Happiness Reset Sphere #3: Work

For the reasons why I decided to put myself through a happiness boot camp, see here. For the first two spheres in my boot camp, Parenthood and Marriage, see here and here.

Work was an obvious choice for my happiness boot camp, even though I’m not working (in the sense of being paid to do something) at the moment. I’ve struggled with being at home, and having my good work be raising my son (at least for the next five months). This struggle was largely what prompted my realization that I needed to reexamine my life in the first place.

Even though I can’t look for a job right now, there are still things I can (and should) be doing.

My resolutions for WORK are:

  • Write For 15 Minutes Every Day
  • Risk Rejection Twice a Month
  • Meet Someone Interesting Every Month

Write For 15 Minutes Every Day
If I am really honest with myself, I know what I want to be.

I want to be a writer.

I have always wanted to be a writer.

All through high school I wrote a fantasy novel (that eventually stuttered to a halt when I realized a) it wasn’t very good and b) I had unconsciously plagiarized far too much of the plot from the fantasy authors I’d been reading at the time).

The first year after we got married I wrote a novel. A complete novel. Start to finish. It used to sit under my desk, but in my new study I’ve moved it over to a shelf.

In the last six years, I feel like I haven’t written anything.

This isn’t true.

I’ve written all the posts on my blog (now into my eighth year).

And there’s the PhD dissertation, all 150,000 words of it.

Plus conference papers, and coursework papers, and comprehensive exam responses.

I have done a lot of writing, but none of it seems to count in my head.

I want to start making daily writing a regular habit again.

I picked 15 minutes, because it’s so short. I won’t feel very much pressure. If the writing is going well, I can write for longer, but if it isn’t, I’ve still made time to write.

I’m not putting any pressure on myself. I can use those 15 minutes on blog posts, or random ideas in a notebook, or as the start of something larger. All that matters is I turn up.

I’ve written before about how I tend to write in giant spurts of energy, how I find it hard to use small spaces of time effectively. I’m hoping this daily habit will help change that. I realized I really needed to reconsider my idea of what is the minimum amount of time I need to make writing effective/worthwhile when Q. came home one day and announced that he’d written the draft of his latest book proposal (for which I am a co-editor). While on the subway.

Q. is on the subway for precisely 10-12 minutes each times he goes to or from work.

When I head up to the university, during those 10-12 minutes I read a book or the Metro, or I stare into space.

Q. got out his laptop, day after day, and chipped away, and after a couple of weeks he had a book proposal.

I need to use my time better.

Risk Rejection Twice a Month
If I want to really take a stab at being a writer, I have to actually send things out into the world for people to read and possibly (probably) not like.

You will remember at this point that my novel is still sitting in my study, seven years after I finished the first draft. Partly that’s because I hate editing my work- I’m a perfectionist in that when I finish something I don’t want to return to it, which makes editing feel like torture. But mostly it’s because if I never send it to someone, it can never be rejected.

I would have had the exact same problem with my PhD dissertation, and it would still be sitting in my study gathering dust, waiting for me to tinker with it until I felt it was ready to be sent somewhere (read: never), except that my supervisor told me not to make the changes that the committee requested. He felt it was good enough as it stood to be sent to a press. And then he made contact with an editor he knows and sent him my summary of chapters and wondered whether he would be interested in seeing the manuscript. And the editor was interested, so now I couldn’t embarrass my supervisor by NOT sending the manuscript. I made the few changes my supervisor thought I really needed to, and shipped it off as a PDF. And the editor didn’t immediately send it back to me telling me it wasn’t ready yet, and it’s been a few weeks now, so I think he might have decided it was good enough to send to an external referee. We’ll see.

I need to become my own supervisor.

I need to embrace the possibility (and the probability) of rejection.

I need to learn to take criticism constructively.

So I made one of my resolutions something that would force me to take risks, to send my work out into the world. That meant I had to write something other than my blog posts on here. There are blogs that take guest posts that I’m interested in contributing to, and there is a parenting blog that I write for already, although I have been doing a terrible job of keeping up with my posting obligations. I’m going to start there.

Meet Someone Interesting Every Month
This resolution is really just a way of saying, “Schedule an informational interview at least once a month”, which is one of the most repeated pieces of advice for PhDs transitioning out of the academy (often just phrased as “network, network, network”). It’s pretty simple: the more people I know, the more likely my chances of getting a job, and the more people I chat with doing interesting things, the more likely it is I’ll figure out what I’d most like to do in said job.

This resolution is also about conquering fear. I HATE meeting new people. I hate calling people, period, but even e-mailing people I don’t know is stressful. It makes me incredibly nervous. I started reading Never Eat Alone last month and couldn’t get more than a third of the way through it. I understood his point (the power of networking) but the way he operated was just so completely alien to how I think and function, it was making me anxious just reading the book.

I’m starting with small steps. There are a couple of people I vaguely know who are in interesting alt-ac positions. If I contacted them it wouldn’t seem too out of the blue. And there is a woman my supervisor knows and respects who has the exact position that I think is probably my current top candidate for “Turia’s best job option if she’s not going to be an academic”. If I got in touch with her and mentioned my supervisor and said he suggested we meet (which he has), I think that would be an ok ice breaker. And then hopefully once I’ve done three informational interviews, continuing on will be less frightening.


Filed under A (Good) Day's Work, Choose Happiness, Life after the PhD

5 responses to “Happiness Reset Sphere #3: Work

  1. I’ve used the “15 minutes a day” trick for the past 4 years to make myself write my dissertation too. I was also inspired by Neil Gaiman who wrote Coraline in 15 minute segments, every evening before he went to bed. I feel like the more we ritualize our writing the more likely it is to happen! I feel a lot like you do about showing other people my writing though. It feels very vulnerable.

  2. You’re a wonderful writer from what I have read. Making it a priority in your life is so great. xx

  3. Oh, networking… my nemesis as well. And something I need to do a lot more of. You’ve inspired me to make more of an effort to make contacts… it’s really my best hope of changing my career direction as well!

  4. Pingback: Happiness Reset Sphere #4: Self | Res Cogitatae

  5. Pingback: Happiness Reset Sphere #5: Home | Res Cogitatae

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