For a long time in my life, I looked at other people for guidance about my own boundaries: I thought that if they could do something, I should be able to do that same thing. If they worked for 50 hours, then so should I. If they partied until 3am, then I should also be able to do that.
It has only recently dawned on me that everyone has their own boundaries. And it is weird that it has taken me so long to consciously realize this, because as someone who tends to get migraines, partying until 3am often meant the next day in bed with a migraine for me, while the others would happily go about their day.
And that was the other realization: that I usually only felt a boundary when I hit the proverbial wall, for example in the form of a migraine attack. But I also think that all the crying at work that I have done meant that I only felt a boundary when I really hit it and tension had built up so much that the only way out was crying.
So I'm trying to be more conscious of where I am in relation to the wall, as opposed to only noticing it once I'm hitting it. And one of the steps I took this morning was to block TWO WHOLE WEEKS in my calendar before the end of the year to finish a task that I need to finish. I know that if I don't do this, more urgent stuff will come up. So when I cycled to work this morning I found myself wishing that I could just take a vacation to finish this task, and it occurred to me that I can actually do that. Now let's see how good I'm going to be at keeping those two weeks free to work on that task....
I only watched the beginning of the Kavanaugh hearings yesterday. I don't live in the US anymore and the process of supreme court nominations are not something I would normally follow. But of course this wasn't about that. It was about somthing that touches all of us. To me, these hearings symbolized what it is like to be a girl and a woman in a patriarchical society. Where from a young age, you become aware that boys can do things with you that you have to carry with you for the rest of their lives while they laugh about it.
This thread details how that happens ALL THE TIME:
And Christine Blasey Ford's incredibly moving and couragous act of speaking out and uncovering all those feelings that she has carried with her all those years inspires me tremendously.
But it also makes me sad that apparently you need to be white, academic, blonde, have a PhD, etc in order for people to MAYBE believe you. You need to have exactly the right tone and say the right words. It's not like because we know that assault and date rape happens, we easily believe women who come forward and say this has happened to them.
And then Kavanaugh's statement started and I had to switch the livestream off. Not only because it was bedtime for my kids here, but also because it was hard and painful to watch. It made me wonder: what if he actually didn't remember that this happened? I guess it is very possible that an event that haunts one person for the rest of their live is 'just another party' to another person. And that is what is the most horrible part of this to me: the complete lack of empathy that this indicates. And that by making it so hard to talk about this for the victims, it automatically makes it difficult to spark empathy in (potential) perpetrators. And that's when this morning I found this comic that hits the nail right on the head about why we need a #MeToo movement and what it can bring us if we use it well.
And if - like me - you're fantasizing about what all the rage of women in the world could do, @scicurious calculated that for you in this thread:
Earlier in the year, I wasn't very happy with where I was in my job. I wanted to make a next step which seemed like a real possibility but in the end it didn't happen. I vowed to myself (and the people around me), that I wanted something different and that I intended to move somewhere else (either in the organization or outside) in the middle of the year. I interviewed for a position that I didn't get and I sent a couple job applications, all of which did not lead to a job for various reasons. But I also decided not to apply to a bunch of opportunities that I saw, because they didn't speak to me enough to apply.
And then I changed my mind.
I decided that I was going to stay in my current job AND be happy in my current job. After I came back from vacation, I told my manager that I was going to retract my statement of wanting to move within the year.
So what made me change my mind? In the first part of the year - during the time I was looking for change - within my role a couple things changed: I got more responsibilities within a project, and I got involved with Inclusion & Diversity within my organisation. And I realized that for the latter, it was good to be in a place where I felt comfortable in my work, in order to find the confidence and stability to be an activist when talking about topics around diversity.
And at the same time, I became more aware of who I am without my work role. I realized that when I was in academia, a really large part of my identity came from my work. And still a large part of my identity does, but for a while I felt like I almost didn't know what the other parts were. Also, I retrieved most of my hapiness and fullfilment from the output of my work and not so much from the actual doing my work. Now, I try to approach work more like I (try to) approach running: I enjoy it WHILE I'm doing it, not only after I'm done and sitting on the couch (I will need to remind myself of this sentence the next time I'm in the middle of what feels like an endless and difficult run).
And as usual when you think you have all sorts of unique feelings and emotions, this morning I came across an HBR article that describes nearly EXACTLY what I felt. Except that I surely hope I'm not in my mid-career yet.
This is one of those posts where I would be fine if nobody reads it because it's scary to hit publish on this one.
