Wednesday, April 2, 2014
Fellow BLPB contributor and friend, Haskell Murray, bravely posted his view of FOMA and Family yesterday. I am contributing to the conversation with my own view of the issues he raised. Both of our posts are born of conversations we have been having off line for the past several months.
We are approaching (if not there already) the point in the semester when I typically feel overloaded by remaining materials for class and year-end administrative responsibilities, fatigue from spring writing deadlines and travel, and a little puzzled by how a summer that isn’t even here yet, already feels “full”. I know that I haven’t struck the right balance, especially not with an infant at home. And yet, if the phone rang tomorrow with an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up, I would instantly add it into the mix subtracting from “free” time and further bloating the scheduled column. I know that I am not alone.
I want to explore two ideas: “opportunities that can’t be passed up” and “free time”.
The bottom line is that I am grateful to have a job that is rewarding, engaging, flexible, and ultimately fun. I look at the pool of candidates we bring in each fall and consider myself immeasurably lucky to be on this side of the vote. At the base of my gratitude is a sneaking suspicion that maybe I don’t belong and that a mistake or an oversight was made in hiring me. So I work very hard to hide that unscratchable itch of doubt in myself and to allay it, should it arise, in any colleagues. From this place of uncertainty all opportunities, any opportunity, can look like one that can’t be passed up or turned down. I have confessed to Haskell that I feel like if I say no that it will turn the tide of good fortune against me, and I will lose all of the good luck that brought me to this profession, and to my school. And so I say yes. To everything.
I want to adopt a lens that helps me view opportunities as what they are—a potential path, not a destination. Opportunities and invitations are not things to be hoarded, gobbling up as many as I can count. Invitations are not validation. [Note that as I write this, I am gripped with the fear that someone reading this was thinking about inviting me to something and now they won’t…is it too contradictory to ask that you still consider inviting me?]. Invitations to present or to collaborate are an opportunity to move in a direction. But we can’t move in all directions at once: we must focus on where it is we actually want to go.
And this brings me to free time. Leaving personal free time aside (and my desire to spend one morning a week with my son over the summer), I want to focus on something even less discussed: professional free time. I want to carve out space to be contemplative about my direction and the steps that I need to take in order to develop my scholarship. I don’t mean setting a writing deadline for my next article, but I mean thinking broadly about what I want to do with my research. Of course we all want to do good work, and outside of tenure standards, individually we make our own value judgments about what “good work” means. Instead of writing the next article as an act of self-propelling force driven by submission cycles and symposiums, I want to revisit the notion of a scholarly agenda like the ones provided by candidates each fall. I want to map out where I need to go and the skills necessary to get there. I think that if I let my FOMA drive me to commit to everything that I will remain a slave to the schedule and fail to stake out my own path, set my own course, and pick the right opportunities to take me where I want to go. Only if I regain a bit of control over my schedule, can I ever hope to strike the right balance professionally and for my family.
So I turn the question to you—do you experience professional FOMA and how do you counter it?