -- I think that for most people, looking for the next job while you can still sort of tolerate the current one is the better path. I don't regret leaving my job, I'm happy I did, but only because I have a comparable income while I look for the next thing. One thing that is amazing is that despite my uncertain position, I still have faith in myself and my skills and talents, and I think something better will come along. Leap is good company while I wait.

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