Monday, May 26, 2014

Conference and Career Musings

So I've been at a conference.  During the run-up to this conference, like the run-up to all conferences, I didn't want to go.  I started thinking about all the excuses I could manufacture to avoid going.  (Certainly with the death in the family that has caused the Great Family Implosion and Ensuing War, the only place I should be on a plane to is City of My Birth.  The fact that I, a decision-maker, am not there causes no end of trouble.  I will have to go there when the quarter is over.)  The fact is that I, who used to love to travel, hate leaving Absurdist Family.  I just hate it.  It leaves me fearful and shaky.  I always feel this way, which is why I've gone to so few conferences recently -- none last year, for example.

And then there are conferences themselves.  And I think if I'm honest and I dig through this blog, I'll find that my first posts were about going to Big Dreadful Interview Conference and hiding in my hotel room.  I'm just a hider.  Especially at the big conferences where I feel like I don't know anyone and everyone's on the make trying to sound smart with big words.

But today I feel pretty good about this conference because last night I presented and then our little group had our business meeting.  And so I'm leaving on a high note, full of panel ideas for the future.  I think I just have to make sure that I have some social element that draws me out of my shell as early in a particular conference as possible -- a real moment where I feel I can be some version of myself, not someone trying to network and all that crap that I hate.  I'm writing this here for the world to help me remember.  And, note to self, talking with new people is not bad.  I got two great ideas/sources from a woman I sat next to at the luncheon where I knew basically no one.  It was great.

Here's a more important thing I want to reflect on:  when I look at my Starbucks cup recently, it says things like you need the courage to live the life you want.  And when I think of the life I want, I don't think of academia, much as I love my students, sometimes, and I enjoy, sometimes, doing my scholarship.  I get a more writing, homesteady picture when I think of the life I want, the life I dream of.  And so I don't think of myself as very ambitious.  I want tenure because without it I won't have a job.  So I jump through its hoops (at first I wrote "hopes"), substitute for people on university-wide committees, am nice to people who should be flipped off (okay, I do that also because I begrudgingly admit that it's better to be a nice person than a shitheel, though not everyone at my institution seems to think so).  So I want tenure and then, I think, especially at my institution where full could only come with university leadership, I'll probably be one of those people who stall at associate while I pursue writing more in line with my dreams.

So it's a strange thing to me when I'm sitting there at a business meeting and we're talking about this task we need to delegate that would help the delegatee get his/her name out there, which, of course, is part and parcel of developing that national reputation so important in going up for promotion to full.  And I'm sitting there thinking, I need to do this, I need to do this.  And luckily my natural reticence kept my arm down and my mouth shut.  Also that it was framed as something that would be good for a new faculty member (and I'm not!!!  in a few years, I'll be considered mid-career!).  It occurred to me later that I don't need to take this on because a national reputation and full is not my goal.  My goal is to write the various projects that I want to write, whether scholarship or otherwise.  I have things I want to say in multiple venues.  I don't want to be a big name in my field, however much I love some of the big names in my field.  But I seem to have this amnesia about that in the moment.

So all that to say, I'm naturally ambitious.  If there's a hoop ringed with fire, I'm drawn to it.  This is why I have a PhD that I managed in normative time.  This is why I work pretty hard and engage in so much service.  This is why the only person at my institution worried about my getting tenure is me.  But what I really haven't done so well is pursue my own goals.  Wait, is that true?  When I have a goal to learn something or do something for Absurdist Child or whatever, do I struggle?  No.  I think I'm really talking here about my own writing.  I just don't pursue my writing goals with the same kind of driven seriousness.   Part of this is low self-esteem and my own crazy-making about writing.  ("I don't have the publications or connections or luck that X has.  Maybe I'm just fooling myself.  Maybe I don't have it.  If I cared about it more, of course I'd get it done.  Maybe maybe maybe.")  And truth be told, I don't pursue my scholarly goals in a dogged way either, though I'm dogged about the research.  I've an article I've wanted to get out since I finished my dissertation, and though I've started working on it several times, it hasn't gotten done.  Yet.  I don't want unfinished projects to be the story of my life.  I think maybe those hoops ringed with fire are just more knowable, less scary (other people have managed them; so can I, while in contrast no one has put forth my ideas in the way I want to yet, though if I don't get going someone may beat me to the punch here).

So here's what I want to say:  I get caught up in the promotion to full requirements because, assuming I make tenure, that's a tangible goal that is knowable and supported by my community.  Perhaps what I need to do is try making my writing goals (all of them) more tangible and supported by my community.  But I think I also need to think about the issue of knowable requirements.  I know what the tangible requirements are for promotion.  But what are the tangible requirements for my projects to be successful?

All this is good to think about, though summer is still a month away and that summer will be taken up with other things like putting together my tenure case (for associate -- talk about putting the cart before the horse!) and, hopefully, buying a house!    

1 comment:

What Now? said...

I think it's good to know what one's ambitions are and aren't. Getting through a Ph.D. means (at least for me) being trained to always jump through the next hoop, but ultimately we have to ask ourselves what we're jumping for? And ideally getting tenure should mean the end of that automatic hoop-jumping and getting to make decisions about what YOU want with your life.