Flying too high?
At the end of lectures last summer, I felt a tremendous sense of relief. Finally, we are getting there. One last push and you’ll be qualified!
Ah, the enthusiasm of youth. Right now, I’m in the midst of data collection, feeling about 80 years older and not at all wiser. This is hard work, and true to form, I am making my life even harder. Despite people around me offering sterling support, both academically and in my private life.
My clients often tell me that they know what they should be doing, and that they are ok as a person - but that there is a part that just does not buy it. That always rings a bell for me, and it’s not making a pleasant sound.
Whilst I know I did not get to where I am today by accident or favour, deep down there is a part of me that is convinced that I did, and that I am actually rather rubbish at most of this. Evidence in the form of feedback by straight-talking others does not even make a dent in this conviction. And right now, that part of me is rather vocal. The message is clear ‘see what you get if you are flying too high’.
The stresses of working on a thesis project aside, I think this is because with no lectures to go to, I am cut-off from the casual conversations with my fellow students. I’m realising that I am missing these little ‘yeah, me too’ conversations. Then there is the idea of getting comfortable with the not-knowing and the uncertainty of the process. Yes, planning is essential, but so is the willingness to accept that the wheels will come off your plan at some stage. And that it is not necessarily your fault, but you are still responsible for getting the show back on the road.
‘Flying too high’ as a figure of speech derives, I believe, from the myth of Icarus, whose father made him wings of wax and feathers to enable their escape from Crete. Despite the warnings of his elder, Icarus, cocky young lad that he was, flew too close to the sun. The wax of his wings melted and he fell to his death.
The Greek sure did know how to make gruesome cautionary tales. The point here is though that I suspect that I am not the only one who feels that way. Yet for some reason this seems to be an expected, normal experience, judging by the conversations I’ve had within and outside my university. Do we all accept this as part of being an academic? Should we perhaps talk about this? Or I am just a ‘daisy’?
In any case, the fact remains that I am terrified of screwing this up. The fact is also that I cannot, must not and will not do so. So how do I keep flapping those wings?
I find it helpful to remind myself why I am doing this in the first place – or rather, who am I doing this for. I talk a lot about meaning with my clients – so sounds about right if I apply this to myself as well.
I’m also engaging with the ‘inner critic’ – because sometimes she has something helpful to say – thank her for her contribution, but also ask her lay off the perfectionism. No, I’m not having these debates out loud (!) but I am cultivating these inner, quiet (and at times painful) dialogues, which are increasingly respectful in tone. It seems to work for me.
Flying to high? I don’t think so. In fact, I don’t even think I’m flying – I don’t have to. If I am true to who I am, congruent I guess, then I will get to my destination by the only means possible for me – through the vehicle of my pedestrian, stumbling, neurotic, glorious self.
(Petra Kagleder, currently working on her thesis, at Roehampton)