I recently attended the American Anthropological Association (AAA) meetings in Chicago. As is often the case with big disciplinary conferences, it was a thrilling, disorienting, often overwhelming experience. Of all the many panels and meetings, however, the session that both excited and terrified was the one featuring the remarkable Karen Kelsky of The Professor is In (if you are in any way involved in academia–or considering that path–and are not familiar with Karen’s truthful telling of her journey from department chair to former-academic, please visit her blog. Now. I will wait because it is that important). What was most incredible to me about Karen’s presentation was the confidence she exuded. More than simply self-confidence, she beamed with a kind of certainty that the professional decisions she had made were best for her as a whole person. As she told her story of leaving academia and becoming an entrepreneur, starting with an ultimately-unsuccessful paper business that grew out of her decades-long love of origami, Karen didn’t express regret at leaving the security of the ivory tower. Instead, she radiated joy that she had found the strength to be honest about what brought her peace–and the bravery to transform a beloved hobby into a career. That leap of faith resulted in Karen’s current and necessary business, The Professor is In, through which she counsels graduate students through the hazards of the academic job market.
This post isn’t a sponsored ad for Karen Kelsky’s services–nor is it expressly about academic fashion.* However, I had to share this story because Beyond Tweed was born during that panel. Listening to Karen and her fellow panelists share the decisions they’d made and professional risks they’d taken in the name of personal fulfillment, I realized that the things that bring me joy (things like insisting on the significance of personal style in the academy) are not distractions to be dismissed, but rather opportunities for connection, remuneration…and perhaps even pleasure.
*For those interested in a great take on anthropological fashion at the AAA’s, click over to this post at Savage Minds.