Welcome to a new and ongoing conversation about how we work!
Our conversation is not limited to any particular line of work; anyone who wishes to improve their habits and approaches is welcome to contribute. No matter what we do, we all exist in a culture that prizes productivity and profit over anything else, so we struggle with similar issues related to procrastination, bad habits, poor health, and a host of other things that make us feel ineffective and, in turn, inadequate.
Here’s where I’m at. I’ve just finished my PhD and am working on securing enough publications so that I am competitive on the next academic job market season, which for me has already begun (cue dry heaving). I fortunately don’t have to teach until the end of September, so I have time to work on my own research before I’m back in the teaching trenches.
I consider myself a confident person: I like who I am as a human (thanks, mom) and take pride in what I do, though I hate the cult of academia itself. While I like who I am, I don’t like how I work, and sometimes that cycles back into how I feel about myself. For example, I really struggle with productive publishing. I have two drafts of articles that I’ve been sitting on for years. I submitted the first one to two different journals. One of them got rejected after five months with no comments. When I resubmitted to another journal they offered good comments, but I lost confidence when they decided not to take it after I made the changes. I began to feel inferior for not being able to get it up to their standards or taste. After these two rejections, I convinced myself that my writing is terrible and that I’m terrible and that I probably shouldn’t be an academic.
But in reality rejections are extremely common; we just don’t talk about them. The real issue here is lack of persistence, not my skills.
It’s easy to ignore facts when we’re governed by self-doubt and poor habits. This conversation should help us resist these forces. Every single one of us struggles with similar feelings about our work, but we convince ourselves that we’re the only ones in this position. And so we condition ourselves to this myth of inferiority, aided by years of terrible habits and competitive environments.
I also hope that we can dismantle myths about the perceived value of work in our culture. Everybody works on something worthwhile. Arguably, no one’s work is inherently better than anyone else’s, but our society assigns more value to certain professions over others. We learn to respect doctors more than waiters because of their labor rather than their personal qualities, creating a toxic environment where actual human qualities are relegated to a secondary status in our judgement of people. That should give us pause.
People should be able to take pride in whatever they do. Consider a professor who hates teaching or a waiter who hates customer service — their inability to engage meaningfully in what they do affects the students and customers they teach and serve, who in turn learn to undervalue the work around them. We perpetuate this cycle of treating work as drudgery, especially since we exist in systems that sometimes force us to treat it as such.
Let’s dismantle the myths behind work — whether that’s writing, building, cooking, organizing, teaching, designing, serving, healing — by talking about how we work: our processes, failures, successes, struggles, and so on. By understanding how different people work and cultivate good (or bad) habits, we might find new ways of improving how we do what we do.
You’ll need to sign up in order to contribute to this blog. Feel free to use an anonymous alias. There’s no particular structure or format to each post — just share your thoughts on your work and your habits. Tell us what you’re setting out to do and how you’re succeeding and failing. You can share resources that you find useful to your habits. Hopefully as this conversation unravels, we’ll have a better sense of how to approach our work with dignity rather than shame.