I was teased in school.
Or maybe a more accurate sentence is: I was bullied in school.
And when I was being bullied, my coping strategy was to vow to myself that I would become awesome, so the kids that bullied me would see me on TV for example. And when they realized how awesome I had become, they would feel bad about having bullied me.
I only recently realized that this promised I made to myself as a kid is still a promise I wish to keep. This realization came when I reacted really strongly (ie. ugly cried) when talking about my career and the struggle to find a path that fits me after leaving academia. It shocked me a bit to find out that part of what drives me is to please myself as a kid and keep my promise. The kid-version of me doesn't exist anymore, so how much sense does it make to try and keep a promise to someone who doesn't exist...?
It's been a bit quiet here on my blog and one of the reasons was that we took a short trip (4 nights) to Barcelona recently. My husband and I had both been to Barcelona before, but this was the first time for the four of us, and also the first vacation where we only visited one city with our kids (4 and 6 years old now).
We stayed at an AirBnB apartment in the old part of the city, which was really nice: we could walk to many of the sites and were close to public transport. Also, having an apartment meant that we could cook at home when we didn't feel like going out for dinner (although dinner with kids was quite painless at the restaurants we went to). In the days we were there we went to Park Guell (but book ahead if you want to go inside!), we took the cable car up Montjuic hill, we walked around the old part of the city, we went to the beach and we went to see the Sagrada Familia (also make sure you book ahead!). A big plus of Barcelona compared to some other cities is the great abundance of little playgrounds. Nearly every square has one and if you're lucky they are situated close to a terrace for a drink. What was nice about that is that even when our kids didn't feel like seeing sites any longer (BlueEyes' comment at the Sagrada Familia:"Oh man, ANOTHER church?!"), we could promise them a playground when we were done.
The view from our balcony
Inside the Sagrada Familia
The other day I had a bit of a conflict with someone at work and I talked to somebody else about it to get an outsider's perspective. One of the first things they advised was:"you should try and step in their shoes and see it from their point of view". I immediately thought to myself:"I wish THEY would step into MY shoes and understand how I feel". Of course I didn't say this and the reminder to look at the situation from the other's point of view did actually help me in understanding what the conflict was about. But this experience also made me realize that the only way other people can put themselves in my shoes is if I express myself well. And that led to the realization that for everybody the range in which they express their feelings is very different (see figure for a very rudimentary illustration). One person might easily share it when they are not feeling well, while another person will put on a brave face and pretend they're doing okay. And then when a third person asks both people how they are doing, the anwer "I'm okay" can have a very different meaning.
Some people are rather sensitive to where somebody else sits on scale of Feelings Expressions, while for other people, this may need to be made more explicit. Personally, I've come to realize that I am on the top scale in the figure, and I don't easily share if I'm not feeling well. At the same time I hope that if I say "I'm okay", people will immediately understand that I'm not too well. And that obviously leads to disapointment on my side.
Wouldn't it be nice if there was an easy way to calibrate these scales before entering into a conversation...?
Last week I wrote that a news outlet reported that Hans Clevers had said that Dutch women don't want to work hard. According to Hans Clevers, who came to my blog to reply, he hadn't actually said that.
Seeing the article on a Dutch news website, writing my post here and the discussion that followed left me feeling drained. I feel so frustrated that while I and so many others with me point out how this attitude of saying "I have done some things and there is nothing we can do to further increase diversity" is unhelpful and harmful, it does not seem to change the speed at which diversity increases. Outside of this blog, the LNVH ("Landelijk Netwerk Vrouwelijke Hoogleraren"; the Dutch society for Women full professors) wrote a letter to a large Dutch newspaper. And Athena's Angels (an initiative of 4 female full professors) wrote a reply in the same news paper today. But otherwise nothing happened. What could have been an opportunity to start a discussion on how to improve diversity in (Dutch) academic science, and increase the retention of women and minorities in the academic pipeline, ended in silence, at least as far as I can see.
I want to look into scientific literature on methods to increase diversity in STEM (or elsewhere) to write a post with suggestions on what to do and what works, but haven't had the time to do so. If you have links/papers to share with me, please do so in the comments or on twitter.
And in the meantime, I want to acknowledge the energy it takes to address these issues and take a deep bow for those of us who do this on a daily basis. I realize the privilege of writing here under a pseudonym and being able to go to work at a place with great emphasis on diversity. As Sara Ahmed wrote in her blog post titled "Feeling Depleted : "I think of social privilege as an energy saving device: less effort is required to pass through." So for those who still believe women aren't working hard: this is also where their energy goes: into the invisible void of challenging the status quo.
