Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Dr. Crazy as Stress-Monkey

I don't really even know how to write this post. All I know is that I want to write, in an effort to expel some of the half-thoughts that are swirling around, to ease some of the tension. So what's the dealio with Dr. Crazy?

The Job Search

It's about time to start sending things off. Job Search Mentor has reviewed my main materials - twice - and once I make the last set of changes, they'll be ready to go. On the one hand, this is good. As soon as they're sent, then I can stop worrying about it. The weird thing is I haven't really been worrying about it on the surface. Unlike my initial time on the market, this time around the prospect of the whole thing hasn't been all-consuming. It's not the first thing I think about when I wake up in the morning, nor is it the last thing I think of before I go to sleep. But at the same time, it's been hovering in the background for months now, so while I'm not overtly stressed I've been feeling a kind of low-level stress ever since I decided to do this thing. Now, the thing that is leading me to make this run at the market is still true: I do still think it's the right time to do it, and I do think that I am as strong a candidate as I can possibly be right now. But that somehow doesn't make it easier or better. In some ways it almost makes it worse: if it is true that I am as strong a contender as I can be at the moment, and if nothing comes of this effort, then it's going to be really hard for me not to feel like shit about it. When I went on the market the first time, I went in expecting to fail - I was ABD, and while I was an ok candidate, I really thought that it would take a couple of years to land the elusive t-t job. The problem, to some extent, is that I succeeded. I don't know whether my sense of it now - that I thought I would fail - is really true. That is the story that I tell myself, and it's to some extent the story that I'm trying to tell myself now - that I won't be surprised if I don't get any interviews, that I won't be surprised if all of this is an exercise in futility. Except this time, I don't actually think I believe that. I think that I will be surprised if nobody is interested. And I think that's dangerous. But as much as I tell myself the story that I don't expect anything, I can't seem to make myself believe it, not as I think I did succeed in making myself believe it four years ago. So there's that.

Then there's this thing I'm doing, where in order to repress potential hopes about success on the market I'm telling myself another story, the story of how I really have the Greatest Job in the World at the Greatest University. Part of that comes from guilt - I don't want to want to leave. This place has meant a lot to me, and the people here have been fantastic colleagues to me. But the problem is, clearly, that this isn't enough for me. If it were, I wouldn't have considered doing this for real. I would have maybe sent a few things out without thinking about it, thinking that it was a good time to do so, half-way to tenure, etc., but it would have been half-hearted. The problem is that I don't feel half-hearted about this. I feel like I'm in it, and like I really want for it to happen, to get interviews, to get an offer. That kind of wanting, given the state of things in my field, is dangerous.

And if things don't go my way, I don't want for that to make me feel like I suck or like I'm stuck with what I've got. I don't want for this to make me the sort of person who doesn't try for things. I'm afraid that could happen.

Maybe that's what this whole thing about: fear. I'm afraid of not knowing what's going to happen, and I'm afraid of not having control over it. I'm afraid of screwing up, but I'm also afraid of doing well. I'm afraid of being out of my comfort zone. I'm afraid of disappointing people (my dissertation adviser, for example, if I get nothing; my colleagues in my current department, if I do, and if I take whatever it is I get; my family, if I end up moving significantly father away; my family, if I end up here and unhappy and ALONE and I never have a kid and whatever).

But all of this is dumb. All I'm doing is writing some letters, printing out some cv's, and sticking some stuff in the mail. This is not that big of a deal. Except, of course, it feels like a big deal.

Once again, I wish that I could see the future, just so that I could be more prepared for it, you know?

And I haven't felt all of this particular stuff since grad school, and I hate feeling it. I hate that it all comes back the minute that you put yourself out there. I think it's the feeling that I'm going to be judged, scrutinized, and that's horrible, and yet I'm asking for it. (You might think I should feel that at my current job, what with being evaluated for tenure, etc., but I don't. I feel entirely comfortable about how I'm doing at this job and with how I'm regarded in my institution. I never feel judged or scrutinized. I never feel so fucking potentially inadequate.)

And you know a weird thing that has been stressing me out? I'm kind of freaked that I'll interview someplace where somebody on a search committee or in a hiring department reads this blog. I've been thinking about this, and considering different scenarios for how to deal with it if it should come up, more than I'd like to admit.

So I'm applying for eight jobs, at least 3 of which are probably total long-shots that will realistically result in nothing (and I'm not being modest in saying that). So that's five maybe-chances. I just hope I get at least one interview. Otherwise, well, I'm going to be disappointed. But whatever. Whatever will be will be. I'm going to send all of my stuff out this weekend. Maybe once that's done I'll have the sense of "it's out of my hands" complacency that would be a welcome relief after all of this worrying.

