Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Professional malaise

(Subtitle: If you've seen my brain, could you please return it to me? Thanks!)

After returning from the last conference, I decided to give myself a little break from work. I originally thought that after a couple of weeks, I'd be reenergized and ready to spend a few hours a week on my work again---mostly research, with a bit of teaching related stuff.

That hasn't happened yet. I'm finding I have zero motivation to get any work done.

I've been thinking about possible causes for this professional malaise, and here are my current theories:

1. It's back-to-school time. The blogosphere, my friends, and my colleagues all have the start of classes on the brain. I'm not teaching this fall. And oddly, I am missing the last-minute scramble and the anticipation of a new set of classes and getting to know a new bunch of students. And this is translating into me not wanting to work, because I feel disconnected from the rhythms of my job.

2. I spend so much time and energy just trying to get through the day, working in "now" mode: Comfort the baby. Feed the baby. Entertain the baby. Clean up that mess. Do Yet Another Load of G*ddammned Laundry. When I do have a free moment, it's hard for my brain to immediately switch to "smart" mode, let alone remember what the hell I was working on a few months ago. It's easier to blow off work and save myself the trouble of thinking. And this is making me feel disconnected from the work that has defined me for so long.

3. I am anxious to return to work in the abstract, but have mixed feelings about returning to my current position (still). (Which reminds me, I should probably finish that series I started a few months ago, "To Stay Or Go", since I only got to Parts 1 and 2. Look for more posts on that in the future.) And this is making me feel disconnected about my place in the world---I don't want to be a stay-at-home parent, I want to continue being a professor, but I'm not sure if I want to be a professor at my current institution, so where does that leave me exactly?

I'm hoping that just sitting down and getting some work done will be enough to get me out of this slump. I know that if I really tried, I could squeeze out a few hours of work this week, and Mr. Jane has already said he'd support me however he could. It's just a matter of commitment, I guess. (But will that help with the disconnected feelings? I'm less sure about that.)


Anonymous said...

You feel disconnected from work because, for now, you are disconnected from work and must be disconnected because you must care for your infant. So, it's only natural that you should feel disconnected for now. Soon enough, your daughter will be off to school and that will free up several hours. The day will come when you and Mr. Jane will look back while sitting on some beach during your retirement years wondering where all the time went and the feelings surrounding current stress and disconnectedness will abate. All of life is dhuka (suffering and discontentedness) and life always changes.

As an antidote to your feelings, try listening to podcasts of dharma talks from the San Francisco Zen Center. Maybe they will help. Do some Soto Zen meditation and remember to remind yourself "This too shall pass." You might even make a little sign and put it up over your computer at home and, when you go back to work, over your office computer as well. Remember Jane, "This too shall pass."

Lastly, you should consider at least self-publishing this blog one day so you can give copies of your blog in paper to your family members or, should you choose, offer it on the market. Try publisher www.loulou.com for instance.

Kathi Fisler said...

My cravings for teaching or service work during research time usually
indicate either that I've lost track of where I am on research
projects or that what needs to be done requires deep thinking (which I
need lead time to get into). Unless I'm working on a paper, it can be
hard to find short-term research-related tasks to context-switch my
brain into research mode. Keeping a stack of unread papers readily at
hand works pretty well though: I keep a tray of them on my desk (the
ones I suspect will be thought-provoking but not too dense). When I
can't get into a research swing after a few minutes, I grab a paper
and head for the sofa (rather than my desk). Reading the paper
usually reminds me about what I was trying to think about on my own
projects and creates the break between research work and easy-to-do
tasks that otherwise consume a day.

Also, seeing as you are debating moving on, have you tried viewing
your research as your ticket out? Might that help you see your
research as a positive step towards addressing what has you feeling
disconnected, rather than as part of what leaves you disconnected?


PhD Mom said...

I felt the same way after my first child was born. I didn't really feel normal until about 6-9 months after the birth. I think some of it has to do with pregnancy hormones and another part with the massive changes that your life undergoes with the birth of a child.

I found that it helped to get away from home and back in my office. The professional setting and lack of baby helped me to focus on my work. In fact, because my time as limited by pumping, feedings, and nanny schedules, I had to learn increased organization skills which helped me enormously later. Good luck.

far away said...

I wanted to leave a comment, and found out that PhD mom said exactly what I meant to write. S I'll second that: It takes times. even a year. since it was easier for me with the second one, I guess it is not so much the hormones as the fact that your life's focus is different.
I also second on working out of the house. It is easier (for me) to disconnect from "mom mode" when I'm not home.

I hope you will succeed!

Anonymous said...

Go back to your programmer's roots Jane. Way, way back. Back even to The First Programmer's First Program. Here, the Genesis Creation Story as if presented by a programmer:


I hope this amuses you and lifts your spirits some.

Anonymous said...

An alternative to leaving the house that works well for me is to plan time to work when baby and daddy are out together. If he takes her shopping or to the library, I can get much more done. I second the article reading as a warm-up idea.
Don't discount a good nap, if you can get the time for it, either. Feeling disconnected and unable to get going may be a symptom of simply having insufficient reserves. Especially when you're nursing, you're usuing up a lot of energy!
All the best to you, personally and professionally.

Ms.PhD said...

I don't think it's just you or just because of the baby. I feel the same way. I think it is, as you suggested, partly because of this time of year. For us academics, this is New Year's, the time when we assess what went wrong last year so we can try not to do it again; when we admit what our hopes are for this year and how unrealistic they might be since we have so little control over our lives... and all that good stuff most other people do in January or whenever Chinese New Year is.

I agree about the napping and that maybe going to your office would help, but I need to read your other posts about how you were thinking about leaving since I've been behind on your blog.

I also like the programmer's genesis link and the zen iTunes suggestion. Breathe. Don't forget to breathe.

Jane said...

Thanks for the suggestions, everyone! Anon #1, your meditation idea is a good one. I used to do yoga every morning, but fell out of the habit while pregnant since I had to eat the second I woke up if I didn't want to be super-sick....maybe part of the key to regaining balance is to work yoga back into my life.

kathi, the article-reading is a great idea! And yes, I do actually view research as my potential ticket out, so perhaps focusing on that will help the motivation some.

phd mom and far away, good suggestions! Even if I can't get to my office, I should be able to get to a coffee shop a few hours a week, and that's better than nothing. (And my friends who have recently had babies second the 6-9, or even 12, month rule. Thanks for the reminder. I do need to be easier on myself, sometimes.)

anon #2, thanks for the link! Too funny.

anon #3, I _have_ been skipping naps lately, so maybe that has something to do with it. And having Mr. Jane take the baby out is a great idea!

ms. phd, I do think part of this has to do with the start of the school year ("new years"), too---especially feeling like I normally do before the start of classes, but knowing that classes don't start for me this time around....it's confusing to my brain, I guess!