I think most of us get into academia looking for meaningful work. Like Lloyd Dobbler, we don’t want to “sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed.”
When doing meaningful work, it’s easy to conflate your identity and your career. And that’s not good, especially when your dissertation writing isn’t going well. The natural cycles of writing and revision that involve frustration, inspiration, procrastination start to feel like endless cycles of self-destruction and self-reconstruction. It wears a person out.
In my undergraduate days, I believed I could have an extreme version of loving my job, where I was happy all the time. But that’s not what teaching or writing have been for me. And here I am in Missouri, surrounded by people who have made a commitment to meaningful work–they grow their own sustainable food, they tend their chickens and their bees and their maple trees. But guess what? They did not leap out of bed with glee yesterday in their non-air-conditioned houses on a 97 degree day. They complained all through lunch. And the rain that brought relief from the heat also brought a little relief from work–most of them weren’t sad to delay some of their outdoor projects.
In trying to dissociate my dissertation from myself sometimes I have pushed it too far away–it seems irrelevant, uninteresting, and not meaningful. Today I am thinking about how to work outside of these extremes. The dissertation is not me, but there is something about it that I want to keep pursuing.