How Not to Succeed in …

I am in the midst of proposal and paper writing just now (they don’t write themselves) and running out of time for blog posts (which also don’t write themselves).  Rather than put up a poorly written, half-worked, effort I would like to link to an article published earlier this year in Science Careers, a publication of Science and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. This article describes the end of a career and the beginning of a life.

Falling Off the Ladder: How Not to Succeed in Academia by Kathy Weston

One Friday evening in the winter of 2009, I ended a 20-year affiliation with a college of the University of London, lugging three boxes of personal possessions and a bucket containing 12 tropical fish from my emptied office. In the face of looming redundancy, brought on by my failure to contribute adequately to my department’s last Research Assessment Exercise submission, I jumped before I was pushed. … My story has useful lessons in it, some of which are exclusive to scientific research but some of which reflect, I think, the experience of women in academia.

The forces and ideals that brought Dr. Weston to this day and this article are not unique to science or to academia. From comments on this blog many other professions, including ministry are subject to similar pitfalls.

Have you ever felt the desire to chuck it all and move to something new?

If so what did you do?

Dr. Weston’s story is personal, but also general, and true of many I’ve known. More women than men perhaps, but both women and men.  Many people in academics in general, science in particular, start with a level of idealism and an expectation for great things.  A combination of factors, a loss of confidence, a loss of direction, a distaste for the constantly competitive atmosphere, the search for weakness in others and fear of showing weakness oneself, the sense of isolation and mediocrity leads to burn-out. The undercurrent of doubt that admitting weakness means one never belonged in the first place.

And then:

My obsession with my work declined as normal life seeped in: I got married, learned to ride horses and play the cello, looked after aging parents, and nixed all hope of redemption by having two children in my late 30s and realizing they were far more interesting than what I was doing at work. By the time I carted my boxes and fish out of the building, I was working a standard 37.5-hour week, which simply does not suffice if you want to stay competitive as a scientist. And I was bored, terribly bored.

The general pattern here can be seen in many professions. Science and academia are not unique. Based on comments I’ve read on this blog I rather expect that similar factors of competition, self-doubt, and burn-out, and even lack of mentorship affect more than a few in the ministry. In science we have an ideal of original research, making a new discovery, respect, awards, advancement, self-esteem is tied up in the recognition of peers, the ability to rise to the top. In ministry there are similar pressures fueled by competition and ambition – the size of the church, the magnitude of the growth, the recognition as a leader, as a preacher, as a speaker, the adulation of others … I could continue.

Realities, for most, crush idealism.

Ambition, competition, self-comparison to others … this way is never comforting. Not even the most accomplished find comfort there. This is true in all There has to be something more and something deeper.

What do you think? How have you seen this play out in your profession or vocation?

Where do we find balance? What advice would you give?

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]

If you have comments please visit How Not to Succeed in … at Jesus Creed.

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