Figure out who you want to reach

In my last post, I talked about how perfectly reasonable it was not to be publishing if you think no one reads journal articles.

The problem is, you are doing all this work and you aren’t sharing it with the people who need to know about it.

You have great ideas. These ideas are important. You aren’t spending time thinking these big thoughts and doing all the work to really develop them, substantiate them, and articulate them for nothing.

The gremlins*, who are telling you You Should Publish in academic journals, or You Are Crazy if you think anyone really cares about what you are working on, are preventing you from getting your work to the people who would benefit from it.

They are also making it hard for you to think straight about what your options really are.

*I’m drawing on a few things I’ve learned from Havi at The Fluent Self when I say this. She calls them monsters. What Havi teaches is that these voices are not us but they are trying to protect us. Unfortunately they are often kind of mean. But we can talk to them. If this isn’t helpful to you, that’s okay, though you should know that even if you treat this monsters stuff as a purely intellectual exercise it sometimes helps clarify things.

Let’s try something.

Tell the gremlins to go grab a coffee while you do this. Reassure them that they can comment later and you won’t do anything truly crazy. But you need to think about this in radically different ways.

Are they gone? Or at least quiet? Good.

You’ll need a pen and some paper. If you like to brainstorm in non-linear ways, you might want a big piece of paper. If not, a regular pad will do.

You might start with an exercise to get centered. Take a few deep breaths. Sit comfortably. Plant your feet on the ground and really feel yourself relax.

Ready. Here’s the question

Who would really be benefit from your work?

Put another way,

Who’s work or life would be better for knowing what you are working on?

Think big. It could be anyone.*

*Just to be clear, I consider teaching to be an important way to share your work with people who need to know it. This is not a “research” exercise, per se.

Write down everyone that comes to mind. Don’t think. Just write. Continuously. Until you run out. (Don’t worry, you can cross some off later)

Now, take a break. Walk around for a bit. Maybe find some coloured pens or highlighters or something so you can play with your list.

This is just a first step

You now have a preliminary list of who you really want to be communicating with.

Knowing that there are people out there who really need to know what you have to tell them is powerfully motivating.

It’s also terrifying.

If you have any issues with perfectionism or fear of rejection, they might come bubbling up right about now. Because the stakes have all of a sudden gone up. You really care about what these people know about your work.

While I want you to be motivated, I don’t want you to feel a sense of overwhelming urgency. You have time to figure this out.

Some next steps, to be taken in no particular order

Put a star next to the people on the list you most want to reach.

Circle the people on the list you think you already reach, at least a bit, in one colour.

Circle the people on the list you think you will get recognized for reaching (e.g. in promotion or hiring decisions), in another colour.

Annotate your list with ideas about how you might reach some of the people on your list.

Do you know anyone who belongs to a group on your list? Could they help you learn more about that group so you could figure out how you might best tell them about the work you are doing?

For one group of people on your list, get a new piece of paper and write a list of all the people you know that might have a connection (however weak) with people in that group. Put stars next to those you know best. Underline those with the best (likely) connection. Start to think about how to use that network to learn how to reach this group.

Can you group list items? Would those groups help you identify opportunities to learn more about how to communicate with those people? Or identify opportunities for communication or collaboration?

This might be terrifying

This way of thinking about your work might have a profound effect on how you approach your career.

Unless your list is populated with academics, some of the gremlins might be getting very upset. They might start wondering whether you are ever going to get tenure or whether you’ve wasted your life pursuing academic work for this long.

The gremlins might be wrong. At the very least, they are probably not communicating in helpful ways.

Everything doesn’t have to change right now.

No one needs to even know that you have this list.

You can choose the smallest possible steps to figuring out what to do with this list.

You can decide when you want to work with the list. You can take a pragmatic decision about what you need to do to get hired and get tenure and leave the list until later.

You can also look for people who will support you in having a career, even an academic career, that values working for the benefit of the people on your list.