"For all these reasons, graduate school is not something you want to experiment with. Think heroin--this is your brain, this is your brain on graduate school. Think Al Pacino in "Godfather 3"--just when you think you are out, you will l be sucked back in again. Academia, especially in the humanities and the social sciences, is a total culture. It colonizes most aspects of your life. You are never not an academic--the little mental tape recorder is on all the time, or it had better be if you want to be good at this life. Anything is grist for my mill as a teacher and a scholar, and that is as it should be. Graduate school is, if anything, even more totalizing than this. It gets into your pores. Somewhere in the back of your head, your dissertation or your oral exams will be burrowing outwards through your brain tissue with incisors of fear."
I can feel them!
The notion of graduate school as so totally consuming is also part of what scares me about leaving. Much like driving a manual car, then suddenly driving an automatic seems so stupidly simple as to be boring. I worry that down shifting from academia to a regular job, even if it is a socially and intellectually stimulating one, will make me feel like something is missing: like it will forever ruin me. That I somehow have permanent head damage, and will never think the same way again. That is likely true, so to get more specific, I'll go back to the previous author who put it so succinctly: "It changes your standards for what is good and what is bad, what is smart and what is dumb."
Of course, maybe what will be missing is the neuroses, the fear, the constant criticism and sense that I should be doing something (writing up an article for publication, attending another brain numbing panel session, etc.). And that would be something to look forward to!