In June at our annual meeting of Kellogg health postdocs I’m appearing on a panel of “success stories”.
I don’t consider myself a success story at all. I don’t have tenure. I haven’t gotten to the space yet where I can finally take the projects in my head and make them a reality. And these past few years have been the hardest of my adult life, no joke. And not a week goes by where I don’t experience fear and anxiety. SIGNIFICANT fear and anxiety. One of the reasons I’m so interested in the neoliberal turn is because I’m living it. Stuck in the middle of it.
But when I look at my vita, at what I’ve actually DONE? I still don’t consider myself a success…but what I am decent at doing, is producing under stress. I don’t produce awe-inspiring great work, but I produce.
So what I plan to do in the time allotted me, is deal a bit with the circumstances under which I’ve been producing, and spend time talking about the two things under my DIRECT control that allowed me to produce under crisis and uncertainty.
The first thing? Consistency. Every day I try to be the first person in the office. Not because that matters for office politics–Hopkins doesn’t really work like that. Because the writing I get done at the beginning of the day is unlike the writing I get done at any other time. The peace of mind is incredible. I get to the office and write. My goal is 1500 words a day. I don’t always hit it, but that’s my goal.
The second thing? I let fear speak, then promptly ignore fear. The voice that tells me I don’t know what I’m doing, I’m going to be unemployed, my work won’t be worth a damn, I won’t ever finish, I won’t provide for my family…that voice? I let it speak, recognize it for what it is, and then keep it moving.
The first time I encountered this voice as an intellectual was during my dissertation. In the process of writing it, I lost the narrative. Several times. Had no idea what I was writing, no idea what type of argument I was making. No idea what the data was telling me.
I was scared out of my mind. I was putting my life, my family’s life on the line. If I couldn’t get this right I don’t know what the hell I would do.
What did I do? I probably should’ve seen a therapist, and had someone prescribe something for me. But what I did instead…was write anyway. I wrote as if the answer would come to me. And it did, eventually. When that voice came to me the third time…I knew what was going on.
And knew how to defeat it.
This voice continues to speak to me. It spoke to me through what ended up being the second chapter of Stare in the Darkness. It will speak to me as I write this second book. I will NEVER truly defeat this voice…but what separates people who produce, from people who don’t, is the ability to give this voice its say…and do the work anyway.
Looking back, I’m pretty sure I learned this through pledging, and probably through growing up in Inkster. Not sure how far it’ll take me. Not sure I’ll be “successful” when it’s all said and done. But I’ll be damned if I won’t be productive. Somehow.
Anyway, take a look at the interview below that caused me to write this. If you are an intellectual of ANY type…you should be able to get something out of it. (And yes, I wouldn’t have been able to do any of this without my wife and five kids…but they aren’t under my “direct control”.)