A few months ago I passed a milestone in my own post-PhD academic life, by starting a full-time academic contract. For several years I'd been juggling two part-time contracts at neighbouring universities, adding up to roughly full-time hours and with a higher than usual concentration of teaching, so in terms of raw time commitment the move to a full-time job didn't seem particularly daunting. Instead, over the months leading up to the shift, I grew increasingly excited at the prospect of leaving behind the 'juggling' aspects of part-time work and being able to focus on one set of responsibilities – even including some time to dedicate to research again.
Sure enough, going full-time has indeed led to a simplification of my working life, and to an increase in my own freedom to choose what I do with my time; I'm confident it was the right decision to make. What I wasn't prepared for, however, was the way in which this brought back to the surface feelings of being an 'imposter' that I hadn't felt for some time (about which I blogged here several years ago); these sometimes left me feeling that I was underachieving, or lacking in direction – even, at times, wishing I were back in my previous double life, hectic and stressful though it was at times.
Reflecting on this, I realised that I'd actually derived a lot of personal satisfaction from the constant demands on my time and energy made by two academic jobs, which left me feeling always 'wanted' or 'needed'. Moreover, I had been insulated from potential 'imposter syndrome' by my part-time status; any insecurities about ability or performance could be assuaged by a reminder that my hours were limited, and so I had to maintain realistic expectations of myself. Upon going full-time, of course, this insulation disappeared; and as demands on my time decreased, so did the feeling of being important, being valued. In a situation such as this, I need the words of Psalm 131:
My heart is not proud, Lord,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.
But I have calmed and quietened myself,
I am like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child I am content.
Israel, put your hope in the Lord
both now and for evermore.
(New International Version)
What a powerful reminder that my life is not built on busyness, on being needed, on overachieving! In the midst of a world seething with ambition and the longing for constant productivity, David's words here speak of simple contentment, of an awareness of our (valuable but still limited) place in the world: we are not gods ourselves, but rather children of God. They remind us of our need to rely on our Father (seen in this context as our heavenly Mother) as the basic foundation of our being and status, and to be satisfied with God's presence.
If my testimony or this Psalm resonate with you in your own life, you might reflect on the following questions:
- What aspects of my life or work might I be over-reliant on to give me worth? For me, it was feeling busy and 'in demand'; for others, it might be something totally different.
- How do I find the balance between confidence in my abilities, and an acceptance of my limitations? As an academic, I find myself provoked by David's calm assertion that 'I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me'; are there things in my life, or my field of study, that I should just leave be?
- How might my life change if I wholeheartedly took hold of the reality that I am 'called', not 'driven'? This is a distinction made by George MacDonald in his book Ordering Your Private World, which I mentioned in my earlier post about 'imposter syndrome'; I continue to find it a helpful starting-point for reflection.