This morning, BlueEyes woke up with a slight fever and a bad cold. Nothing really bad, but he clearly couldn't go to school. My thoughts:
"Oh no, my kid is sick."
Immediately followed by: "I'm glad today is Wednesday which is husband's regular day home with the kids so we don't have to arrange something".
"But what if he's still sick tomorrow, then I have a really busy day, so I will have to negotiate who gets to work when. I really don't want to have to miss the meeting that I have".
"I feel really bad and guilty that my first thoughts are about MY job instead of my sick kid."
"What if I had a kid that had an actual illness? I would worry to death and would never be able to think about anything else, how do people cope with that?!"
And then these thoughts continue to go in circles, occupying a good 65% of my brain for most of the day.
This morning when I cycled to work I listened to this Hidden Brain episode about making fresh starts. It ends with Amy Mann reciting the poem One Art by Elizabeth Bishop.
This year, I've lost quite a few things: my kids are both in school so I lost having really small children. I left my old apartment. And even though it is not my loss, when Little Brother recently lost his favorite stuffed animal (a monkey he received as a present three years ago) at school, it definitely felt like my loss. Coming from a family of hoarders, I am quite bad at coping with losing things. Little Brother on the other hand seems quite undisturbed. The stuffed monkey is still lost, and every now and then he asks whether the monkey is still hiding, searches for the monkey and concludes the monkey is not back and that seems it. At the same time I am heartbroken about the monkey and I picture him laying in the cold on a muddy playground somewhere.
I am also slowly losing my identity as a scientist. Or perhaps I'm not losing it, but it is no longer my main identity, which I think is a good thing for me. As they say in the Hidden Brain episode: "when one door closes, another one opens". That is definitely true for the scientist identity loss, but I'm not sure which door opens for a lost stuffed monkey.
It's that time again to sit down (or run - whatever works) to revisit this year's resolutions and evaluate.
Work: If I read this paragraph from nearly a year ago, I notice that there isn't really a resolution in there, more a description of what I was going to do this year, which was mostly the additional assignment that I was supposed to do for 6 months. In the end, this assignment went on for longer, along with most of my normal job. I don't think I've ever worked harder than this year, which might surprise you when coming from academia - or maybe not. There were many reasons why the assignment went on for longer, but one of the most important ones was that I really liked the work and for a while it seemed like there might be an opportunity opening up at some point. I spent a lot of time contemplating whether I would want to take that opportunity, which would mean moving further away from science. In the end, I realized that I believe that is where my strength lies: in translating between science and business and in connecting people in those two areas. But just when I was certain what I wanted, it turned out that this opportunity would not materialize and that I will return to my old role in 2018. I was pretty disappointed about this, but at the same time realize that I've learned a lot about myself in 2017. I want to get clearer for myself what it is that I work for: what my purpose is if you want to call it that. A recurring piece of feedback I received was that it would be helpful for me to get to know myself better in order to be able to grow at work. I need to figure out how and with what kind of help, but that is something for a next post.
Personal: I ran a half marathon and meditated for 10 minutes daily 99% of the days for the past year. Also, I joined a bootcamp class that is right next to my new house. And honestly, this has probably saved my sanity over the past year, with moving to a new house, being really busy at work and all the kids' logistics. There were a few times when I thought everything was too much and I needed to cut back on things. I probably yelled at my kids and husband more than I should have because there was so much going on at times. I wish I was better at not doing that.
Blogging: Last year I wrote: "I want to be more consistent in posting, so I’m going to post twice a week. Riding the train twice a week might help in writing down all the posts that are in my head but don’t always get transferred to words on paper. And I am going to try to include more link love posts. I really enjoy other people’s link posts and I’m going to compile whatever I tweet/read/listen to also here." This is really the part of my resolutions that fell by the wayside after the first few months. Partly because I was really busy and there was more going on in my head than I could put on paper. And partly because for a while I was debating whether to lose my pseud and become myself here. With every post I wondered if I would write it under my own name, meaning it would be google-able for the rest of my life and associated with me, which made me hesitate to post a lot. In real life, I have become more like babyattachmode, I speak up more about feminist issues for example. However, I have also decided that I don't want to associate my real name to my blog - for now. Especially the posts about mistakes and vulnerability are valuable for me to write, and hopefully for you to read and I don't want anyone to be able to just find those associated with my IRL identity.