Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The paradox of self-promotion for a Buddhist academic

As I am approaching the moment of my tenure decision, I find myself in the position of having to produce lots of materials that state how awesome I am. To stand a chance for grants and promotion, I have to constantly assert myself and claim that I am one of the best people in my field. Being a Buddhist practitioner as well, that is sometimes a bit strange, because my Buddhist practice teaches me to be humble, and to try to worry more about others than about myself. It can sometimes create a bit of cognitive dissonance.

On the other hand, I think that actually what my Buddhist practice teaches me about not taking myself too seriously is very beneficial. It is very easy to start feeling very low among so many amazing colleague scientists (see for example this blog). The problem really starts when I am comparing myself to all these others and worrying whether I am good enough. When, on the other hand, instead of focusing on this comparison, I simply focus on my motivation, then there is no problem. I have learned in my practice that the "I" that seems such a solid core, and that hurts so bad when someone criticizes my paper or my grant, does not even exist. We waste so much time and energy trying to prove to others that we are good enough, whereas in reality this self is quite elusive.

I have found that instead of worrying whether I'm good enough (and whether I'm going to get this grant, or going to get tenure, or any such thing), I can just put one foot in front of the other and dedicate my efforts to the well-being of all sentient beings. If I need to promote myself to be effective in that endeavour then I can do so too, but never forget that it's all just a big cosmic joke. And at the end of the day, I just dedicate my efforts, so that in some way (that I do not understand) whatever I have done may be of benefit. When I actually do this, and stop worrying about being good enough, I notice how much less stressed I feel. So the paradox seems to be that although I have to engage in self-promotion as an academic to be able to be of benefit, at the same time I have to not take it seriously in order to maintain my mental health. If I could only remember that a bit more often...