Last winter, almost a year ago, I briefly discussed my discipline, let's call it "hairdressing." What I didn't realize then is that I was up for a rather large ass-kicking related to my involvement in the discipline and the direction of my academic career. Although I didn't know it at the time, April 2006 signaled the beginning of the end of my career in hairdressing.
Sometime in April 2006 I broke my foot. Considering the fact that I had been, once again, rushing from one obligation to another, the universe, it seems to me now, was signaling me to slow the fuck down. Maybe the fact that all my hairdressing classes were held on the second floor of a building too old and run down to contain an elevator should have been a clue. At the time all I knew was that I needed a break. I assumed that I would get back to the hairdressing curriculum as soon as I was well. But that fall I decided I had better not take more hairdressing classes, and instead took research units and became, unfortunately, embroiled in a confusing attempt to do fieldwork related to hairdressing. After nine months of "field work" I came out with virtually no data, completely frustrated and demoralized about applied research in hairdressing. During this time I also began to confront the mess that is qualitative data coding. It took me six + months to convince my adviser that the coding on her data was incomplete and inconsistent.
In the spring of 2007 I attended my first two academic conferences. A large one and another small one, recommended by my adviser. To my surprise, during the large conference I attended few hairdressing related presentations, being attracted to another sub-discipline entirely. The presentations in this new sub-discipline opened my eyes. True, many of these folks where unnecessarily pretentious and obsequious, but at least they were interested in the kinds of questions I was. In contrast, I felt strongly out of place at the small conference. I was neither comfortable with the practicing hairdressers reporting on their latest hairdressing projects, nor the academics trying to mix research and applied projects in hairdressing. The quality of research presented varied wildly, but more importantly, it became clear that hairdressing researchers were afraid to admit the fact that some of their projects were less than successful. No one wants to write up a new haircut if that cut is unpopular with it's recipients or in other ways problematic. Unfortunately, the haircutting process is not simple, requiring a significant investment of time and money, and so academic hairdressers need to produce journal articles for each hairdressing project they are involved in.
Also, during the 2006-7 school year I spent a significant amount of time searching for an internship at a hairdressing office. I had a couple of interviews, but it became clear that entry level positions involved the rapid production of haircuts using computer programs and long hours in the office for low pay. It would take me 3+ years as an apprentice hairdresser before I could take my hairdressing exam. During that time I would have trouble making a living and paying my student loans. Hours would be long and hairdressing offices are not known to be family friendly. Once I had a hairdressing license it would likely be quite a time before I could have my own hairdressing office, which is what I really wanted. If I really had my heart set on hairdressing maybe I would have stuck it out, but during the last school year I discovered other interests, other passions, and people who shared my interests.
If I hadn't had my ass kicked repeatedly, I might not have realized that hairdressing was not my thing. Don't get me wrong, I'm still fascinated with many aspects of hairdressing and may pursue it as a hobby or side business, but I have let go of my academic aspirations in that area. My new subdiscipline fits much better with my central concerns and questions. People researching in this area aren't expected to be both practitioners and researchers. My questions and interests are no longer marginal. Also, I no longer work for the hairdressing department, which abuses it's TAs terribly.
In my experience, this is the way of life. At the time I never understand why I'm facing a particular trouble, but looking back, I see the pattern, the direction I'm being pushed. The key is to understand the difference between patterns that direct me into more productive directions and those which, shaped by the over-culture (whether you call that capitalism, the patriarchy, or the man) seeks to put me in "my place."