For me the moment came during my twentieth or twenty-fifth or maybe fifteenth lesson in Alexander technique. My RSI had almost gone, I was feeling happier but still so horribly anxious about finishing my PhD. After another conversation about the principles of Alexander technique my teacher remarked, “you know, you could do this.” I was quiet. What? I could be an Alexander technique teacher? But how absurd: you need three years of training in London! And it’s about bodies, not at all about the clear, rational, bodyless thought I still try to require of myself. My teacher continued the lesson without further comment. I still don’t know if his words really meant “you could be an Alexander technique teacher”. I do know that those words started an opening of what had become a prison. They gave me permission to see that I needn’t always be an academic. If I never finished my PhD, I would find other passions that engaged me as much. Perhaps they’d even make me happier. It wasn’t until my teacher said those words that the thought even occurred to me: I can do otherwise.
I didn’t quit. Quite the opposite. Knowing that I could quit gave me the strength to finish my PhD without panicking, without that utter fear of failure you get if it’s the only thing you think you can do. Yesterday I was given a permanent job at the university. I can be an academic for all my life if I want to. Perhaps I will be. Or perhaps, quite possibly, I’ll decide to do something different at some point. That openness makes me happy.