One reason I started doing what I’m doing is that I could see all of these brilliant, interesting people not really enjoying their academic jobs. For various reasons you were discouraged, frustrated, or just plain overworked.
As I’ve worked with clients I have noticed that one of the key elements in shifting that negative stuff is a vision of what you want your career to be.
It has to be your vision.
- Not “the things I need to do to get tenure”.
- Not “the university wants us to do this now”.
- Not “my colleagues only respect this kind of work”.
- Not “this is what [insert funding agency here] wants to fund”
That vision will be unique to you though it will share elements with things that other academics do. It will be firmly grounded in your values.
You will still work hard. You will still have to grapple with the bureaucracy of your institution. Your colleagues may not get it.
Grounded in your vision, your work is meaningful.
- You know why you are doing this particular task.
- You are motivated to do things, even when they are difficult or mundane or unpleasant.
- Doing the work is fulfilling in itself.
Your relationship to external recognition shifts.
Getting a job. Getting tenure. Getting a promotion. Getting a grant. Having your colleagues speak positively about your work. … These things still matter.
However, they matter differently. They are no longer necessary to confirm that your work is valuable, meaningful or worthwhile. They are no longer necessary to confirm your identity as a scholar, a writer, a teacher …
They are gravy. Not the kind of gravy that makes overcooked tasteless meat (barely) edible. The kind of gravy that enhances already good quality food and makes it even better. The kind of gravy that adds complexity to your already tasty meal.
And when you do not succeed, especially in a particularly stiff competition, you will still be disappointed. However, you won’t be questioning your core values and identity. You will be more able to pick yourself up, make a new plan, and carry on; proud of what you’ve accomplished even if it wasn’t enough for this particular externally awarded thing.
Articulating your vision may be difficult
This is normal. You have people all around you telling you what you should want. Or making assumptions about what you want. Some of which you want but …
If any of your vision is not validated by those shoulds and assumptions, it can be hard to figure out if you are even allowed to want what you want. Your own gremlins may be adding to the cacophony.(Spoiler alert: You are allowed to want what you want, though it is best to heed the words of the prophet Mick Jagger: You can’t always get what you want but if you try, sometimes, I think you’ll find, you get what you need.)
Earlier versions of this post were published on July 9, 2013 and in my client newsletter in June 2013. Edited & recategorized Sept 21, 2015.