Recently I was reading a diary about the “What do you do?” question over at Mother Talkers* and I’ll admit, it started to freak me out. For a long time, I’ve always said in response to this question, “I’m an evolutionary biologist.” If you ever want to see someone’s eyes glaze over really quickly, try saying this. No one really knows what to say as a follow-up question and it’s usually awkward. Especially if they do think of something to say and it’s like, “So, you believe in evolution?” Ack!
But now I’m having a bit of an anxiety attack about what I am going to say come January. When I leave academia. And leave biology all together since I’m not continuing on as an evolutionary biologist outside of the academy. What I’m actually going to be doing? Well, I’m going to be a NIA teacher, hopefully. Which then means that I have to explain what NIA is, exactly. Kind of movement class that incorporates yoga, modern dance, and martial arts. Right. I’m going to be thinking about being a mother. Helping the sqvirrel with composting, finding a way to eat locally, and fixing up the house. None of which sounds like it adds up to very much. And this freaks me out. Because I am really afraid of seeming lazy, good-for-nothing. This has to do, some, with my perception of how my parents viewed my siblings who never did much with their lives. I’m terrified of not amounting to much. People remind me that just getting my Ph.D. is A LOT and if I never did anything else, ever, that it would still be a lot. But somehow I think that since I never got the job that is the reason you get a Ph.D. (a tenure-track position or the equivalent if you aren’t interested in staying in academia) that it somehow doesn’t count. That I’ve failed in some very real way.
And so when I am faced with someone trying to make small talk and who asks me what I do I won’t be able to say, with the confidence and arrogance** inherent in those with “higher” degrees, “I’m a biologist.” And that scares me. And leads me to think about much deeper questions like, “Who am I?” and “Do I have any worth?” and “Am I contributing to the world? Making it a better place?” Of course, the askers are not interested in any of these things. They just want a chance to have the other person talk for a little while, during which they can think of another question. And this is probably why I’m not essemtially crap at small talk, I’m really more interested in bigger, deeper, and scarier questions. But that’s a whole ‘nother post.
I’m hoping that by blogging about this fear, I can write it away in a sense. That by putting it down in black and white I can see that my fear is irrational and unreasonable. That I am still worthy as a person, even if I’m not a biologist, a professor. But am a NIA teacher, a mom, a voracious reader, and a good friend.***
*I’m not a mom. But I like to read about them? I’m going to be one someday? I don’t know why I read it, as well as Hip Mama and Moms Rising. I’m not a medieval historian, or a literature and writing professor, or an ecology-minded airline crew member, but I read those blogs too.
**Okay, so I’ve probably never been arrogant a moment in my life!
***One of my very favorite stories of my Mami Deer goes like this: She was attending a conference about conciousness (or something like that, very psychological/spiritual). At the beginning of conference all the attendees had to go around in a great big circle, introduced themselves and say what they did. Since almost all the attendees were psychotherapists or professors in whatever discipline, my Mami Deer was getting quite stressed out about the fact that, at the time, she didn’t do anything (she’s now a certified spiritual director as well as a reiki healer). She thought, “I’ve gotten in way over my head [even though she’d done a lot of reading in the particular subject and probably knew as much as anyone else], they’re going to think I’m a total flake.” She was quite worried. But when her turn came, she simply said, “I’m Mami Deer. And I’m a Good Friend.” Isn’t that just amazing? Several of the attendees told her later that they were so impressed and overwhelmed by her statment. And after all, isn’t being a good friend ultimately more important than what you do?