One of the things that I observe a lot among my fellow academics is how much they love to complain. A life of a regular academic is a constant self-pity party. Whenever two or more professors get together, they immediately engage in gleeful comparisons of whose life is more pathetic. Everybody tries to prove that it is hardly possible to be more miserable than they are. Of course, their colleagues passionately dispute the title of the most miserable person around.
Objectively, we all know that a professor's life is not that bad. Tons of people have it a lot worse than we do. We only have to be physically present at work seven months out of a year and then only two or three days per week. Of course, when one brings this up, the academics who fight for the title of the most miserable person alive immediately exclaim: "But we have to do research!" Well, first of all, if you chose this career in the first place, you are supposed to enjoy research, not spend your life complaining about it. Second, lying on the sofa at home reading books or watching movies (which is what research means in my area) is really not the same as slaving in some stuffy cubicle 40 hours a week 50 weeks a year constantly terrified of being fired.
To be completely honest, those of us who manage to finish our dissertations and end up getting tenure-track jobs are pretty fortunate. We get good salaries (if you don't think your professorial salary is good enough, check out the median salary range for a full-time worker in your area, and stop whining already), a high social status, a lot of free time, and the constant company of colleagues who - albeit whiny - are mostly intelligent, kind, progressive individuals.
We, the college professors, are very far from being miserable. We just like to pretend we are. This weird tendency starts when we begin our academic careers as undergrad students. My students at Cornell told me that it was considered bad form among them to say you are not completely exhausted. It is considered some sort of a badge of honor to claim that you haven't had any sleep in a week or haven't rested in a month. Then, the insanity continues in grad school. "I keep slaving over this dissertation," fashionably dishevelled grad students sigh. "But I still need at least 6 more years to finish it." In my experience, grad school is actually non-stop, endless, exuberant partying but, somehow, we are not supposed to mention that.
This process of ever-intensifying self-pity reaches its climax when one gets an academic position at a university. Now academics can finally indulge in the joyous recitation of every little thing that makes their lives oh, so difficult. "I'm so exhausted but I have this conference in a month and I've yet to prepare my talk. I don't know how I'll manage that", the pity-partiers whine. Sure, what a tragedy. The poor, fatigued academic forced to read a book, write a ten page talk based on it, and go hang out with some colleagues (all trip-related expenses paid by the university, of course), drink cocktails, and blab about literary theory. Sounds like a really miserable existence.
When I think of all the fine, intellectual people who had to drop out of grad school for financial or personal reasons, everybody who didn't manage to get a tenure-track position because of the jobs that were lost as a result of economic crisis, all of my talented colleagues who keep going to the MLA conference for yet another round of job interviews and getting nothing but rejection letters, it makes me very angry to hear my fellow academics complain of their sheltered, happy existences.