"Quotative be like": one of my favourite sociolinguistic phenomena, whereby we talk about, like, something that was, like, awesome that happened to us, like, five times yesterday. This post isn't about this, indeed it isn't about linguistics at all, but I couldn't resist the rather tenuous reference between the subject of this blog post and what is, like, a really quite observant description of modern speech. I digress.
And to digress just a little further, the observance of research never fails to amaze me. How we can find new things to study even though they're not new at all. Observance is surely one of the prerequisites to creativity? It's certainly one of the reasons I like to write. Observance in action. (Is observance even a word*? It is now**.)
Today has been one of the utmost incredible days where I am blessed with a feeling that leaves me like a bee in an envelope, and turns up around once every three weeks or so. It's that feeling of being able to do anything I want, be everything I want while also just being plain old me. The feeling tends to appear out of nowhere, on days when I am completely on my own and stuck in my own head, drinking coffee (because on normal days I don't drink coffee) and then forgetting to have my lunch because no one is around to prompt me. These days are my favourite, but if they were to come about more often than they do I'd probably struggle to cope with their intensity, and it would certainly compromise all forms of friendship that I have managed to gather together in the past few months.
Because currently, in every sphere but possibly most sharply in academia (and in publishing and probably other jobs with lots of eager young beavers fresh out of university) there is a pressure, or even a necessity, to be incredible. I always see it as hurdling over friends to take the opportunities, to be the everything that you just have to be to get the secure job and the balanced lifestyle. Middle-ground isn't enough; no one is enough, and you have to do everything and be everyone - all at once - if you want a chance of getting where you want to be.
I feel it, I'm sure we all do: someone else is doing something better than I am, someone else has written more, is doing more, has more experience in PowerPoint than I do. It's so easy to fall into that way of thinking, and it's potent in the corridors of the study areas on campus, where notice boards are spilling out with opportunities and keen young folk are signing up to everything with that dreaded CV at the forefront of their minds. One after the other we check the boxes, just to ensure that we'll have something to say when we are finally summoned to our fate.
Now one of my ultimate pet hates is naval gazing, I can't stand the term itself, but the actual process of deciding how we are as if we're one static entity that exists in the world but not with it, well it just doesn't work for me. We're chaotic, existing in a chaotic world: this time last year I did yoga nearly every day, now I thrive on not having a moment to be still, the adrenaline is pushing me through and keeping me going. If I didn't allow myself to change and shape myself around the changes that will inevitably happen in my life then I simply wouldn't cope; surely determining who we are in that strange, introspective and highly limiting way is just halting our progress and our ability to cope with life? But naval gazing in its least grimy sense probably does have a role, I think. I'm certain that, in order to succeed in this competitive and highly-structured existence you have to have some self-awareness, otherwise there's a danger of going through the motions, ticking off the boxes and sleeping with your arms wrapped lovingly around your CV, secure in the knowledge that one day soon your time will come.
Thinking about who I am as a researcher, as an (dare I use the word?) academic, really helps me to cope with the fact that I'm actually not that much of an all-rounder. Thinking about what I want to achieve and where I'm going, regardless of anyone else, sets the blinkers in place and lets me focus on exactly what I want to focus on. I recommend it to anyone, because I'm sure that we're all guilty of putting ourselves down at the hands of others' achievements, possibly if not probably on a regular basis.
This PhD is helping me learn some really interesting things about myself. At the risk of doing some naval gazing of my own, I see now that my strength doesn't lie in spoken communication, that I like time to reflect on ideas before making any comment. I see that I'm not very organised, that I work well with numbers and I love logic and puzzles more than I realised. I always knew that my enthusiasm was a real strength, but I see how it could also be a weakness and I have to make sure that I don't appear flippant or slightly ridiculous (I'd rather be ridiculous than flippant, it has to be said). I'm celebrating the fact that I can't label myself as a perfectionist, and my ability to let my mind loose over ideas and thoughts is how I create; the havoc that comes with it is wonderful, and tidying up afterwards helps me get back to a more methodological state of mind. Akin to putting twisted, messy bed sheets back into place after a glorious Sunday morning lie in (read into that what you will).
Like anything, it's taking some time to ease into all of this, and my feet are not often solidly on the ground - my last blog post just shows how up and down everything is. So I realise that I need to work out how I am (not who I am), stop worrying about those boxes that I so loathe and the world that comes with them. I don't feel so much on a ladder or even a path as just being me and doing what is right for me. When I look back to this time last year, when I couldn't have been further from myself if I'd had wings or flippers, it is really quite excellent to say that. Life has turned around and I'm even making something of the pieces that came off during the storm (more on that soon, maybe). And I got to find out for myself that miracles don't exist: you can actually make stuff happen if you try hard enough.
* Yes it is, but not [usually] with the meaning I intend here.
**Another thing I love about language: its limits. 'Observation' just doesn't fit what I want to convey in this context.