I grew up being given a pretty strong narrative, that as a girl, I can do anything I put my mind to. From the onset of this blogpost, I want to acknowledge that this is most definitely not the case for everyone, and I also want to state that while this narrative was given, in reality it was not easy to do anything I wanted, and it still isn’t.
However, back to my musings… there seems to be this trend, or perhaps it is less of a trend and more just something that I have noticed within my circle of twenty-something / thirty-something year old women feeling like they need to be doing “everything”. That somehow we have got anything confused with everything. In my personal experience, this has led to me overworking, to attribute a lot of my self worth on my career, and overall to feel burnt out and anxious.
I grew up with really strong and successful female characters in some of my favourite shows, Friends, Grey’s Anatomy, The Bold Type, just to name a few. I have admired successful women on social media. I have been mentored by successful women in academia. I am surrounded by successful women in my personal life. I think this coupled with some of my personality traits (e.g. high in conscientiousness & high in neuroticism) has led to me feeling like I need to be a high achiever in my worklife.
I know that I fell into a trap of continually looking for what is next. The PhD was grueling as PhDs are, but then after the PhD it didn’t stop being grueling. I was looking for the next job. Then I got the job and then I wanted the next publication. I wanted my H index to increase, I wanted grant money, I wanted great teaching evaluation scores. I just kept feeling like I needed to be better and to do more. Now, I am not saying this in itself is a negative thing. If I want to maintain a long academic career I do need to do these things, but what I have released in these past few months is that I don’t need to do all these things immediately.
I had a bit of a lightbulb moment a few months ago. A really important lightbulb moment. A job advertisement was posted on LinkedIn that was really interesting. It was a senior lecturer position, in a field that I had experience in, and I did think that I would be competitive for the role. I am not sure why, or what made me think it, but while I was writing my cover letter for this job, I stopped and reflected. I realised that I was only 2 years post PhD. I was only just settling into my current role and feeling like I was on top of things. I also have things outside of work going on that I want to focus on. The lightbulb went off, and then the next morning I was walking into my office and I walked past one of the executive leaders, another successful woman. Momentarily, I felt inadequate, like I have so much more to achieve if I want to be even half as successful as her. But then I realised that she was not a 28 year old who is only two years post PhD. The lightbulb shone brighter… while we can do anything, we can’t do everything, and we definitely don’t have to do everything right now.