Redemption

A while ago I wrote this post about what I’m passionate about in the midst of some heavy self-doubt about my professional identity. I have always been pretty clear about my preferences and interests…my real problem was being scared of uncertainly, risks, and failure…all very real prospects for any academic who’s trying to “make it.”  For months, I’ve been looking not only for jobs (albeit half-heartedly because I was unsure about what’s going on) but also a sign. In my own way, I’ve been praying for higher powers to reveal to me the meaning of my life outside of my wonderful family and married life.

Back in September I made the commitment to go a regional professional meeting this past week. For a while, I was dreading the whole ordeal and briefly considered abandoning the trip. My logic was if I wasn’t going to stay in the field/profession, what is the point of “professional development”? Fortunately, I did have a travel grant to spend on this trip…so I thought why not go for the good weather, good food, and good company? It’s hard to say exactly why, but this trip turned out to be the sign I had been seeking. Here are some thoughts about this conference and how I felt while I was there:

1. I love research and all other academic nerdy stuff! On the first day there, I spent 5 hours in a room listening to people speak about their research and I was absolutely enthralled by the whole experience. Yes, by the end of the 5 hours, my back was hurting from sitting too long and I had developed a slight headache from waking up really early that day to catch my flight…but I held off going to the bathroom so I wouldn’t miss any minute of the presentation. In that moment, I felt alive, happy, and comfortable. 

2. I have the best mentors. In this academic life, it’s very easy feel alone or that you’ve been left behind in some way by your peers, life, and happiness. I know that sounds desolate, but this is a very lonely life. Being at the conference reminded me that I’m a part of a community of scholars and there are people out there rooting for me and willing to mentor me. All my life, I’ve always been blessed with the mentorship of great teachers. In Chinese, we call those who bless us with guidance and mentorship 貴人 (rough translation: good-person)…and I have them in my life. I am not alone. No one expect me to “make it” all by myself.

3. My very good friend and colleague MAG made a really good point…he said “academic is a part of your identity.” Identity is a funny thing and it’s actually a concept I occasionally use in my work. But MAG is right: being an academic is a part of me, which explains why I felt so wretched when I tried to “sever” ties with my academic identity. I once thought maybe I had been brainwashed and only clung to academia because it’s the only thing I know. After this past week’s experience, I don’t think that’s really the case. Although it is still the area I know the most about, trying to turn away from it just made me miss it more.

There are also several other events that made me realize other parts of my struggle with this academic quandary. For one, I thought perhaps my husband and I can allow his military career to be the dominant one and I’ll just do all that I can to support him. But sometime over the last week, our good friend J and his wife B said goodbye to us and moved on from military life. This made me realize one day, my husband will also leave the military: it might be in a year, in 5 years, or in 15 years…but regardless, he will leave it one day and be proud of all that he did. Where does that leave me? Maybe I’ll have children and be proud that I spent all my life supporting my family…but I don’t think that will be enough for me. I have to live out my potential beyond my home life.

Lastly, I don’t think I ever really gave myself the chance to make this academic and military dual career work. Yes, objectively, the conditions and the terms of these two types of professions are incompatible…but there are also ways in which it might work out. For example, aside from only working PT or being a stay-at-home mom, it is very hard to negotiate time off to coordinate with the big chunks of leave time that our military personnels enjoy. As a professor, it is actually very standard to have summer and winter vacations, which often coincide with summer/winter leave. It’s definitely not going to be perfect: if I do pursue an academic career, there will have to be serious compromises (e.g., living arrangements, children)…but I am hopeful (for the first time) that we will be able to coordinate so we can both become illustrious in our careers and become well-established in our respective chosen careers. I need to work hard and give it a chance.

Strangely, I feel that this conference was my redemption and it pulled me out of the depths of my despair. Even though the period of uncertainty and self-doubt really hurt my progress, I also believe it was necessary for me to fully appreciate what I have and who I am. Fall and winter is at an end; spring has sprung. And it’s wonderful I came to my revelation the day before Easter. I am so thankful for this gift.

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Am I a Procrastinator??

“The distance isn’t important; it is only the first step that is difficult.”

– Marquise du Deffand

I’m a regular reader of the daily inspirations on the Chopra Center. I love it because it helps me think about my life and the way I choose to live each day – with intention. This is the quote I saw today, which brings me to something I’ve been struggling with as of late. Procrastination.

