I was looking at the stats for this blog recently – focused on how many blog posts I had written each month. It started off pretty well – 5 posts a month in December, January, February, then 3 in March but back up to 4 in April and May. And then June suddenly, only one. I went back up to three in July and have managed that since then but it does make you wonder, what happened in June? The answer is, of course, that June was the month when I came close to burning out entirely, and was only saved by getting the help I needed.
That was three months ago. Since then, I have begun a slow recovery back towards myself. When I started this year, I thought I would focus on how I can redefine how I perceive and understand success and slowly, slowly, I have begun to do so. But coming close to burnout showed me just how much I still have to learn.
“I am unlearning the self-blame and internalisation of toxic messages of ‘value’ only in terms of ‘outputs’”.
This line in Vik Turbine’s latest post really resonated with me. One of the reasons I was burning out was because I felt I wasn’t doing enough – not achieving enough every day in my job, and not succeeding enough in writing outside of it.
It took a long time to realise that perhaps that feeling of inadequacy wasn’t actually me but rather the work culture that surrounded me. We review a lot of applications in my office – for small research grants, prizes, and jobs. Although I am not necessarily part of the review processes, I’ve noticed, and internalised, the way we speak about applications. People are valued according to publications and citation scores, grant funding or the prospect of future grant funding. And I understand that they have to be. I work in a neoliberal research focused university. It is inevitable, at the moment, that this is how we speak of potential.
But that doesn’t make it any less depressing. What about those candidates who are slower, for whatever reason? Who still have promising research careers but who haven’t quite managed the prestigious publication or grant yet? Those are the ones I wonder about.
I was internalising this criteria and weighing my worth against it because that was me, two years ago, three. Lots of promise but not enough publications. So it really isn’t that surprising that I absorbed the way we talk about potential into my assessment of my own work and worth. And of course, there is always that ever present question in the back of my mind: did I leave research or did research leave me?
Now that I am conscious of this talk, and the way it affects me, I can learn to cope with the feelings that arise. I can figure out what is making me uncomfortable. Sometimes this means remembering that academia is no longer my path, that perhaps it really never was. Sometimes it is physically removing myself from conversations. Sometimes it is going for a walk to clear my head and remind myself of what matters. Sometimes it is looking over my values, and remembering what is important to me now. Because things change, we change, and slowly, over time, we learn we want different things than we did before and it becomes important to let old wants go.
Things I’ve loved this past week
Writing tips for women
Recipe for brown butter, tea, and honey cake
Listening to your inner voice