I came across a blog post by an artist that resonated with things I know academics also experience. I’d like to share it with you with a few comments.
The post is Artist’s Statement — Part Two at The Pale Rook. In it the author talks about her own recent experience of being mentored and her own experience of teaching and mentoring other artists. When you read the piece you might want to substitute “research” or “writing” for “art”. Do not allow your gremlins to dismiss her post because artists need to sell their work and you have a salary. She talks about valuing her art in the context of putting a price on individual pieces. You face similar issues when negotiating salary, applying for a grant, applying for a promotion, or even putting boundaries around work time (for which you are paid that salary) to work on your own creative work (which you call research, or writing).
Some excerpts will give you a flavour of the piece:
“Here’s what I realised about myself.
I feel bad about people paying for my work because I think that the people who buy and even those who appreciate my work are somehow being duped. I keep feeling that at some point I am going to be found out to be an imposter. I feel bad when my work is considered valuable.
Issue number one; I do not trust or value my talent.
And there’s more.
I worry that I am somehow going to get into trouble for showing off. I feel that if I openly value my work then people might not like me.
Issue number two; please like me, please like me, please, please like me.”
That shows up in apologizing for your work before you even present it, something she’s seen hundreds of students (especially women students) do. I have, too. Not just students, either. Tenured full professors sometimes still do this.
Have you done that? Started talking about your work with a bunch of caveats about what’s missing, or some other apology? Or, (and she doesn’t talk about this but I’ve definitely seen it) do you not say something because you do not trust or value your knowledge? Maybe you talk to your close friends and colleagues about that paper you wanted to comment on but you don’t actually comment in the seminar or conference room. Think about it.
The author goes on to describe an exercise that she does with students which I recommend to you.
“I banned my students from saying the word sorry, and we did a little experiment. They had to present their work without saying a single negative word about it, and throughout the exercise they would have absolutely no encouragement or feedback from me whatsoever. So no negativity from them and no approval from me.”
Try it alone. Speak out loud (that part is important) about your research/writing without apology. This will be difficult.
Try it with a group of friends or close colleagues that you trust. Each of you take a turn. No comments (positive or negative) including encouragement. Just listen.
This is one reason the Academic Writing Studio includes forums for peer support. I want to create a safe space in which to practice talking about your research and writing without apology. Because this is important. And because reading about the results this artist has seen, I want those things for you.
“Because I wasn’t giving them any feedback, encouragement or prompting, because they were getting absolutely nothing back from me, they would begin to say what they wanted to say. Not what they thought I wanted to hear, not what they thought was expected, not what they thought would make them likeable, but what they truly felt and thought.
There would be a change in tone and volume that was so moving, so utterly inspiring that I can’t even describe it to you. They would speak without apology, explanation or expectation, about what they loved about their own talent. Then they would realise that no one was laughing at them, no one was horrified, no one had stopped liking them, and that they weren’t in trouble, then their voice would get stronger and clearer and calmer. And when they shone, something would happen to the other students in the room, and to me; we’d feel just a little bit closer to our own value because we could see someone else connecting with theirs.”
If you haven’t read the full blog post yet, go do that now. Seriously. These are only excerpts. The post is powerful. Please read it and think about it as you wish people read and thought about your work: https://thepalerook.wordpress.com/2015/06/05/artists-statement-part-two/
Edited March 10, 2017.