Sunday, February 11, 2007

Trying to Get Back in the Groove

I'm having a really hard time getting motivated to do the things that I need to do in my real life after the past few days. I mean, it's always difficult to find the motivation to grade, but I'm finding it even more difficult today than usual. And as for planning my week ahead? I'm finding that VERY difficult, especially since it's unclear whether we will have a Major Weather Event that perhaps will force the university to be closed. What this means is that I'm pining about things beyond my control, and even that pining is not particularly interesting, as it's not taking the form of wondering about specific things that I could have (or should have) done differently (as I believe that I did things just fine, and can't imagine anything I'd have done differently) but rather just taking the form of, "what if what I want to happen does happen?" or "what if what I don't want to happen is the thing that happens?" and it doesn't go further than that because I can't have answers to either question, really, until I know what other people decide about things. And so then I think I should just go with what is in my control, i.e., if what I don't want to happen happens, i.e., how do I change the life I've got should it remain the life I've got, but the problem is, that seems like a waste of time, since it might not be the life I end up with, so why make a bunch of plans that I may not need to put into action? (And yes, I know all of this is very vague and stupid, but I don't feel comfortable being less vague and less stupid on the blog. But actually, even in my journal I'm being kind of vague and stupid, because I suppose I just don't know how else to be right now. Or maybe I've just transformed into a vague and stupid person after being "on" for 2+ days?)

So, in an effort not to be vague and stupid, let me write about something else. First, the Grammy's. 1) How awesome are The Police? And how hot does Sting remain? Maybe I should take up yoga.... 2) Yay for Mary J. Blige 3) I didn't get the whole JTimberlake filming himself Blair Witch Project style.

Second, my students fucking rock. In lieu of one of the classes that I had to miss, I gave my students an online discussion assignment, and it went SO. Damned. Well. Better than I could have hoped for it to go. It's made me rethink some things I do with online discussion boards - i.e., maybe I should include assignments like this as a regular feature of what I do with online discussion boards instead of having them be so directed by me. I don't think I'd go toward a completely self-directed discussion board - I think it went so well because they're used to my more directed-prompt expectations - but maybe interspersing this type of assingment would be something that would enhance the discussion board thing. At any rate, I really feel like the students didn't lose anything by not having regular class, and in fact, I think they might have gained something. That feels really good.

You know, one thing I do feel comfortable talking about is how I've approached my actual job during the job search that I executed this year. I think that I handled it as well as a person can handle such a thing. One, I think that it was really good that I didn't try to be top-secret about it. (I realize that not everyone has a situation where they can tell people, but for me, it was a really positive move.) That said, I also think that it was good that I didn't announce to all and sundry that I was looking. What this meant was that I didn't need to worry about people finding out, but at the same time, I was able to devote myself to my job even as I was looking for another one. If things don't result in me getting an offer, I really do feel like I continued to excel in my current job, and that I'm in a better position here than I was last year, which is as it should be. (Not that I was in a bad position: I wasn't. But nevertheless, I've made progress in this job this year, which is a good thing.)

Finally, and I guess this isn't so much about the execution of the thing, I'm just glad that I put myself out there. It's always easier not to put oneself out there, especially if one is relatively comfortable in one's current position, which I am. The easier thing would have been to continue on as usual, and not to subject myself to the whims of the market, to rejection, to the second job that going on the market really is. I'm glad that I didn't let being afraid - and I was afraid of a lot of things going into this process, not the least of which being that I would get no nibbles, that it would be confirmed that this one job was the only one I could ever get - rule my choices. And I've gotten some really flattering responses to my work and I have come out of this process (whatever the offer situation will be) feeling really valued in my field. I realize that this has a lot to do with luck, but I'm not going to diminish that feeling by chalking it up only to luck. The thing is this: even if I come out of this process in seemingly exactly the same place where I started, I'm not the same person as when I started. I've learned so much about myself, and I've gotten the chance to see the ways in which I've grown as a professional, as a teacher, and as a scholar, over the past 4 years. And I have grown. My ideas are more interesting. My teaching is innovative, and something that I really do excel at. My confidence - well, it has become something that I can count on and not something that I feel like I have to put on like a costume - something that's not really real if that makes any sense. I didn't know this going into this process.

