Sunday, January 06, 2008

It's all about expectations

It's almost one week into the new year and I'm going back to work tomorrow after a three week break. I have deliberately taken the time completely off and it's been wonderful. The husband and I have travelled to visit our families, we have had some time off on our own and I feel reasonably rested and much better than before the break.

I worry about getting back to work, because I feel the demands on my time there are higher than I can cope with, and I don't know how to deal with that or make it better. I haven't been blogging much in quite a while now, partly due to being away but also partly due to being worked completely into the ground for a long time now. I had what I could best describe as a couple of small breakdowns in the week before the holidays and in our first week of actually having time off, and it worries me that I don't see a way to prevent that from happening in the future. I feel pushed and squeezed and dragged in all directions. The expectations are high and although I do my very best at the expense of eating, sleeping and getting regular exercise it is never quite enough to keep up with what I am supposed to be doing. I see that other people are able to work very long hours and weekends in order to reach their goals, and it frustrates me that I can't do the same, but I'm beginning to realise that I really can't. I cannot work for much more than the designated 40 hours per week for any extended period of time. My time on the job is constrained and I don't have the academic freedom of lounging around in pyjamas all day if I want to, going out for lunch or making an appointment in the middle of the day. I get up at six every morning, commute to work and sit in my office for eight hours. If I ever want to work out, cook dinner, clean the house, talk to my spouse or have friends (something I barely have anymore) or lounge around in pyjamas and blog or watch a movie, I cannot work two or three hours each night and weekends. It makes me feel like a failure that I am not able to do this, but when I quit the real life stuff for too long, it pays back and that's where the weepy "breakdowns" came from.

It also bothers me that my year is so interrupted. In most years the months from about the beginning of May to the end of September are taken up entirely by logistics for field work, actual fieldwork and teaching field courses and unpacking gear and wrapping up logistics from the field season. That leaves no time for summer breaks or vacation time and a year's worth of work need to be accomplished in about seven months. I do more fieldwork than I have the time to write up any time soon, but it's the way to play the game as it is now we have the grants. Maybe this bothers me even more because my/our private life is similarly interrupted with the husband working far away from home two times three months a year and only one of these seasons coinciding with my field season. I think this lack of break and uneven pace of the year is something that really makes my life more difficult.

I know those are the conditions of the trade and I don't complain in general. I think my working conditions are just fine and that I/we as academic(s) are to a large extent pushing ourselves, but then again I don't think it's possible to be successful in this career without pushing oneself. I don't know if it's possible to succeed while taking the expectations down a notch or two, but I do know that I need to try to do so unless I want to get sick and unable to work at all.


At 5:52 AM, Blogger EcoGeoFemme said...

You need to keep yourself healthy, but you also need to keep enjoying it. If you don't enjoy your research, then you could probably find some other job you didn't like that would pay a lot more.

How much of the pressure to meet these unrealistic expectations do you think comes from you and how much comes from outside? In other words, do you think it would hinder your career dramatically if you took the expectations down a notch?

I hope you soon find a way to get comfortable with your time.

At 8:10 AM, Blogger saxifraga said...

Thanks, ecogeofemme. I'm not sure how much comes from me and how much comes from the outside. I think quite a lot of it comes from me and that's what gives me some hope that it will actually be possible to solve this, and I think I to some extent have set myself up for outside expectations by engaging in a lot of activities that sounded good and career enhancing at the time, but are maybe more than I can handle. But I also think that some of the outside pressure is very real. I could slack off a bit for the next few months before I start my new job, but then I will start a busy faculty position without much publications and be twice as pressed for time. It seems like such a bad circle and that's probably the worst part.


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