That was the title of a recent sermon at my local UU church, about dealing with constant sources of distraction in our lives, and how addicted we have all become to these distractions.
I’ve caught myself been whispering it, thinking it almost unconsciously, remembering it when I am falling asleep and having it pop into my head as I bike to work.
The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.
I’ve been struggling lately – with just how hard I am working, with just how hopeless and subject to arbitrary randomness success on the tenure-track appears from here, so close to the starting gate. With how the fear of failure feels in my stomach and tastes in my mouth. With how omnipresent the anxiety is, despite working hard, not procrastinating, and feeling fairly confident that I am doing as good as job as can be expected, that I am not missing some key thing that other people have or know – despite trying to keep the comparisons with my peers positive instead of negative.
I don’t know. It’s all just so draining. I just shouldn’t be waking up in the morning and my first emotion is anxiety and fear.
I think: what if I give my everything to this, and it doesn’t work out? I’ll have traded these years – these amazing years of my children’s early lives – for nothing.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m dramatizing a bit here. I see my children. I am present with my children. But there are late nights, there are Saturdays when I need to be in the lab testing, there are the times when I am with them but my mind is somewhere else, somewhere where fear lives, at the bottom of a marshy pond, and I’m down there, stuck in the weeds, instead of up in the light where they are.
I need to find ways to deal with this because it’s not like this is going to go away. I mean, I hope I will have successes, but I know I will have more failures too. And the truth is that things that we strive for never make us as happy as we think they will make us. We always just want more, more, more.
I’m reading a great book right now that speaks to that very issue and that reminds me that relationships, hobbies, people, life are the things that matter. And I know that’s true. But it’s like holding two opposite truths together at the same time: on the one hand, if I don’t work hard, I will lose my career in about 5 years; and on the other hand, everything else.
It is what it is. For the most part I love it, I don’t want to be doing anything else. But I’m also anxious and fearful, and that part has to be dealt with. Soon. It helps to talk to other academics, it helps to read some academic blogs, it helps to do the work and to stop the work and do something else, to be resilient (which I am) and optimistic (which I am) and to persevere (which I do).
It helps to put this out there.
I’m just feeling extra down tonight: news of the increasing number of migrants drowning trying to reach Europe, the misogynistic, shaming, outrage against the mother of the boy who climbed into the gorilla’s enclosure (where’s the outrage against parents who leave guns lying around for kids to shoot themselves with?), reading about how student evaluations of teaching are so biased against women instructors, and just generally being consumed with bad news. It will pass.
Thanks for listening.