Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Return-to-work nerves

I’ve more than three months still left to go, but for some reason I have started getting nervous about my return to work at the end of March. 

As an academic, my return is likely to be easier for others in some ways – with no set hours, I can be very flexible to respond to issues that may arise while Orson is settling into his childcare, for example. And I’ll have no boss breathing down my neck if I’m struggling after a sleepless night. On the other hand, with no boss breathing down my neck I’ll have to take sole charge of planning my time, motivating myself, getting the cogs turning again. I’ll have no support to help me figure out how to get things moving again in this head that feels like a gelatinous weight my neck has to carry around. I’ll have no team around me to help take the strain if the sleepless night falls just before a big talk, or an important deadline. I’m going to need a lot of luck to help me out in these scenarios, and probably the admission that, at some point, my usually masochistically high standards are going to fall victim to an important talk on a day when I’m unprepared, unslept, and possibly spattered with baby effluent. Its going to be nerve wracking and embarrassing, and part of me wishes the philosophical culture was one in which it felt more okay to cancel at the last minute, or to turn up and say, ‘You know what, I’ve got a young baby and I didn’t get any sleep last night so I’m thinking we should make this more of a seminar than a lecture, I’ve got some questions and maybe we can think together about what the answers should be....’

I guess any mother who returns to work has to face these difficulties – in fact, many fathers probably do too, and get even less sympathy for it. But it does feel especially pressing in a famously macho culture where its quite normal to brag that you only wrote your talk on the plane over, or to indulge in one-upmanship at conferences about who is most drunk/hungover while giving their (sparkling) presentation. Philosophy just isn’t a field where you get very far by saying ‘This isn’t going to be very good’ or ‘I’m feeling  a bit nervous and crap today.’
I’m going to try not to give into the feeling that I oughtn’t ever admit to any of this though. I don’t think it helps anyone for women to participate in the pretence that children have no impact and that humans never have off days.  I’ve read advice that you should never talk about your children in work contexts, as people will then take you less seriously. But to be honest, I do have a child, and I don’t want to pretend I don’t, and if you want to take me less seriously, well, why don’t you write down what you think is wrong with my papers and submit it to a journal? Then I will write down why you are wrong.  

*I wish I honestly felt as ballsy confident as this*

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