Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Acting not as I'm expected

Sometimes, it seems, we behave as we believe we are expected to. I don't mean like a child remaining quiet in public, or an immigrant avoiding discussions of open borders among a crowd of Minutemen. I'm speaking of how we feel inside, and how we show that to others.

I'll give you an example: When one of my sons behaves in an inappropriate way, say throwing rocks or sticks in the house, I may wish to indicate my displeasure. Do I always feel significant displeasure at his behavior? Well, when I choose not to ignore the behavior (which is sometimes the most effective response), I often allow myself to feel upset, and to display that outwardly, even when my inclination might be otherwise. That is, I behave as I am expected, or perhaps more precisely I display outwardly the feelings that I wish to be perceived as having. But being an actor as I am, that process of display often corresponds to inward changes, and I become as convinced as anyone that those are my true emotions.

How does this translate beyond child-raising? Let's look at my career. Should one be pleased at having completed a Ph.D., yet remaining unemployed, adrift in the waves of uncertainty? It's inappropriate not to be upset, not to be depressed even, not to anger at the questions, or sulk in shame when forced to admit this continuing state. It takes great fortitude of self-assurance in the face of these insults, an inner strength to believe enough in oneself, to face the world and say, "there is no lack in me, it is mere circumstance that puts me where I am". I am not always so strong. So, I play the role, whether I feel it truly or not. Perhaps it is also the hope that others will prop me up, my desire to hear words of encouragement and praise.

But sometimes we simply need to pull up our own bootstraps, and get hiking. All the means are before me.


Propter Doc said...

I think you sound like a pretty strong person to get this far and I think you've accomplished more than you appreciate inspite of everything.

I also think that the most appropriate phrase here might be 'fake it til you make it'. Start acting the way you think you should be for success, and maybe you'll start feeling it. It works for me when stuff sucks but maybe I'm way to 'stiff upper lip British'!

Just my 2 cents.

Greg said...

Yes, you have to just keep plugging away, focusing on what makes academics successful (mostly publishing) until things start clicking, as they surely will. It's very hard and unpredictable, certainly more than most people realize about academia.

undine said...

Playing the role and plugging away--yes. It's like the research that shows that people who smile feel happier. Or, as propter doc said more succinctly, fake it 'till you make it.

ArticulateDad said...

Thanks for all your comments. We're all in this together, eh? Let's enjoy the ride.