How do you remain enthusiastic?

IMG_3594Earlier this week, I got this email:

Do you mind me asking – how do you find the confidence/enthusiasm to keep working when people around you don’t necessarily support/encourage you? How did you find that inner confidence to go for it?

I was flattered and shocked. On the one hand, it is great to be recognised by someone for being confident and enthusiastic. That I actually appear to stand my ground. But on the other hand, it gave me the opportunity to press the pause button and reflect on what this means. I haven’t always felt confident, particularly about the work I do or the way I present it or myself.

This is very topical as my School host their first imposter syndrome workshop for postgrads and early-career staff. I felt like an imposter for a long time during my PhD, particularly during my MA. I was interested in things that didn’t yet have a strong theoretical grounding or a pre-established field. I struggled to contribute as my work put fields often held apart in dialogue. Add to this my specialist subject of choice – enthusiasm!

When you research a subject like – enthusiasm – people expect you to be enthusiastic. They want you to be cheerful, positive, smiley. They describe you as a ‘ray of sunshine’. This can be a very tiring job – being the cheerful, smiling face in the department. However, it has meant that I know almost everyone in the department and across the school because I’m not afraid to say ‘hello’.

However, being enthusiastic comes at a price – your research isn’t always taken seriously. The language can baffle others. You have to fight hard and align with big issues to tell the small stories of enthusiasm. Don’t get me wrong, I love this, but I know I could make my life easier.

So back to the original question. I asked another colleague how he remains enthusiastic – he joked, “I cry on my way to work and on the way home”. We all laughed. But there is some truth in it – finding a space to let out some of the emotion is vital.

Here are a few in-expert tips on how I try to remain enthusiastic and go for it:

1. Understand yourself – take time to think about what you enjoy doing, what motivates you, what makes you feel positive. Keep it in mind.

2. Smile and say ‘hello’ – regardless of how you’re feeling, always make time to smile and chat (however briefly) with others.

3. Do something you love – academia isn’t always a happy place, but the pros far outweigh the cons for me.

4. Realise we are all human – our bosses were once early-career lecturers, our senior colleagues experienced challenges, they might have been different but no less challenging. They face similar things now.

5. Avoid thinking you can’t do it – has anyone actually said you can’t? The second you let self-doubt in and let it linger, you’re in a battle. Remember you’ve got to be in it to win it. Push yourself. Don’t let the expectations you think others have of you cloud your thinking. (Remember 1.)

6. Accept you won’t please or understand everyone else – do a good job, others will let you down (it’s inevitable) but you can maintain the standards you set for yourself.

7. Take time out. Writing your PhD? Can’t concentrate? Think watching a whole season of West Wing in two days is wrong? Think again – take time out, return with renewed resources.

8. Have normal conversations – we could spend all day talking about our research, teaching, admin – create space to talk about life outside academia. Talk about your weekend, TV you’re watching, holidays, food… All academic talk makes things rather dull and leaves little room to develop the sort of collegiality that is really inclusive and helpful in the bad times.

9. Use social media – find an online community who give you the energy and boost you need to keep going. Twitter is excellent for this. I’ve got 1700 tweeps that inspire me by the quick ‘refresh’ of the Twitter feed.

10. “Now is the time, be yourself” – basically when you are busy doing points 1 to 9 there is a “sweet spot” – where your enthusiasm, aspirations and real-life meet in the right combination – and you realise YOU can make things happen for yourself and others. You realise that if you were waiting for someone to come along and hand a career, your life, to you that you were wrong. You make it happen. This is that moment. And once you start. You’ll keep going. It’s not always easy and when the going gets tough I return to points 1-9.

Okay – I am sure some of you are laughing at this post. Academia is emotional and we could do more to share our experiences. I reported a few posts ago about being encouraged to write about these issues. This is my small contribution. To close, I’ll share the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson for a positive quote:

Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.

7 thoughts on “How do you remain enthusiastic?

  1. Thanks for this Hilary -really thoughtful. Having resilience to keep going is essential as a PHD, early careers researcher etc. Posts like this foster a sense of collegiality and inspiration to enjoy the ride, even with its ups and downs.

  2. Point #8 is very hard, especially when you don’t have much in common with others from the lab. I still try to figure out how to talk about other things other than research and the fact that I am not that goo in small talk doesn’t help. <- Good practive to work on that
    And the usage of social media- can only agree. Sometimes it feels like the feedback I need when there isn't any at the lab. That is the sort of thing that makes my day.
    There is another point which might help to remain enthusiastic:
    Don't forget that its not about you if an experiment didn't work! I try to tell myself that it's not a personal trait that is responsible when results don't look they way I want them to be but it's due to some circumstances beyond my control. I don't pull myself to pieces & this way I still have the strength to keep going & to start over again. This reminded me of another article which has some good advice on trying to be enthusiastic: "How To Be Awesome When You Don’t Feel Awesome" by Isaiah Hankel.

  3. Pingback: The Culture of Enthusiasm – How do you remain enthusiastic? | SAGE(S) Advice: Fieldwork, Gender & Careers

  4. Pingback: Remaining enthusiastic, tips from @DrHGp | The Buddhist Academic

  5. Love this post, Hilary 🙂 I definitely hit my sweet spot yesterday at the Participants in CS workshop – a really great day!

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