Are you telling yourself that you should be doing something that you really don’t think is valuable?
Are there gremlins telling you that the work you want to be doing isn’t really scholarly? Or that it’s unfashionable (“No one publishes that kind of thing these days.”). Or, that it’s not the kind of thing people in your discipline do but you don’t have the background in this other discipline so they won’t publish it either and even if they did…
If you feel guilty about doing the work you really want to be doing, and discouraged about the work you think you have to be doing, is it any wonder you find it hard to actually do research and writing on a regular basis?
The cutting edge is on the margin
Are you worried that your work is marginal? How would you feel if it turned out to be cutting edge?
Edge is a synonym for margin.
No one ever identifies the cutting edge in advance. Only in hindsight can we see it. The person who is now lauded as starting this exciting new approach to whateveritis was once toiling away in obscurity, probably thinking that her work was marginal.
Does it change how you think about your work if you imagine that you might be on the cutting edge? How would you get this work out there so that others can be inspired by it and take it in directions you can’t imagine?
The fact is, all this autonomy means you have to take risks.
You risk criticism, failure, rejection. You cannot reduce that risk to zero. There is no course of action you can take that does not include a risk of all of those things.
You also risk praise, influence, and success. You’d think that would be a good thing but I bet you are more scared of those things than you are of failure.
How would you feel if a graduate student from another university came up to you at a conference and told you that your work is what inspired them to go to graduate school? How would you feel if someone referred to your work as cutting edge? How would you feel if your name was one of those names every student was expected to be familiar with?
Reality is probably somewhere in the middle
Fearing both success and failure is normal. There is nothing wrong with you.
If you are actually doing scholarly work and sharing it with appropriate communities, the chances of serious negative consequences are pretty slim.*
The chances that you will be the next [fill in the blank with famous person in your field] are also pretty slim.
But the chances that you will do good work, and make a contribution to some interesting debates in your field are good. Particularly if you are working on something you believe is important.
*caveat: I have no experience in the US. I hear stories that make me really wonder what the tenure process is like there but I don’t have enough knowledge to distinguish between rumour and fact. Try to determine the real risks.
Related posts added 4 September 2018