The Chariot Takes You Places You Didn’t Know You Wanted to Go

“If you don’t mind my asking, do you intend to go on the market?”

I’m not prepared for the question. The “market” in question is the academic job market, a spectacle of dashed hopes in which any newly minted Ph.D has to participate in order to have any hopes of a career as a professor. The market has been in steady decline for decades. When the current chair of my department was applying to grad school, the market was already so bad that one school sent out a letter to admitted students, advising them that they were unlikely to find employment after completing their degrees. Things have gotten astronomically worse since then. Academia never really recovered from the 2008 economic crash, and COVID-19 has resulted in another wave of things shutting down. Each job opening gets more than a thousand qualified applicants. Things are, to put it mildly, bleak.

I’m in a meeting with my adviser, where’s he’s just thoroughly and ruthlessly (if constructively) dissected everything wrong with a partial draft of a dissertation chapter I sent him. He has also explained to me that if I want to be competitive on the market, I really ought to go live in Germany for a year; it won’t look good on my CV to have a degree in German philosophy without having done a residency at a German university. And gently, implicit at the back of everything he says, is the message: If you want to get an academic job in today’s market, kid, this work ain’t gonna cut it.

Then the question comes. “Do you intend to go on the market?” I answer honestly: “I’m increasingly of the mind that I want to finish my degree and move on to something else.”

This is a defining moment in my academic career and in my relationship with my adviser, and one I expect I’ll look back on as a turning point in the trajectory of my life. Due to complex internal pressures in the academy, once you publicly express the faintest hint of doubt about remaining in academia, you’re more or less committed to leaving. After all, there are thousands of applicants for only dozens of jobs—your advisers are going to pour their time and energy into getting jobs for the people who have shown they really want those jobs. Answering this question, then, is a kind of magic spell: With these words, I have sealed myself to a future outside of the academy.

And honestly? I’m okay with that. I really am. I’ve been feeling doubts about academia for over a year now. I love philosophy, and I love teaching, but I’m not in love with the research that makes up the bulk of my job—nor with the exhausting, incessant departmental politicking endemic to the ivory tower. As much as I love philosophy, I’m coming more and more to the conclusion that academic philosophy is not where I want to spend the rest of my life. There are other things waiting for me—my current (intense) fantasy is of finishing my degree, moving to Paris, and getting a job at UNESCO. And while that’s obviously a fantasy, there’s a grain of something real in it. I miss living outside the US. I miss working on things that feel like they quantifiably make the world a better place. And I feel like there are opportunities out there that could fill those needs, if I had the courage to pursue them.

Earlier this year, at the close of summer, I got a message in divination: “Do your work.” That was the whole of it, but the context was about my dissertation work, my feeling kind of lost and rootless in grad school (which, hey, is a near-universal experience). I was feeling directionless, in need of guidance, and the answer I got was clear: Do your work. Whatever you’ve got going on, however hard the doctoral work is, just keep your head down and get it done. The rest will sort itself out.

In response to this divination, I started doing some pretty intense meditative work on the Chariot from the Major Arcana of the Tarot. (As well as, y’know, working on my dissertation.) I also changed the home screen of my phone to the Chariot, which is something I like to do when I’m working intensely on a particular Tarot card. I’d done something similar last year in the midst of my work with Strength. It’s a small, subtle way to reinforce and remind myself of how I’m trying to bring the energy of that card into my life.

I chose the Chariot, of all cards, because this card is going somewhere. More than that, it knows where it’s going. The charioteer has a vision of the road ahead, knows exactly what the destination is and how to get there—and rather than spending all of his time planning and thinking, he actually puts in the work to set off and make that journey. He knows that the only way for him to get to his destination is to make the trip himself. There is no shortcut, no royal road. He has to Nike up and just do it.

Working with the Chariot has had an interesting side effect, and one that I hadn’t anticipated (though in hindsight, I probably should have). It has made the way ahead clearer for me, but it has also shown me that the destination I’m heading to is not the one I’d thought I was moving toward. The road I’m traveling—or this stretch of it, at least—is the same. I have to keep working on my dissertation, even when it’s hard and uncomfortable and makes me feel like an ignoramus. That’s the work that I have to do, regardless. But previously, I had thought that this work was leading me in the direction of a career in academia, and now, I’m increasingly seeing that that’s not the case. I’m still not sure entirely what my ultimate destination is, but I know it’s not that.

This is one of the things the Chariot does. It gives us clarity and direction, and sometimes, that clarity shows us that we don’t really want the things we thought we did. The Chariot gives us the prowess to choose the direction for our lives, but it also gives us perspective and insight, and a better understanding of what direction we actually want to go. I’m heading toward a post-grad-school life that I hadn’t fully realized I wanted, and that’s new and exciting.

That’s about all I have for this post. I just wanted to sit, reflect, and ramble for a while. I’ll be uploading another video to YouTube soon (probably next week), which will be more witchcraft-oriented than Tarot-oriented, but I’ll be back on the blog again at some point with more Tarot goodness. In the meantime, take care of yourselves.

One thought on “The Chariot Takes You Places You Didn’t Know You Wanted to Go

  1. This is a brilliant essay. Thanks for posting it. I need a little Chariot in my life as well, and appreciate this elegant kick in the pants. Your “obviously it’s a fantasy” line is the only part I disagree with. If you needed permission from a stranger (why’s that, now?), you can have mine. Go for it!


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