02 December 2006

in a culture where work is a religion...

...burnout is its crisis of faith.

so either i should finish this semester posthaste, or i should consult a priest. seriously, i don't usually read new york magazine (from which the link above, which i heartily recommend, is taken), but yesterday all the new yorkers were missing from the gym, so i picked up the closest thing i could find. not very close, actually, but it did the trick. (there was also a really appalling article about henry kissinger. shiver.)

i'm not sure if you could call my current state "burnout" -- that seems like sort of a mountain-from-molehill treatment of what is essentially just an overloaded semester -- but i was struck by lots of similarities between the descriptions there and the way i've been describing, um, things with me lately. most especially: the idea that input exceeds output, that you do more and more and perceive yourself accomplishing less and less. blech.

however, the fact is that i have done and accomplished quite a lot. if some of the things i am supposed to have accomplished come to naught, well, that's just going to have to be too bad. that i don't have a (complete) prospectus? not a serious problem, because i have an idea and it is moving forward. that i don't yet have a house in palo alto? well, that's a little more serious. that i haven't made serious progress on either of the two papers that are due at the end of this semester? really not even on my radar. they are both papers in which i'm interested for my own purposes, timeline optional.

despite the lack of product, i've put quite a lot of time and effort and consideration into the prospectus. i've also learned five verb tenses and probably a hundred or more verbs in spanish, which classifies me as "low intermediate." oh, and i've read a big chunk of the civil wars literature that i was missing. and i've put in hundreds of hours (yes, literally) on search committee stuff, and done four incredibly fascinating interviews with veterans amounting to nearly six hours of data, and thought a lot about what my research method tastes are, and...well, the list goes on.

the problem, of course, is that listing accomplishments is a poor metric for the concept satisfaction, even when one is (as i am) pretty oriented to the doing of things, the practice of keeping busy, as some sort of end-in-itself. a key point from the article has to do with eggs and baskets: more baskets good. fewer baskets bad. that's true even when it means there are more, not fewer, commitments in an already overloaded life. for me it means...that i have to start wearing nice clothes and going out to bars? that i have to pay more attention to my family(ies)? i dunno. it is true, however, that in academia it's not a good idea to feel as if the progress of your career (a) will make or break you; or (b) should be under your control. option a makes everybody a failure most of the time and option b is just an impossibility. academic success? near-total crapshoot; diminishing marginal returns to workaholism.

anyway, this is me saying that in addition to human rights reporting and computer science, i'm definitely going to be exploring the concept "to hang out" in more depth while i'm in palo alto. promise.