I’m now what is considered a midcareer academic (in fact, I am exactly halfway between when I was hired and when I can be expected to retire), which means I know how to do my job, but have still (at least in principle) a lot of gas in the professional tank. Someone might say that midcareer is really just early old fartdom; that someone would be me.
Many things suck about old fartdom. For example, I actually need to wear reading glasses, which both delights me (I look very stylish) and saddens me (I am so ancient I need reading glasses). But a great thing, professionally, is being established enough that I no longer feel the pressure to play super nice to the detriment of my own well-being. For example, we recently hired someone for a non-faculty position. I was opposed to it because of my prior interactions with that person. I didn’t just keep it quiet. I brought up the grievance; I sat through the uncomfortable rehashing of what exactly had transpired (nothing too awful, but enough that I want to avoid the person); I held my ground saying that I would not make a stinker if other people were in favor of this person, and I would do what is necessary to be collegial, but I did not want to be in charge of overseeing them or otherwise closely interacting with them. In times past, I would have just kept my mouth shut and would have never brought any of this up. This time I did. Maybe some colleagues consider me difficult now; so be it. At least I now have the cover for not interacting with the person beyond the bare minimum.
I recently did a similar thing regarding an external service task. I found out that someone who is very aggressive and condescending would be in the same group tending to this service task; a lot of folks in my field are like that, so it’s not like I am some sort of blushing debutante, and I can certainly hold my own, yet this person soured this (labor intensive) service task so much last time that my whole week was ruined, and I promised myself if I could avoid them in the future, I would. In contrast to what I did when I was younger, where I’d just withdraw from a task without a real explanation, undoubtedly causing people to consider me flaky, this time I shared with the person in charge exactly why I wanted to be removed. Maybe that makes me difficult, but I don’t actually have to do this service task. I am established enough. The aggressive jerk does not get to ruin another week of mine, and for the first time someone else at least knows about it, even if they don’t believe me. And my peace of mind is preserved.
I know people who’d be much braver and bolder in my shoes. Most such people are men. I, however, have felt that no one in the broader professional community really had my back, so I had to tread lightly, perhaps too lightly, but often probably not lightly enough as it seems women asserting themselves are always perceived as too forceful, no matter how gentle and tactful they are, because it’s never been about style, it’s about women asserting themselves still being anathema, even if subconsciously.
So these are my tiny, perhaps pathetically tiny victories against myself, my perceptions of the others’ perceptions, and perhaps even the others’ actual perceptions. Most importantly, these tiny victories mean I’ve chosen my peace of mind over duty and peace — I won’t spend tons of time on barely compensated work, only to be berated and condescended to — which in itself is a pretty big victory.
That it took me this long to take these tiny steps is disheartening, yet also, sadly, entirely expected.