And I don't think that I would know these things about myself if I'd not tried - if I'd not put myself in the position of being evaluated and judged. I suppose my narrative would be very different had I not had any success. And this is why it's dangerous to rely on the market to find one's sense of worth in this profession. Because there are a lot of worthy people who don't have the positive experience that I've had. I'm under no illusions that the success I've had this year (and even without an offer, I have been successful) is all down to my accomplishments. It's a combination of those with personality and luck. Obviously, one can't claim credit for luck. And I don't really feel I can claim credit for the personality stuff, as really, it's just who I am, and I suppose also a thing related to luck, as I'm lucky that I have a personality to which others seem to respond positively.

But you know what was weird about my experience this week? That I wasn't at all nervous. Throughout the process, I felt completely at ease. Part of this is because I prepare like a freak. Preparing like a freak really can help with the whole nervousness thing. Part of it is, I'm sure, the fact that I'm coming to this process this time without the desperation of not having a job. I know that I'm reappointed for next year; I know that my current department is happy with my work; I have a tenure-track job. Part of it, though, is just that I am a grown-up now. I feel grown and secure. I didn't know that I felt that until this week. Isn't that bizarre?

Also, I'll say this for a 4-4 teaching load at an institution with an often under-prepared, often resistant student population: it really makes you feel like an expert with all teaching situations. The more that I think about what makes a good teacher, the more I think that it has most of all to do with feeling complete and total confidence in your ability to handle anything that comes one's way. Sure, that has to do with being prepared, but so much of teaching is spontaneous. So much of it can't be planned for. And when I was a new teacher - or even a teacher with ample grad student experience - that was not something that I felt. I felt like so much was out of my control. Now? Well, I know that I can make things happen in the classroom. Or I can make students make things happen. I never feel like I'm drowning in the classroom. And it's my current job that gave me that.

As for research, my current job gave me a certain fearlessness that I never felt in graduate school. It was able to give me that precisely because research is not the primary focus here. I felt like I could putter along and try out any idea because my ideas have never been scrutinized. Any work here is good work, when it comes to research. And after being in a situation where I felt like I was under constant scrutiny (and all of the fucked up things that this sort of feeling inspires), I was liberated by being able to just putter along and to do whatever I wanted. (Note to Crazy's dissertation adviser: no, I don't really believe in "liberation." How could I possibly? See, I still feel scrutinized, if only by a character I've created in my head, for I think that my dissertation adviser has actually come to respect me, which is another bonus of this market run, even if I refuse to accept it in the interest of motivating myself not to be a complete lame-o research-wise.)

My current job has also taught me what I want from this profession. And I'm committed to getting that, whether I stay here or whether I move on. Changes are on the horizon, whether they are changes in my current job and location or whether they are big changes, like moving someplace else. Either way, I'm not content for things to remain the same. It's good to know that. It's good to feel like I'm formulating a plan for my future - like I'm not just waiting for my future to happen to me. And perhaps that, more than anything else, has been the value of what I've done this year. I've made decisions. I've made progress, under my own steam. And so how can I be anxious, when I've accomplished so much? How can I feel like a potential failure?

I shouldn't. Whatever happens, I've done good. So there.


Terri said...

You've done well, whether or not you stay or go. I know what you mean about the difference between your new, inner confidence and the kind of confidence that sort of bounces around you, like light off of mirrors. This sort of deeper confidence is one of the great benefits of . . . well, growing up (aging? maturing?--sounds like a bad skin commercial).

Good luck with all of it!

life_of_a_fool said...

It's great that you've achieved this level of confidence -- it sounds very much earned (and I aspire to feeling the same way).

And, I love the "so there" at the end of your post. :)