by Elke Close |

Since moving back to Belgium in August, I have been thinking a lot about the Dutch expression ‘in een zwart gat vallen’. If you were to literally translate this expression into English, you’d end up with something along the lines of ‘falling into a black hole’. Of course, we are not talking about those black holes in space where gravity has such a strong force that nothing can get out, not even light.

In reality, the proverbial black hole symbolises the danger of ending up in a void when a big change occurs in your daily life. This has been known to happen in case of retirement: imagine having worked for forty years and then suddenly being confronted by an enormous amount of free time that you have no idea how to fill. In the beginning all that free time might seem great, but if you cannot fill it with meaningful activities or a new goal to work to, you might find yourself ending up in the so-called black hole.

This also happened to me after submitting my thesis and completing the viva. After working on the same project for four years and having now almost completed the goal that I set myself, I sometimes find myself a little lost at what to do next and wondering what goal I can set myself. It is rather strange not to have to spend most of my days and vacations reading and writing about Megalopolis. Don’t get me wrong, I am happy to finally have some time again to read books that I want to read, talk about things other than Greek city-states and the Arcadian mountains.

However, now that I have done what I set out to do at the start of my PhD journey, I have realised that figuring out the next goal to set myself is not as easy as I thought it would be. Suddenly, there seem to be a million possible paths to go down. Do I want to continue in academia and apply for post-docs? Do I continue teaching? Do I look for jobs in the ‘real world’? Thankfully, I still have plenty of time to think about it and I have found a few new goals through my job as a teacher, but I have found several ways to avoid falling into the black hole – even if I don’t have this big project to work on anymore.

  1. Find a new hobby.

This can be something that you have wanted to try for very long time, like obtaining a black belt in judo or becoming a regional baking champion. Alternatively, you could always go back to a hobby you had before.

2. Learn a new skill.

You might find wanting to use this plethora of free time to learn a new skill that would be beneficial in your future life. There is always the option to learn another language or improve your coding skills. Who knows, you might find that developing this extra skill, will help you in future job searches.

3. Do things that you enjoy.

Meeting up with friends, going to the cinema, reading a good book,.. The list is endless. After all, to avoid falling into this you have to find a meaningful – if not useful – way to spend your newfound free time. Do something that find meaningful.

Even though in the end there will always be plenty of goals to work towards, targets to reach, projects to complete, ambitions to realise, you still have to be aware that sometimes there are going to be moments you could find yourself in danger of coming close to this black hole.


Elke Close has completed her PhD in Classics at the University of Edinburgh on the influence of the Greek polis of Megalopolis on the ancient federal state known as the Achaian koinon. You can find her on her or university pages or on twitter as @ElkeClose. She has recently also started an instagram account and Facebook page dedicated to the history and archaeology of Hellenistic Greece and is now teaching Latin and history at a secondary school in Belgium.

(c) image: NASA/CXC/MIT/F.K. Baganoff et al. (