One of the more depressing aspects of being on the dating scene is the competition. There always seems to be competition (whether actual or imagined) from the better looking, the wealthier, the better connected. One of the more depressing hurdles about courting the Academy is that there always seems to be someone more brilliant, more published, better networked.
Having spent my life being the nice, working class, socially awkward type, I was often broken hearted when the coolest boy in school put me firmly in the friend-zone and asked out the pretty girl. Similarly, when I apply for jobs, I always seem to be runner up. I mean, consider what the Academy is. When you realise that it is a small industry choked with high achievers, it could be to an onlooker, The Bachelor.
But it’s not really. I don’t believe that. I believe courting the Academy is a marathon. You don’t fall in love after 14 episodes. The final rose ceremony is not your PhD graduation. In fact, I reckon the award of my PhD is not even half way. Apparently about 10-12 miles into a marathon people begin to despair because they have run so far and are in pain but they are not even half way through. It is at this point that the running becomes a mental rather than physical game.
I like this metaphor because I experienced all sorts of difficult emotions at the conclusion of my PhD. I thought I should be looking for a permanent job because that was what everyone else was doing. I didn’t feel like I belonged in teaching anymore and I didn’t yet fit into academia. What I am used to doing for a dollar is not what my PhD was about. I am transitioning in my expertise, not just my career. I was lost, confused and a bit panicky.
I needed a mental trick. I have a couple. I haven’t got a job yet but I think I have hit my second wind and these things helped me get there:
1. I don’t want a job (yet). Once I sat down and thought about what was important in my life, I realised that a permanent academic job is not what I want right now. I want to work flexible hours so I can be involved in my preschoolers’ lives for a bit longer. In 2018, my youngest starts school. In 2017 I will re-evaluate this attitude. I still work at uni doing sessional work and have a few research projects I’m assisting. I am networking and talking. I’m sticking my neck out and annoying people constantly for advice. I actually have enough work to warrant almost full-time attention but can work on a lot of it in the evenings. By giving myself three years, I’ve taken the pressure off myself.
2. I have never found things easy and have decided to embrace that. I have always had to work hard to get what I want. My upbringing was loving but difficult financially. My school was non-systemic and sometimes I was home-schooled for various reasons of necessity. I have lost both my parents. I got very few breaks that seem to be a part of the general higher degree research discourse. For a long time I was jealous of the people that just seemed to walk into scholarships. I unsuccessfully applied for a living allowance scholarship nearly every year of my 6 year degree — I did win a small “start up” one and another small “write-up” one.
I know, first world problems, and I need to get over myself, but hear me out.
Haruki Murakami writes in his autobiography that he has learned to love the fact he finds it difficult to keep weight off. He believes that people that struggle with weight and maintain healthy eating and exercise habits have more of a chance at a long life because they are constantly trying. People who have not had to struggle with their weight as young people have to struggle with the mental challenge of body break down later in life. People who have always struggled with weight are more mentally prepared for it. Whether true or not, it’s a handy mental trick.
I think its the same with working towards what you want. If you are used to plugging away, you continue to plug away until you reach your goal. Hurdles are helpers. In fact, one of the more challenging pieces of advice I have been given is “you need to be good at stuffing up… you won’t learn anything otherwise”.
My parents instilled a good work ethic and that has been the most valuable break I have been given. I reckon it trumps all possible others.
My mental tricks are mine. Yours will be different. What are yours?