To further complicate the guilt thing…
let me throw in that much of it for me stems from unclear expectations/paths/value of diff activities.
— Bonnie Stewart (@bonstewart) February 19, 2013
This is tough.
I think what Bonnie is getting at here is that it’s hard to know if you are prioritizing the right things. Is this really your best contribution? Is this really the step I need to complete in order to do that bigger thing?
This is particularly difficult if you are in that phase of building the foundation from which you can make an even bigger contribution — doing the things you need to do to get a job, for example.
Keep your ultimate goals in mind.
For example, you started the PhD to enable you to do something. You had a reason.
Don’t get confused between that goal of yours and the goals other people have. In particular, be wary of the goals other people impute to you.
Even as a tenured professor you can lose track of your values and goals. Sure, you need to adapt to the goals of the institution that employs you but you also get to make choices.
Other people will think your priorities are nuts
This is normal. You want to make a difference in the world. You have to take some risks to do that.
Maybe those risks are in your choice of research topic.
Or in the audiences you choose to communicate with.
Or in how you teach.
Or in deciding not to do something everyone thinks will be “good for your career”.
Focus on the path
My mantra for career planning is “You don’t have to figure out what to do with your life. You just need to figure out what to do next.”
This applies whether you are looking for a job or deciding what to prioritize in the job you have.
You are always making decisions based on a limited set of choices. You are never able to guarantee the outcome. Making a choice and taking that step will close off some options but also open up new opportunities you didn’t know existed.
You will learn more about yourself and what your best contribution is.
Mistakes are not failures
Looking back you can second guess the choices you make. In hindsight it may seem that committing to a particular course of action did not lead where you thought it would and doesn’t really look like the best option.
You are making that judgement based on information you have now that you didn’t have at the time. By making that choice and taking that action you got to where you are now. You have new information.
You can’t change the past. You can learn from it. Be compassionate with Past You that made those choices.
Extend that compassion to Present You. You are making the best choices given your current context. They are not the choices others would make but they are good choices.
This post was edited July 14, 2015.