I have opinions on things. They’re often not particularly well-informed. I have gut feelings that I often run with. On a regular basis I find that they lead me to cul-de-sacs where I am trying to defend a position I no longer believe in. I usually speak before thinking. I usually think before listening. I put the process of developing my opinions backwards. The result is something unformed and poorly constructed.
I get excited about things. I move too quickly and ignore reservations and bad feelings. That’s how I ended up with a house with horrible plumbing problems. I didn’t feel right but I ploughed ahead because I was excited unaccountably. It’s happened many times in my life: I decide I want something, I go forward and invest in it, and end up with something I wouldn’t have gotten if I’d studied before acting. This has cost me money and time and effort repeatedly in my life.
I like to feel important. It’s a failing of mine. I want people to admire me and my work and my efforts, and not challenge me too strenuously. Whenever I make a step forward, I want to feel like it will get me more recognition and respect. When it doesn’t, I feel sullen and ignored. I’m always excited when I publish a new paper that I’ll get lots of citations and be vaulted to a place of prominence in my field. It hasn’t happened. When I started my expressly academic blog over at Scientopia I fantasized it would lead to immediate prominence as a science blogger. Of course that’s absurd – but fantasy doesn’t respond to realism.
I’m still me. I’m still just a mediocre engineer toiling away doing useful-but-uninspiring work. And that’s fine. I’m happy to be that guy. I’m good at being that guy. What I struggle with is knowing what’s appropriate ambition and what’s stupid fantasy of personal glory. I will do better without personal glory.
Personal glory is often toxic to alcoholics. As we see ourselves profiting from our own efforts, we start to believe we control our destinies. When we feel in charge, in control, invulnerable, we start to make decisions on our own. We alcoholics are not good at making decisions. We tend to decide to do deplorable destructive things to ourselves and others. When we try to operate in the world under our own power and process, we end up drunk, and dying.
I’m grateful that I have a framework for my life now. I’m glad I don’t have to keep relying on my own wretched insight and opinion. I’m glad I don’t have to be a warrior. I’m glad I don’t have to try to insist that my opinion is the only opinion. It’s exhausting to have to be right all the time. It’s exhausting to need to have others embrace my rightness. I spent so long fighting. I’m so grateful to be done.
I still advance too many opinions. The right thing for me to do would be to simply follow the advice in the book Alcoholics Anonymous: “We have ceased fighting anyone and anything.”, and “We have no opinion on outside issues.” It would be better for me, for my serenity and my development, to simply abandon the pretense that my ideas – about anything – are important enough to try to promulgate them. That is vanity, and I am vain.
I don’t have much of relevance to say about academia. I’m not a real academic. I don’t have much of relevance to say about the culture wars. I’ve never been marginalized. I really only know three things well enough to talk about them with any kind of impact: complex systems, health care delivery, and alcoholism. Beyond that, all I can do is bray.