Landing the Plane

The bottom line is, you've been flying for a while now, and your only job is to get the plane on the ground.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

More Cliches that Work

I guess I have a theme going on this blog with the corny sayings that, though I would never allow an undergraduate to use them in a paper, nevertheless help me get through the day. So here are a couple of other random sayings that I haven't treated yet.

1. "Eye on the doughnut"

This is a saying my father loves, "Keep your eye on the doughnut, not the hole." He uses it all the time as a reminder to focus on the things you DO have and CAN do, rather than the things you don't have or can't do. Though he doesn't know it (not a big fan of the academic career path, my dad...) this outlook is of central importance to any person trying to do a PhD, an endeavor that is usually pretty hole-centered. As soon as you decide to apply to grad school, dire warnings about the bleak job market, low pay, and general misery of academic life surround you, and it doesn't let up for the entire long haul of the PhD. Of course it is important to begin grad school with a healthy understanding of what you are up against, and of course the job market is bleak, but it is equally important, once you've decided to pursue a PhD, not to let yourself get derailed by freaking out about "the hole." I try to remind myself of the skills graduate research has given me, and the experiences about it that I do love. I may not know where or even if I'll get a job, how I'll ever publish enough books, or even if ultimately this was a selfish and foolish career choice. But I do know that I've done some relatively cool research, met some extremely brilliant and generous people, and developed good classroom skills. I also know that I have friends all over the place making their way in academic careers of one kind or another, and I remind myself to be hopeful that I could do that too.

I think that the "Eye on the doughnut" is especially key for women in academics, where statistics regarding tenure, salary, and of course the of-late ubiquitous scary articles about childbearing as career suicide loom large. It's important to raise awareness of these central issues, but there's nothing to be gained as an ABD trying desperately to write a dissertation from allowing those statistics and articles to consume your thoughts, give you nightmares, and generally distract you.

Which brings me to my next cliche that works:

2. "Burn that bridge when you get to it."

I'm not even sure if that is the right saying (aren't you supposed to refrain from "burning bridges?" maybe the saying is really "cross that bridge?" eh, burn sounds better to me. more exciting.) but this helps me because of my tendency to engage in futuristic catastrophizing (see below.) I worry plenty about the future, so reminding myself that I don't have to figure everything out right now, and future pregnancies, publications, and university affiliations are just that, in the future, helps me get to sleep at night.

3. "Don't compare your insides to other peoples outsides"

This is a big one for me, surrounded as I am by incredibly confident and accomplished scholars. In general it's an order not to compare your own inner assessment of personal faults to the outer veneer of your peers. This comes in handy while reading other's CVs, introducing yourself at conferences, and even sometimes just getting out of bed in the morning. I try to remind myself of this whenever I have thoughts that start out like, "but everything comes so easily for ____. Why is the same thing so hard for me?" In other words, daily.

4. "Study Study or Bonk Bonk"

This is a silly one, that my stepmother used to say to use when she dropped us off at school. She never bonked us (meaning "hit") of course, it was more of a call-and-response thing that got us set to face the day. I still say it to myself at the start of a big day.


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