As a mother of a three year old, I catch myself reading every article about childrearing that comes across my Facebook timeline. Lately, there has been an increasing focus on what it takes to raise resilient and thus successful children. Research from the Duckworth Lab at the University of Pennsylvania explores the idea that grit and self-control are predictors of lifelong personal achievement.
As I read these articles, I start to consider if these same traits predict success in academe, or rather I realized that I had been taught that these qualities would ensure job security and some modicum of fame in our little corners of the academic world. (Though this narrative of hard work and success has certainly shifted along with declines in funding for institutions of higher education, and the tightening of the job market. See recent news out of the University of North Carolina, LSU, and Iowa for the latest horrors.)
According to the Duckworth Lab, grit is the tendency to “sustain interest in and effort towards long term goals” and self-control is the ability to control impulses. My initial interest in these articles stemmed from an interest in what I can do to help my son develop the ability to self-regulate his emotional needs, and commit to and pursue long-term goals. Inevitably however, I turn inward and begin questioning whether I have these developed these skills well enough to pass them along to my son.
In these moments, I flash back to endless college nights sitting in a computer lab, grinding away on final papers (long before we had cell phones or Facebook to provide endless distraction). I am reminded of longer days in my windowless write-up office in graduate school, composing against a deadline – pushing towards a post-doc that awaited me that Fall. These experiences must have served as the training runs for the marathon that is the academic job search process and tenure track, no?
So it’s clear, I have grit. We are resilient. No women I know in academe are lacking these qualities. Most of us have enough extra grit that we could hand out some to those in need. I get the benefits of grit – I chose not to walk away from a few challenging situations (changing field sites after pilot research, switching graduate advisers, changing institutions while on T-T) – and I am slowly crafting a career that reflects an intersection of my personal passions and intellectual interests. But what is the cost of this kind of dogged pursuance of our professional goals?
What have I lost as I pursued these goals? If I am honest, I can name a few things: several hours of sleep, relaxing down time, the ability to attend my friends’ weddings, the sight of my cousin graduating from college having survived evacuation during Hurricane Katrina, among other things. I wake up sometimes, and cannot fall back asleep – not because my kid is keeping me awake – but because I lay in bed thinking about looming deadlines and upcoming projects. This happens too frequently, and I know I am not alone. Several of my friends have casually mentioned that the same thing happens to them. And I think I read somewhere that this cannot be good. I also sit too much, and don’t work out enough (though I used to run all the time…).
Perhaps the most troubling thing is that I don’t get to build and support my familial relationships and friendships. I communicate with my friends via Facebook, text, and sometimes over the phone. I see them at conferences, and on rare occasions – in person at non-professional events. The irony is this: I study social and kin networking in contemporary human populations. So I know all too well the value of these interpersonal connections for the maintenance of good mental and physical health.
But you know what? I have grit for days.
And grit is good, right? Well great, I can check that off now. I also heard that balance is something I should be striving for…I think I saw an article on that somewhere…