PsycGirl had a post that reminded me of my recent struggles with not being heard/acknowledged/respected. The thing is, I am not universally or continuously marginalized. It gets better and it gets worse; sometimes I feel important and supported, other times I do not. So I do find myself detaching and re-engaging. Sometimes things get too much, and I need time off from colleagues and meetings. Other times, I am needed; I feel that I have things to give and that they are appreciated. When I feel down about the collective, like the other day, I feel I want nothing to do with them ever again. But then eventually I do. The thing is, I don’t think I am alone in this duality. Sure, some people can brush off professional friction; they let it all slide off their backs, backs that are as greasy for $hit to slide off as if they belonged to a superhero badass seagull who’s been diving in and out of an oil spill and just doesn’t care that he technically shouldn’t even be able to fly any more yet he does so, propelled by pure seagull badassery. But superhero seagull faculty are a minority (even at Seagull University). Most of us do get temporarily bogged down by professional slights, even minor ones. Wimpy seagulls are we, the ones that get tangled in sea foam.**
PsycGirl finds herself at the cusp of re-engaging, but is understandably wary. She doesn’t really trust the people as much as she used to (totally legitimate) and she wonders if pulling away and then leaning back in doesn’t come with a high emotional cost to her.
When I feel good about the whole thing, such as when it’s been more than a few days and many cups of coffee between me and the latest faculty meeting, my thoughts are along the lines that, when you are supposed to spend 30-40 years with the same people, getting on and off the merry-go-round is, in fact, completely normal and likely healthy. Here are the comments I wrote:
“I struggle with this issue. When I am overlooked or slighted, I vow not to get engaged with the department again. There are two things that trip me about this approach and lead me to eventual inevitable re-engagement. One is what you noted, that disengagement hurts me more than anyone else. It silences and suppresses the best parts of my personality — the passionate, mindful, caring part of me — and if those parts are not allowed to exist in the context of my work, then what’s the point? The second aspect is that most of my colleagues are not evil masterminds, and they too care about at least some aspects of the functioning of the institution; they are not adversaries by some grand design, but by the fact that they have their own priorities, things they care about, and biases. So it may be that this pendulum of dis- and re-engagement is how we balance the need to not wilt and die inside with the need to not kill our unreasonable colleagues.”
PsycGirl responded, wondering if she loses a little piece of herself with each detach/engage cycle, to which I wrote this:
“Doesn’t the leaving and re-entry hurt you after a while? It’s like every time I do it I lose a little piece of my soul… I feel that way too. But I think of it more as taking the rose glasses off or being cured of my own naivete. I think I recalibrate my expectations a little after every retreat so I am less (or perhaps differently) disappointed next time. I think this is what people describe as the process of toughening up or maturing or whatever else it’s called. Basically, every time you know a little more about all the many shades or gray… Something like that. My natural tendency is to be idealistic, bombastic, straight-talking, but honestly probably just naive. I think I need to get used to the fact that I am just one voice in the conversation; occasionally I get to be *the* voice, and perhaps I should choose my battles. Something like that.
So I think the moral is to disengage when you feel you should, then re-engage when you feel you can or simply want to, then disengage again when needed… What helps is that I have seen even the most seasoned and talented department politician get his feathers ruffled and sit out a few meetings. As annoying as it is when it is, this vacillating is probably inevitable, normal, and even healthy when you work long-term in a collective that has a semblance of a functioning democracy.”
** It’s daily blogging in November!!! Prepare for silly animal metaphors, lowbrow puns, and all the other ways in which playing with the language delights me, even when — especially when! — everyone else rolls their eyes in exasperation.