The Reality Test

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The Reality Test

“Now you just have to live in reality like the rest of us.” This was my father’s response when I told him that I was leaving academia. Never one to opt for the minor comfort of euphemism, my father prefers the open air of a blunt comment. Skip the niceties. Say things as you see them. So, he said it as he saw it, and what he saw was this: that somewhere in the not-too-distant future, I had a date fixed with reality, and now that I had jumped ship, the inevitable was on its way for me.

Just to admit it upfront, this particular brand of ship-jumping lacks the fanfare and fireworks that I’ve sometimes seen from colleagues over the years. The dramatic mid-graduate school abandonment, a throw-caution-to-the-wind version, which actually requires some degree of bravery and risk because you’ve come so far, but not quite landed anywhere in particular. No, this version is much more plodding, measured, a careful lower-yourself-over-the-rails kind of departure. It’s the version in which, after a decade in graduate school, hundreds of hours teaching students, a library full of obscure books, and 300 pages of dissertation writing on philosophy and literature, you simply pitch for a more commercial harbor.

So with PhD in hand and everything perfectly lined up to enter the profession, I am leaving academia behind. But as I make this move, my father’s comment still lingers. Reality awaits me. What does this mean? A warning? A challenge? Or is it just a form of paternal teasing, my father keeping pace with his excitable daughter, who has made something of a habit of announcing major life-detours: I am moving to Italy to speak Italian and eat good food; I am going to Brazil to dance Samba; I am headed to Berlin to write about Nietzsche and Kafka because they obviously can’t be written about anywhere else…

But his comment also reveals something bigger. It is the much more commonly held belief that, between the “Academy” and the rest of the world, there is a vast chasm. It is a way of saying: Sure, you are free to contemplate reality, meditate on it till the cows come home, but to really live it, to be part of it, is a whole different story. To exist in reality is to feel the weight of it upon you, to understand how you can manipulate it, make it bend to your designs, a corporate merger here, a technological patent there. It is also to be crushed by it when the economy tanks, when your business slows, or your investments plummet while you were just tying your shoelace. So, however profoundly and brilliantly you philosophize about reality—its nature, its meaning, its value—you do not know the beast that it is, unless you step out from behind the pile of books and confront it head on.

I am writing this more than a month after my father made that comment, but this blog was born right then and there, when he invited me to join him (and the rest of the world) in “reality.” I do not yet know whether this mythical vast chasm will turn out to be a seismic scar right down the center of things, dividing these two worlds across an abyss, or whether the tools that are shaped and honed within the Academy will prove to be just as powerful in this world as they were in that one.

So, I suppose this blog is a way of throwing down the gauntlet, taking up the challenge, saying “bring it,” Reality, whatever you are. And to the rest of you, I say, welcome to The Reality Test. Thank you for showing up.


-Jacqueline Abrams

10 Comments On This Topic
  1. Allegra DiStefano posted
    October 9, 2012 at 2:51 pm

    as you now enter this new demanding world of ‘reality’….let us not forget that ‘academia’ has it’s own versions and merits of success that so many struggle with. The pursuit of the PHD takes some decades! In my eyes you have conquered that world; a reality and challenge that some can never handle or let alone grasp. You went all the way to the top…and I have no doubt that in your next set of endeavors you will make your mark. Time to unleash your talents on this crazy rat race of a world! I look forward to your future blogs…

  2. Priscilla posted
    October 10, 2012 at 12:04 am
    • Jacqueline Abrams posted
      October 10, 2012 at 5:58 pm

      Thank you, Mebane Faber. I can see you underneath your Priscilla costume. Workin it.

  3. Sara posted
    October 10, 2012 at 4:37 pm

    I can’t wait to follow your “reality” on this blog.

  4. Crystal posted
    October 10, 2012 at 4:53 pm

    This could be the dawn of your reality empire! Bring it Bravo! With you in the lead role, I can finally talk about reality as more than just a guilty pleasure. Move over Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, it’s about to get really, real.

  5. Kristen posted
    October 11, 2012 at 11:09 am

    I look forward to hearing all about your adventure into reality :-). I went through this when I left Jackson Hole, an extension of college, to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. You’re PhD puts you a few steps ahead of where I was then, but I can totally relate. It’s an exciting time for you!

  6. Michael P posted
    October 15, 2012 at 2:09 pm

    If all else fails, there’s always med school ;-) Be well, I wish you luck.

  7. Jeff posted
    October 15, 2012 at 6:30 pm

    Did anyone tell Socrates, Plato or Nietzsche to “join reality”? No. Reality is whatever you choose your existence to be. Whatever you choose your life’s “work” to be. Better to be passionate about your reality than a disgruntled player in someone else’s. The only consideration is can you financially support yourself in your reality? If so then pursue it, and live it your way.

    Lemme put it to you in maybe more familiar terms…. imagine you have a basketball team and you need to trade for a player….

  8. Jeff D. posted
    November 13, 2012 at 5:42 pm

    Beautifully written! I like your attitude! In my opinion I feel reality is simply perspective; so there are those who will dwell in Academia forever espousing their ideals as well, ideal, while there are plenty more unreal, realists existing outside the walls of any institution. Your “reality” is whatever you choose to focus on.

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