Learning to say ‘no’ in #highered

When I was younger, I used to feel plagued by boredom. It’s only in recent years that I recognised that it was boredom. I was aware of the experience but it had never occurred to me at the time to use that word to describe it. Part of the reason it seems so clear to me in retrospect is that the solution to this boredom was to have things to which I could apply myself. My experience has been that life starts to feel shapeless and repetitive (i.e. boring) in the absence of projects through which I can challenge and express myself. These days I have lots of projects and I honestly can’t remember the last time I experienced anything approaching boredom.

I’m not quite sure how or why but early in my PhD I got into the habit of saying ‘yes’ to every opportunity I encountered. I think this was the right thing to do for much of this time. But as time progresses, I encounter ever more things that I want to commit myself to and the more in tension these various commitments tend to get. I’m increasingly coming to the conclusion that I need to say ‘no’ to the overwhelming majority of opportunities I encounter because my enjoyment of research diminishes progressively as my focus divides between different commitments. Creative challenges come to be replaced by logistical ones, producing the right number of words for a necessary deadline rather than going where curiosity leads me. I’m not sure if it’s going to be possible for me to work on one thing at a time but I’m realising I need to at least aim for something like this because I’m just not going to enjoy research otherwise. Unfortunately I’m not really sure how to do this – I’m wondering if I should finish off my social media book, convert a few of my PhD chapters into publications and then aim to give myself a long break from ‘serious’ writing. I feel like I’d much rather talk and listen than write at the moment.

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