Finding myself at Congress

I think all of us have the tendency to surround ourselves (physically or virtually) with people we look up to. One person that has inspired me through my studies and job searching is Jennifer Polk. And by “inspire,” I mean “read every one of her entries in my Twitter feed, sigh and wish I was more like her, then move on without even reading her article that might have done me some actual good.” But one recent exception to this was her archived post about, of all things, being a loser. Deep down it must have resonated with some of my own insecurities. Maybe I just needed to hear that I wasn’t the only scholar-turned-unemployed-college-grad that could use some encouragement to make the most of a new situation.

The truth is: if Jen Polk is a loser, I’m an ultra-loser. I knew even before finishing my B.A. that I wanted an alternative to academia. I got my M.A. in Public History, focused on building skills that would help me in the workforce, and landed a rewarding, meaningful contract at a thriving organization. I should be the person who has all their proverbial ducks in a row. But now that my contract is over and I’m still searching for my next big career move, those harpies of self-doubt come screeching back. What if I’m not cut out for this? What if I’m actually a fraud, a failure? What if I’ll never become the public historian I dreamed of being? The dreaded “quarter-life crisis” has hit me full force. I haven’t been unemployed for even a week yet and it’s already driving me crazy.

Lately I’ve been forced to rethink what it means to be successful. So what if I’m not where I want to be? The more important question is: am I who I want to be?

Sometimes when people feel overwhelmed, they decide to take a vacation, but it usually isn’t to the Congress of the Social Sciences and Humanities or the conference of the Canadian Historical Association. The decision to attend Congress this year was an impulse decision. I knew I had free time on my hands, that my colleagues would be there, and that I would hear about the great things that other people are doing in my field. But now that I’m in Ottawa, I’m discovering that a big motive for going was to restore confidence in myself. Rubbing elbows with my fellow academics and alt-acs has reminded me that I’ve earned every spot of ink on my degree and I have every reason and every right to be here. I’ve carried out scholarly research under rigorous academic supervision. I’ve succeeded in high-stakes, large-scale projects in my professional career. I have no need to question whether or not I’m a “real historian.” This conference is a time for me to be energized and inspired. It’s my adventure. And I’m looking forward to it!

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