Well, I thought I was going to be able to address each of Amy's week question in one post each, but as I consider question number one, I am going to have to explore it in several posts. So, Amy week may turn out to be Amy month (says Rich with tongue planted very firmly in check). So, without any more contextualization, lets begin on question number one.
Question (or issue) one from Amy: How to set goals/direction when all of the external "gold rings" (tenure and promotion) are done.
I actually addressed this question indirectly last year a couple of times during my sabbatical, but let me explore it in more depth, and with fresh eyes.
I begin with my own paraphrasing of Henry Miller from Tropic of Capricorn: When you reach the limits of what is demanding of you, you reach the same dilemma, to be yourself. Dilemma is often not fully accurate; the better word often is crisis.
It is hard to imagine when one is a doctoral student seeking a tenure track position, or an assistant professor fighting for survival, but tenure and then promotion to full professor actually present and represent profound developmental shifts that can sink scholars into deep emotional water. Perhaps some of you are thinking, boo hoo, poor privileged tenured associate professor or full professor with your cushy salary and life time job security. "First world problems" is sometimes how these conundrums are labeled.
And this is partially why working through such a crisis is difficult; many do not accept or believe they are entitled to the powerfully mixed feelings that one goes through when the reach such a milestone. By not believing that their feelings are normal, the newly promoted professor sweeps their feelings under the rug, put on their happy and grateful masks, and only allows themselves their more cheery and institutionally accepted feelings.
Yet with this denial, as with all denials, come powerful costs. Without the external pushes and threats, scholars are forced to recognize that for the first time in their lives, perhaps, they are not having to respond to the demands of others. As the existentialists knew, with freedom comes anxiety. And with all losses, there is grief. This grief, the loss on connection to a community of expectations, can create powerful anxiety, loss, and leave us feeling without direction.
The problem is this: if you do not make space for taking in all of the feelings that go with this developmental shift, you cannot fully move past it. Without winter, there is no spring. Without allowing for the difficult fallow of not knowing who you now are supposed to be, many find themslves running form project to project, without coherence, or struggle with that they view as "low motivation."
So for now, for post number one of Amy week, I suggest that one piece of unpacking this dilemmas of self direction is to allow oneself to feel lost and aimless for a while. We need to experience the totality of our humanness, of our loss, not just the gratitude of promotion.
Stay tuned for post number two of Amy week :).