The Actual Job

I'm also feeling a lot of stress (less under-the-surface than the job market stress) related to my actual job. More and more responsibility keeps landing on my shoulders, and while I'm handling it with ease, it means meeting after meeting (and I hate meetings), and more and more smiling and making nice with people, and more and more productivity on all fronts. What all of this reminds me of is not graduate school but of what it was like in my junior and senior years of undergrad - when I was working like 20 hours a week, in the honors program, editor of the literary magazine, double-minoring, taking credit-hour overloads so as to finish in four years, etc. One of the things about me is that I'm really good at handling a lot of different tasks simultaneously. I'm really good at being involved in projects and in having a vision for things and having my hand in a lot of different activities. This is a strength. But it also leads to stress, as much as I'm good at doing it. Because part of me doesn't like that I'm this way - I wish that I could not want to do as much as I do want to do, and I wish that I could say no to things that I want to do more easily instead of just adding another thing onto the already full plate.

So it's weird, because all of this makes me feel competent and confident and proud of myself, and I like that others then view me as being confident and competent, but then I also feel like I lose myself in all of the to-do lists that I make and all of the moving and shaking that I do. I feel like I lose myself, and yet then I think that maybe this is really who I am. Maybe I want to be a "scholar" but what I really am is a worker-bee. (And yes, I realize that those things need not be mutually exclusive, but whatever.) I don't want to be a worker-bee. I don't want for people to respond to me based on my personality and my Grand Ideas for Improvement and not for the more... backstage stuff that I think about. I guess that's the thing: because this stuff comes easy for me, I don't really value it. And yet, because it makes me feel good to get acknowledged for things and to see myself taking care of business, I do it, and it feels like a cop-out in a way. It feels like I allow this shit to take over, not because I really care about it but because it gives me a kind of superficial high. If I believed in the outcomes of all my projects, I think it would be one thing, but sometimes I think I just do it all for praise or attention. And that's not the same thing as believing in something.

But then I don't know why I run myself down because of it. These things that come so naturally to me are necessary to making institutions of higher education run, and the particular quirks of my personality that allow me to have strong opinions without alienating people are very useful tools in negotiating the politics of higher education and actually making things happen. But I don't want to be this person. I don't want to be a born administrator. I fear that I am. (It all goes back to the fact that I like to be in charge - and that's also a thing that works for me in the classroom. The problem is that this liking to be in charge does not serve me in other areas, and those are the areas that I care more about, maybe because they don't come naturally? Who knows.)

And the Area in Which There Is No Stress, As It Barely Exists

So I've got no personal life, unless you count talking on the phone, writing emails, and hanging out with my cat. All of these things are pleasant, but a personal life they do not make. But do I really have the emotional energy for more than that right now? No I don't. So thank god I don't have personal life drama to add to the mix. That is, actually, a bright spot, as when I went on the market 4 years ago, I had TONS of personal life drama, and it all ended in tears. Much better to subject no one to the me that I am right now.

In Conclusion

(I had to include this last subheading in honor of my students - hee!) But so yeah, that's what's going on with me right now. I apologize for the long, self-indulgent, whiny nature of this post. But I actually do feel better for writing it, so I suppose that is good. I think this also means that I need to make a commitment to write in my diary more regularly, because it is wrong to subject an audience to much of this stuff. That said, I wanted to post this because it's been a long while since I've written anything that's really about me on this blog. And I wanted to post this because I think there's some value in having an account of how it feels to be mid-tenure-track and in this particular position.


kfluff said...

I think I've written this before, but I'll be redundant and say that YES, it is valuable to have your posts about academic life, in all of its aspects. I particularly love your description of the "superficial high" of various responsibilities that are non-scholarly. The more of this kind of work I do, the more I realize that it's taken the place of that deep focus and calm that comes with scholarly writing. It feels a bit like trading a piece of homemade apple pie for a roll of sweet tarts.

It must be time for dinner.

Laura said...

I, too, am on the market. But, there are so many things I like about my job. But I can no longer grow there and so I'm trying new things. And I'm pretty scared about it and sad. I've been cruising the job boards at CHE and it's kind of depressing, oddly, to see the right-out-of-grad-school folks so obviously optimistic and not concerned about leaving where they are.

Hilaire said...

Thanks for posting this - I'm glad it makes you feel better. It makes *me* feel better, just reading it...job marketing as I am. You capture so well the complexity and freakin' weirdness of this feeling - which is even more complex and weird for you, being in a TT position right now.

Best, best of luck to you in your search!