Saturday, July 14, 2007

The good girls don't have personal lives

When I saw Advisor last month we spent some time chatting about other INRU grad students and recent PhDs, some of them her advisees and some not. In discussing the current project of one high-achieving woman, Advisor said, quite pleasantly and matter-of-factly, "Now she just has to finish it up. She does have a way of letting her personal life get in the way of her work."

I smiled and didn't say anything, in part because I think I know by now that Advisor tends to hedge even her compliments with negatives (and because I know that the woman in question is entirely on track and doing very good work). But I also know at least a couple of the recent events in this woman's "personal life," one quite bad and one very good, and they're events that would be time-consuming and delaying for anyone. So internally I shook my head and thought, "What's this about 'letting' one's personal life affect one's work? Who can help it?"

Well. There's what we think and. . . there's what we think. Because here I am, with the summer half gone, and I'm not at all sure what I've gotten done. I've transcribed those two MSS--which are actually for a back-burner project--and I've done a reasonable although by no means impressive amount of reading for both my current chapter and a new article. But I've only just resumed my actual writing, and although it's entirely possible that I could completely revise my chapter and pull it together before summer's end (as well as cranking out a conference paper and a couple of abstracts) that's not at all certain.

But is this about my personal life? In some ways that's what I'd like to blame, and it's true that I got virtually no work done for the two or three weeks right after my breakup. . . but then again, it was still May, and I had guests in town and travel of my own, so it's unclear to what degree that event was actually responsible. For the past month I've averaged only about one truly bad day a week, but I have felt generally lethargic, easily distracted, and unmotivated.

Is that related? Is that just summer? Or is it just me?

I'm not sure, in the end, if I'd be more okay with my (possibly) slower progress this summer if I believed it to be due to personal drama. In other people's lives, I think I’m quite understanding of the effects of emotional and psychological stress; I've been told, anyway, that I'm a sympathetic listener and a good cheerer-up. But I've never been so tolerant when it comes to my own problems--and it's not about my work ethic so much as it is about my frustration with my perceived irrationality. So I find myself walking around and talking to myself, saying things like, "What, you're crying now? That's stupid. You've been cheery for the last week. Aren't you supposed to be over this? Seriously. There are people out there with real problems."

Yeah. Sometimes I think I actually am my advisor.


A White Bear said...

For me, not having much of a personal life is as much of a drain as having an overly dramatic personal life, both of which are distracting because I'm filled with non-academic longing. I hear my female students and colleagues saying this all the time, that they need to take breakups as a good opportunity to bear down and get things done, but I can't see it that way. I'm most productive when I'm comfortable, satisfied, and loved. What good academic lives on bread alone?

What Now? said...

Oh dear. You do know that your problems actually do count as real problems, right?

Also, remember that you didn't have a real summer as such last year because you were busy moving to a brand new place and settling in. So do give yourself a chance to have some downtime (for problems and otherwise) this summer without worrying that it necessarily means anything in terms of productivity or lack thereof.

Flavia said...

AWB, I think you're on to something. I could never be one of those single academic women who truly seem to live only for their work and their dogs/cats. I at least need a stimulating circle of friends, and lots of outings! Too much time on one's hands is deadly.

And WN: well, maybe. It's hard to know. I haven't had a breakup since I was 18 (was essentially & effectively single for the 8 years between 18 and 26), so part of what I'm feeling is, "Dude, this happens to people all the time, and under much more dramatic and upsetting circumstances. What makes you think yours is such a big deal??"

Flavia said...

And oh, how rude of me! Thanks for your encouraging words, WN.

lucyrain said...

And so goes the academic life (for women?).


When are we able not to feel guilty?

adjunct whore said...

i have always been of the belief that such dichotomies are nonesense at best and distructive at worst. there is always the personal and acting as if this is the necessary sacrifice of being an academic is unrealistic and downright oppressive.

and on the personal, allowing yourself downtime is the best way to resolve and move forward. i never know when such a need is going to strike me but when it does, i honor it, let it wash over me, and then i can think again.

adjunct whore said...

i can't spell when i comment, it's an affliction. sorry.

life_of_a_fool said...

I'm with A White Bear. Not having a personal life and personal crises are both distracting. I wish I could channel that into work (as it seems I'm always in one or the other state and wouldn't I at least then be productive??), but then lucyrain is also right -- when don't I (we?) feel guilty?

Tiruncula said...

Can you imagine a world in which summer didn't have to involve "progress"?

Earnest English said...

I think this whole thing of feeling badly about our feelings and our extra-academic lives is as bogus as our middle-class (and usually white) female forebears having felt guilty for wanting to work and be a person outside of the roles of housewife and mother. What's more, I know men who feel that their academic lives prevented them from knowing their children more. This isn't right! Everyone needs down time. The academic year is so stressful and project-oriented (like the tech industry, but we're not as well paid so we can't afford weekly massages, twice-weekly therapy appointments, and the other extras that make that life almost bearable) that we need downtime in the summer -- and to not feel badly about it!

Flavia, if you're crying, it's because you need to cry. If you're being lazy, it's because you need to be lazy. Listen to your body and your feelings. Be kind to yourself. Now, if only I could take my own darn advice!

medieval woman said...

I think we always are our own toughest critics - at least me and all my other grad school/colleague friends are. And I think that trying to separate work life from private life is just one big sham - there are some advisors who can do it, but there's always some bleed over.

I think you're doing awesome! new article in the pipline! New chapter in the cooker! You go girl! And if you need to cry every other day, that's cool.


RunningRedLettered said...

Found your blog through the History Enthusiast... and I'm glad. This post has a lot of things I'm feeling. I just posted about attempting to balance work and relationships, and how work seems to always come first.

While this post is a few weeks old, I will say HANG IN THERE! Sometimes we need personal time to create opportunities for productive time.

Now, time to listen to my own advice.