I wouldn’t say I’m a chronic procrastinator, or that procrastination is present in many aspects of my life. My house is fairly organized and clean; in fact, my husband and I make a conscious effort to not allow chores to pile up for more than a couple days at most. I also make an effort to not allow errands to pile up or drag itself out so dry cleaning is done on time, cars are serviced within schedule, bills are paid before they are due…etc. I am also hardly ever late for work, school, social engagements…and I have been able to meet my deadlines. This is except when it comes to my dissertation.

What’s going on here?

I find myself staring at my computer and not getting much done. I’ve been reading many books but none of them really related to the work I have to do. I would set goals for myself, but not able to reach them because I would choose coffee with a friend, browsing at Target, watching a TV show, reading an unrelated book, working out, cooking….basically you name it over writing and working on this damn dissertation! Someone once told me this process of screwing off is normal, but I feel absolutely awful and consumed by guilt after blowing off work.

In true procrastination fashion, I decided to read a book about procrastination (but I also want to know how to overcome it). I’m usually pretty good at self-diagnosing my psychological state and interpreting my own behavior. For example, I know the reason behind my procrastinator behavior in regards to the dissertation – it’s not because procrastination is my usual modus operandi but rather there is something specific about the dissertation that feeds my behavior. So I need ideas/guidance/tricks on how to correct such behaviors. 

I found a short little book that’s an absolute gem. The Procrastinator’s Digest by Dr. Timothy Pychyl  is a concise book about why people procrastinate and what can we do to overcome this behavior. It took me maybe two hours to go through it and understand what I can do to get myself back on track. I am also taken with this book because Dr. Pychyl is totally realistic in his advice and recognizes that procrastination is a habit that takes time and effort to correct. The idea is not that by reading his book we’ll suddenly have an epiphany and become non-procrastinating on adverse tasks. At least for me, the best part about this books is we learn to understand why we behave in certain ways and then acknowledge our behavior. Only through acknowledgment can we start to address our problems and use problem specific tools to overcome our behavioral tendencies. There are three quotes from the book that really spoke to me:

Procrastination is a problem with not getting on with life itself.

My current motivational state doesn’t need to match my intention in order to act.

Self-change is a journey I take daily, and I will persevere patiently as I take two steps forward and one step back.

Especially the last quote. It reminds me of why I go to yoga and what I try to work on while I’m on the mat. For too many years, I’ve been too harsh on myself – I’ve learned to forgive others a long time ago but I’m still working on forgiving myself. By acknowledging that my state of mind (and the cause of my inability to complete my work), I set the intention of self-forgiveness: I forgive myself for feeling scared and ambivalent; I forgive myself for feeling weak and vulnerable.

Intentions

My prime intention for 2013:

I will refuse to allow obstacles to consume and dissipate the quality of my attention in the present moment. I will accept the present as it is, and manifest the future through my deepest, most cherished intentions and desires

–Deepak Chopra

This is the beginning of the 3rd week in this new year…and I’ve been working on myself. It’s been kind of up and down for me since last fall – I oscillate between motivated/hopeful and unhopeful/lost about my plans for 2013 and future career prospectives.  Although I’ve gained some new perspective in this process and feel OK psychologically and emotionally most of the time, I still fall into episodes of “darkness.”

In December, I applied for two teaching jobs but I recently received a “thank-you” letter for one app and didn’t even hear back from the other (despite the fact this current term have started). Even though a lot has changed between submitting my job apps and right now (I am probably not in a position to take a full-time job anymore), it is still very discouraging just because it was kind of a “dream” job and it casts a shadow of doubt on my prospects in the future. I am a fairly rational and logical person…but sometimes it’s just too tiring and difficult to call yourself back from the edge of dark thoughts.

I tried to talk to my husband about how lost I feel in life and that my ambivalence about finishing my dissertation stems from being unsure what’s my next step in life. The pragmatic soul he is told me that I’m in fact, very blessed – I’m not under any type of pressure to find a job immediate because his (fairly good) job will be able to cover the expenses for both of us for the foreseeable future. I guess that is true but it somehow doesn’t make me feel that much better. I’m guessing this is an issue that I will have to revisit in the future…but for now, I’m trusting my head and heart to the intention of moving forward and keeping in the present moment despite obstacles that may arise. I need to keep exploring and searching…but I still need to move my life ahead. I’m always a work in progress.