How Do You Change Visions?
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.