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How Do You Change Visions?

16 August 2016

I am fond of telling people with academic resumes that there are many other kinds of jobs out there. After all, I have one of them. I’ve had a few of them. My job is, I think, a lot better than an equivalent-rank professor’s job. I don’t have to scare up my salary in grants. I don’t have to teach or be subject to the whims of students. I make a decent bit more money than I would as a professor. And I still get to do interesting “research”, such as it is, and publish my work and present at conferences and whatever.

But I am not an academic. I am a middle manager in a large hospital. If I am ever going to be a professor, it will be adjunct. I was an adjunct professor before. I will probably be again, but I am not likely ever to be on the tenure track, or even a non-tenure track full time researcher. My career decisions have taken that from me, and that’s ok. I am good at what I do, and I work for a prestigious institution with a mission I believe in. I’m just not faculty.

But being an academic and a researcher is part of my vision of myself. And in part because of twitter, and the academic community I’ve become a part of there, I’ve tried to wedge myself in to academia. I do novel investigations! I publish! I get small, occasional grants! I’ve had real academics in my family! See? I’m one of the cool kids.

But I’m not. And the truth is, I had my chance at that world and I was marginally successful for a while, but I didn’t work hard enough, and I left for a better set of working conditions. And I got them. So why am I still trying to keep my foot in that door? Why do I pretend I have relevant opinions on federal funding and budgeting, on grant awards, on publication policy? I am an outsider, face against the glass.

I do that in many communities. I’m not good enough at anything to be an insider. So I do my best at a lot of things and latch on to those I can perform just well enough to seem like a participant for a while. Running. Music. Writing. Academics. Math. Science. I’m not actually adept at any of these things. I’m a poseur in almost every aspect of my life. I desperately want the people who are actually good at these things to think I’m good enough to be one of them.

I am not. I once might have been. Alcohol and indolence undid those dreams.

I can already hear some of the scientists who I know read this thinking, “Oh yes, I have impostor syndrome too.” I am not suffering from impostor syndrome. I have intentionally inveigled myself into societies where I do not belong, and cannot compete, because of what I want to think about my own quality, when it is not there. I am not an faux-impostor. And I am not a real impostor either – I cannot pass for these things I’d like to be.

I am simply a groupie. A person who so admires what others do that he wants to be somehow insinuated into the world where they do those things. Impostors at least have the talent to pretend.

So how to I change my vision? My vision of myself, my vision of the world I want to live in? My vision of my career? I am judged by things now that are not the things I would like to judge myself by. Corporate interests. Management. All those spiky buzzwords we love to mock and disparage. Finding my way in that world requires some heaving involution of my intent and efforts.

I am 42 years old. And I do not know what I am. I have spent so long forging false identities, I’ve neglected the mold of a real one. What should I be? What is left among these untended paths that I can still be? Or should I meekly accept the truth of my life as I have built it so far: I am nothing sturdy.

And I have never found much honor in flimsy things.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. 16 August 2016 15:56

    You aren’t a groupie. Groupies are out there to collect a superficial experience (getting fucked on the band bus, having their boobs signed) at least to me. From my experiences, there’s more to the dialogue than simply ‘oohing and ahhing’ over what others say. There is something learned. We give different perspectives. We are the outsiders, but this isn’t a bad thing.

    I’m in a similar situation. I can’t talk about what it is that I really do on a blog or twitter. I follow a ridiculous amount of neuroscientists (of which I know nothing about) on twitter. I am sad sometimes that I can’t have a meaningful discussion about our respective research. I do have to publish and patent and present at meetings. I have to write grants. I have to collaborate with other scientists. I just do this under different auspices. Yeah, I do really like going to teach a class occasionally. I just don’t see this as a failure.

    I like listening to the chatter about grants, and how to present data, and new techniques. It’s watching science happen. Would I like to be one of those that makes it happen directly (instead of say, designing the instrument that helps said researcher do their thing)? Absolutely! Could I have made different decisions to go down that path? Yes. Am I satisfied with what I have? For the most part.

    I’m not super good at any one thing, but I think that this is what makes me useful. I know enough to do what I need to do. I know enough to know I’m being bullshitted. But the most important thing is that I know that I don’t know enough. That’s ok.

