I suppose that this will be another post about the identity stuff that has been rolling around in my head lately, although I hadn't anticipated going into this territory today. I suppose it's because I just checked off the one thing I really wanted to accomplish (aside from the thing I can't accomplish that I mentioned in the previous post), which was to update my cv. I'm pretty good about keeping the CV updated with the big stuff - you know, publications, conference presentations, etc. - throughout the year, but nevertheless, I do need to sit down with the CV at least once a year to update all of the other crap that I do that I don't tend to think very much about. You know, the small, little things like serving on committees, or helping to organize an advising meeting for majors, or judging a contest.
So, I updated my cv, and it occurs to me that I'm totally not a lazy person. I'm a very, very busy person who accomplishes a great many things. And then this got me to thinking about the fact that I do tend to present myself as kind of a slacker most of the time (although not all of the time, because I think on the blog sometimes I present myself as having the weight of the world on my shoulders even though I don't tend to do this in life), and to wondering about why that is, and then to wondering about whether I really believe I'm a slacker, or whether this is all a clever ruse to try to dazzle and confuse those who would look too carefully at all of the things that I'm actually accomplishing.
Ok, I just deleted two entire paragraphs because what I was trying to say wasn't coming out at all. And so now I'm trying again. I think the thing is that in order to be successful in this profession, a certain amount of self-promotion (and self-absorption) is key. The people whom I most admire and who have achieved the most in this profession tend to talk themselves up - not down. Every time I see one of my mentors, she never fails to mention what she's working on, what most recently appeared in print, what her plans for her next project are. I've been actually trying to work on performing in this way, but I (for whatever reason) find it really difficult to sustain. For whatever reason, it feels more natural to me to downplay what I'm doing or accomplishing or planning, to act like it's no big deal and really not worthy of attention. This is not smart. This is, in fact, quite stupid. So what's the deal? Why is it that I have such a hard time with this part of things?
It isn't (at least I don't think) a problem with confidence. I'm actually quite self-confident, and I tend to have a high (perhaps too much so in fact) opinion of myself. The problem is not with me on the inside (it seems to me) but rather a problem with how I translate what's going on inside to the world outside. I don't want to appear a) big-headed (although I do literally have quite a large head), b) entirely self-involved, c) like a snotty person who thinks - in the words of my working-class family - "her shit don't stink." And so I think I try to avoid those pitfalls by talking myself down - oh, I'm not accomplishing anything, oh, I'm lazy, oh, I'm such a bad professor. But all the while what I'm really doing is talking about all of what I am doing - just not in a positive way.
So what does all of this have to do with identity in this profession, you ask? Well, I think that it has to do with one's identity because I think that many aspects of this profession are designed to make you feel like you can never accomplish enough, that you can never produce enough. And so if you fall into the trap that I fall into - and you talk yourself down constantly, or at the very least talk about what a huge amount you need to do that you're not doing or that you don't have time to do - I'm thinking that this will have to at some point have an impact on how you ACTUALLY see yourself as a scholar - or at the very least on how other people regard you, which is, perhaps, more important, at least in terms of professional success.
But then, isn't this version just the flip side of the positive self-promotion performance? It occurs to me that there is no model for talking about oneself in a moderate way in this profession, and so perhaps that's why it can be so difficult to have a moderate life for so many academics. There is no discourse for talking about work in a measured, balanced, non-crazy way. Either you're a crazy self-promoting narcissist, or you're a crazy self-loathing narcissist, right? There's no language for saying, "well, I accomplished a few things today and then I frolicked in the sunshine and then I had a nice dinner and took a hot bath," because if you talk like that, if you're not obsessed with the job, then you're not to be taken seriously.
I guess the thing is, I wish that I could talk about what I do professionally in a more moderate way without feeling like it's not permitted or like I won't be taken seriously if I do. I also wish I could be more comfortable with talking positively about my accomplishments instead of fearing that I'll be perceived as a jackass for being proud of myself.
1 year ago