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On Self-Doubt

January 18, 2014

I’ve been on a bit of an emotional bender this week regarding my career, largely based on reading too many articles, mostly on Slate, about Ph.D. debt and the lack of jobs and how graduate students and newly minted professors are basically cannon fodder in the academy—and whether or not there even is such a thing as “the academy” or “the profession.” (Or, is it a cult?)

All of this has made me feel a bit sick, frankly, and drags out all of the self-doubt demons I have carried for years regarding my choices. And while I know that a lot of what has happened to me over the last decade has been the result of systemic problems—how the academy is structured, what our society devalues and how it persecutes women when they choose to become mothers, what happens to adults who become caregivers—it does get far too easy to lurch headlong into rampant pessimism.

I vented far too much on Facebook about this the other day and regretted doing so immediately. Egads, I’ve told the truth about my doubts…will I get into trouble at school for this? I have professors who are my Facebook friends, after all. And here I am wondering, doubting, questioning…writing things like “I don’t anticipate having a history career after I finish this degree.” Spouting off about my (supposed) worst case scenario, which is having to start over again when I finish graduate school, which, if all goes as planned, will be shortly after I turn thirty-five.

Yet what is so actually so bad about this? Why can’t I just write this dissertation, graduate, and move on? Is it just that because I don’t know exactly what will happen in the future, that it appears to be too scary to contemplate?

Why do I also feel this constant need to prop up my own ego—this blog of mine tends to vacillate back and forth between trying to be the “platform” that the Internet advises you to have, and also trying to honestly reflect who I am—I am the girl who has wanted to be a historian since she was nine or ten, I am the woman who really wanted to be an archivist but trained to be a tenure-track professor instead, I am a mother, a wife, a caregiver. I have my doubts and fears, and I want to write about them. I want to write about the things I love, too. I want to write, instead of holding back, which is what I’ve been doing for years, both academically and personally.

How much of all of my doubt comes from my pride and my ego—my refusal to just let go and let God? How much is that I didn’t realize that there are some serious structural and cultural problems with academia? Maybe it’s both? Maybe it’s neither?

Maybe I should re-read Howard Zinn and start a revolution?

Maybe I should just start cutting myself a break?

I know, down deep in my bones, that my problem this year isn’t the dissertation. It isn’t my department or my professors—who are some of the most talented and kind and wonderful people that you’ll ever meet—but it may be the fact that American society devalues the world of the mind in general, unless you produce things or ideas that are “financially lucrative.” This is sad. This is heartbreaking. This makes me angry.

I read a lot of self-help books (and, honestly, drop what you’re doing now and get to know Tosha Silver and Outrageous Openness). I am learning how to trust in God, and to try to live in this present moment. How to stop comparing myself to my friends. How to not make everything a referendum on my self-worth. I am learning that the writing of a dissertation cannot be about me trying to prove myself to my committee, my peers, and frankly, the world.

I have told myself in the past that I am someone in search of a future. Yet does “the future” really exist? We tell ourselves that it does, but all there is right now is just a woman typing on a laptop, listening to Internet radio. Drinking coffee. That’s it, really. And in this moment, I’m absolutely fine. I’m just me. It turns out that’s enough.


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  1. Amanda permalink

    Your question about the real existence of the future brought to mind Lama Marut. I recently read his book, ‘A Spiritual Renegade’s Guide to the Good Life,’ and in it Lama Marut discusses how the only “real” existence is the present and that the future (and the past) only exist in our minds. I think you’d find his ideas quite interesting. The book was a better presentation of his ideas, but this YouTube clip touches briefly on what he discusses:

    • Thanks, Manda…I added Lama Marut’s book to my GR to-read list. I’ve been delving pretty heavily into Buddhism and self-help over the last few years, and am pretty enamored of mindfulness and staying present, largely as it is helping me to stay sane lately! I will be sure to check out the video!

      • Amanda permalink

        I’ve been using mindfulness to help combat my anxiety issues. I think there is a lot of wisdom in Buddhism and I’m thrilled that cognitive neuroscience has started to recognize the value and potential for impacting mental well-being.

      • Me too…I find that it’s been helping.

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