    • 20 May 2017 11:55

      Shall follow me all the days of my life….I don’t think awake is a problem, given our discussion of sleep at night. However, paying attention, or putting it together may be a big issue!

  2. Aimee permalink
    16 August 2016 23:44

    Oh my god you have no idea how sad this makes me for you. You have swallowed SO MUCH BULLSHIT. So much green-eyed elitist in-group CRAP. I can’t even. There are so many deep fallacies about relative worth embedded in this post it makes me tired to even imagine trying to explain them to you. Maybe this small anecdote about our mother will give you a tiny hint of the kind of thing I’m talking about: when I was six or seven, mom got me piano lessons. After about two months, she said “well, it’s clear you’re not a prodigy. I don’t see why I should keep throwing money into a hole in the ground.” I’m sure you have your own anecdotes that make the same point. Your years in academia and your continued engagement with people of the same mindset as mom had have apparently led you to internalize the odious and repugnant attitude that you have to be the biggest fish in the pond; unless you are the very best at X you shouldn’t expose your inadequacy by attempting X. Nevermind whether or not you enjoy it. Nevermind whether or not it’s good for your health or your spirit or your community. None
    of that matters compared to the SHAME you feel when somebody “better than you” walks in the room.
    The very idea that you think you aren’t capable or worthy of holding an OPNION on policy or whatever just because somewhere in the world, someone exists who is better informed than you are is so dumbfoundingly elitist and at the same time so pathetically fear-driven and craven that it makes me want to spit. Repeat after me: there is nothing about specialists that is inherently more worthy than generalists. They aren’t better people; God doesn’t love them more. Get over it. Seriously. Don’t spend one more minute of your life on this childish drivel.
    Sorry but part of a big sister’s job is to kick your ass once in a while

  3. Aimee permalink
    16 August 2016 23:52

    Two minutes later – I feel bad. I realize that you have actually (and fairly recently) starting doing lots of things that you aren’t the best at – being sober, running marathons, etc. and while I don’t retract anything I said I wish I had expressed myself with a little less venom. Clearly it’s a sensitive topic.

    • 17 August 2016 07:01

      Don’t worry. 42 years have inured me to your venom. I see the love beneath it.

      • Aimee permalink
        17 August 2016 10:57

        I hope so. Part of the reason for my extreme response is the sneaky, ugly thought “if my brother feels this way about himself, how the hell should I feel about MYself? After all he’s a million times more accomplished than I am in dozens of ways. I must really be unworthy.” All of which is the narcicisst’s way of saying “I admire you.”

  4. 17 August 2016 09:06

    I might have said something similar to Aimee, but don’t know you as well.

    But please stop it. You are wonderful. You are a sober miracle.

    When someone told me years ago that when you are being self-conscious, you are being self-centered – it really changed the way I saw things.

  5. pyrope permalink
    19 August 2016 14:56

    +1 to what everyone else has said

  6. B. Kiddo permalink
    20 August 2016 02:09

    Or rather proudly accept the truth of your life as you have built it so far: person with a great job and a fantastic partner, person who runs marathons and whose writing inspires and helps people struggling with alcoholism (and their loved ones).

  7. psycgirl permalink
    21 August 2016 05:53

    I have never, ever thought of you as a groupie and always thought of you as an academic. That being said, I struggle with disagreeing with you because you should get to define yourself in the way(s) that you wish.

    What you said about recreating vision and not knowing what you are really resonates with me. I am going through a similar experience right now – I don’t feel like I fit, I don’t want the career the way I always expected. I would put it not as “I don’t know what i am” but “I’m really lost” but I suspect the feeling is similar. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Syd permalink
    5 September 2016 09:17

    I am agreeing with Aimee here. You are good at so many things. I see you as being whip smart, a great writer and researcher. What is wrong with being a person with wide interests in science? Look at the great classical scientists who proliferated in many directions. I remember Stephen J. Gould, who was an expert on Cerion land snails, saying that only 7 people in the world cared about his research. Yet, millions read his popular books on evolution. Sometimes we just plough ahead because we care and are interested in what research we are doing. Academia is not more glamorous. You are on your own journey of study. It seems really good to me.

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