0 In Soulsearching

I don’t know where I’m going, but I’m walking the right path

I haven’t written a post about myself for quite some time. Not because I don’t have stuff to write about –my life this year is in turmoil– but because I hardly ever find the time, and when I finally sit down to write, there are too many thoughts buzzing in. This is the case right now, but I’ll try to seek for some clarity.

Things are hectic in part because my work contract finishes by the end of summer, and I should have a PhD dissertation almost ready by then. But the question that occupies my brain is what next? What do I do with my life? Continue being a researcher and work at uni, or getting what is commonly accepted in the academic jargon as “a real job”?

These are the things I feel like talking about today. In a nutshell, I don’t know if I am cut for academia (term that englobes higher education, research, etc.). I have too many interests that I am not sure I will be able to fulfill if I continue walking this path. There is a global disenchantment with what academic jobs have become nowadays and the pressures that they are subject to –pressures that affect both the research output and the quality of the education delivered to students, but I’ll talk about these another day. Academia is an institution to which you have to devote more hours than average if you want to be one of the excellent ones. Although I always strive for excellence, I am not sure I am passionate about scientific research (in the university context) to that extent. In fact, my hobbies lie elsewhere. I would love to stay in uni if I could work part-time, to have at least one day in the week when I can follow other ideas and try my luck at new business ventures.

But, hey, do you know of any part-time tenured researcher? Me neither.

It is the permanent struggle between doing an artistic or scientific job, and I feel I won’t settle till I reach or create the middle ground (a job that combines both). As I stand, I feel like a Master of None, with many and very diverse abilities but none specifically outstanding. I find this unsettling, but I think it is due to me making steps in all directions. Despite trying to hit too many trees, I feel I am steadily advancing.

For whatever reason, people seem to think I will stay in university and “make it”, or at least that I should try to do a postdoc (an ill-defined job that comes after your PhD and before you most likely do not get a permanent position). My advisers, for instance, are keen on me not quitting research. And their faith in me is flattering, but then again most days I think I belong somewhere else. I think everybody confuses the source of my excitement. I am indeed excited by what I research at work (which is hand gestures), but I am also excited by a peculiar pattern on the street tiles that I find compelling and satisfying to look at. With this, I mean that I am drawn to explore all things cognitive: how we perceive and make sense of the world, how we sense what is beautiful, how we feel and communicate, how we develop. But university research is not the only way to attain answers. If you think about it, we just need to open our eyes and observe, analyze. Write a blog, if imperiously needed. Or a diary.

I am excited about my job not because of the job itself, but because I am excited about LIFE.

I was asked by my adviser if I wasn’t looking too fast for answers outside the University walls because I am afraid to fail. My answer is likely to be a yes. However, the question can be turned around into the following “Am I staying in academia because I am afraid of all the unknown and unexplored that lies outside?” and that is definitely also a yes.

Consulting with family doesn’t help. They are stuck with the notion that becoming an educator is the highest and most prestigious thing one can do, that it will yield a sure employment (HA!) and that if potential employers see you have worked at university, they will certainly hire you over other candidates. I can’t seem to shake those once-upon-a-time-true-facts from my dad’s head –who still wonders why I studied English for ten years at a private ($) school if my intention was not specifically to teach English. Battle lost there.

My first visit to a professional coach

I have been reading a book that Flo got me for Christmas called “Designing your life“, and I also visited a professional career coach for the first time! It has all been very revealing. I have all the ingredients for success, but I just need to make the right recipe with them. With the coach I discussed that I love tracing action plans, and that as soon as I have a goal I will simply design a plan and make it. Period. The problem, and why I needed her help, is that I lacked a particular goal (in other words, what is the dream job I should train myself to get?).

She then took a piece of paper and drew a diagonal line. She pointed at the goal and ask me to mark with a cross where I was standing with respect to my goal.

But I don’t have a goal! I replied. It doesn’t matter, the coach said, just signal how close you think you are to where you would want to be in life. My response was quite optimistic, and actually really honest. Somehow, it didn’t even matter that the question was so abstract. I am doing fine and I feel that I am definitely walking towards a very good place, despite the uncertainties of the present moment.

We then discussed that, rather than thinking about a concrete goal, I should think about the ingredients that would constitute that goal. For instance, what is it that really gets me into a flow state at work? What do I enjoy most? etc. I was surprised to find out that this was quite in line with what I had been reading in my book, which starts by asking questions such as “Why do you work?” as opposed to “What work do you want to do?”. Then, she advised me to revise the graph every now and then and reposition the cross along the line, and reason about –if I am closer to the goal– what is it that makes me feel this way. What have I done to get closer?

In the next weeks and months, I want to go deeper into these career development issues, to report on the exercises I’ve been doing and the steps I’ve been taking. I will try to contextualize the exercises taking the work that I do now (research in the humanities) as the starting point. Hopefully, the posts that I will write will be revealing to other people doing jobs similar to mine and feeling like they have nowhere else to go (this is so wrong!). I also want to do this because I feel there is a shortage of information on career options for humanities folks –it’s all about the natural scientists!

Keep tuned, be happy, and spread the love!



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