A year ago, I had a conversation with Tasse Plein, in which he spoke of my self-sufficiency and confidence, and about what one needs to do to get ahead in academia. I wrote about it here and here. I realized something yesterday about how that conversation affected me. The idea that I needed to fit into the pecking order, that I needed to act in accord with my status (as an unemployed junior academic), that I needed to convince others that I needed them, that I was dependent upon them for letters, for contacts, that this was the path to a job, seems to have cowered me. I mentioned this in an email yesterday to my coach Paul. I wrote:
Tasse Plein had said something to me a while back that comes up now as I seek mentors, gurus, friends, and contacts. He said that he always saw me as someone who didn't need a lot of hand-holding, that I would do just fine on my own, but that in academia we need others, we need their letters and recommendations. He suggested that I might need to make it clear to him and others that I really did need them. Though it was clearly not his intention, I think I felt put down a bit by it, not insulted really, just cowered. He said that in academia people expect you to behave according to your status, and my status (like it or not) was in need of the largess of others.Paul's response was a bit of a shock:
AVOID PEOPLE LIKE THIS AT ALL COSTS.Oh my! Now, while I'll chalk up his dictat as a bit hasty, it makes me wonder. Look, this is one aspect of Tasse and my relationship to him. In some ways he's been a good mentor and friend. Truth be told, in other ways he's not been. I've written about silence, and the lack of feedback. I know that is what he has given me at times. I've accepted it because he is human, and because his life is understandably not focused solely on my success.
DO NOT SPEND TIME WITH THEM IN ANY FASHION.
I also understand Paul's point: at the moment, I'm stuck. The point of our interactions, the motivation behind these coachings, is to get me unstuck. What Paul pointed out in our initial conversation was that I need to surround myself with people who will help me succeed, and avoid those who will bring me down. In that light, Tasse is a member of my old set.
Of course, what I know is that I am responsible for how I take people and their comments. Sure, I should avoid the cycles that bring me down. But... I learned a while ago that the best way to deal with people is to have clear expectations of them. I recall a friend of mine, perhaps my best friend during my Master's program. We were both studying the same thing. But we were different, very different. He was conservative in politics and religion, and I... well, NOT! And yet, I learned that as long as I had a clear understanding of what I expected of our friendship, there really was a great deal we could both gain by it.
That said, I'm not sure I'm ready (or willing) to cut all ties to Tasse Plein. He has been a mentor at times (though arguably an ineffective one). But what's more, he is also a friend. I'd like to get past my present failed state, reach the point where I am successful and satisfied in my career, enough to approach Tasse and others merely as a friend, not as a dependent. Perhaps what I need most of all is to regain my independence. It's not Tasse who is the problem, but the relationship in my mind that has developed.