The Six Million Dollar Scholar

Those who know me know I’m not short on confidence, but—like so many female academics—I’ve recently been finding myself struggling with imposter syndrome for the first time in my intellectual life. Before this year, I was that rare breed of graduate student who never looked back. I knew I’d made the right decision in coming to UC Irvine. At a broader level, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I belonged in academia. I felt it in my bones. It’s funny, because I didn’t feel that way at all when I applied to grad school, but the same experiences that eroded the confidence of my peers during those early years pumped me up. “Are you not entertained?” I’d shout throughout the halls of ivory tower. I was Spartacus, but with books and articles, not blood and sand.

Then I began the dissertation stage of my career. More accurately, the dissertation stage of my career started me: started me questioning my intellect, my research, my goals… everything. (It’s worth mentioning at this point that my poor little dissertation doesn’t deserve all the blame, I was also weathering a major family tragedy that both brought on a wave of depression and at the exact same moment forced me to take stock of my life. Not a particularly unusual cocktail, but certainly not a desirable one either. In my limited experience, depressed people aren’t the best at self-evaluation). For the first time in my life, my scholarship began to suffer. The self-doubt in which I was mired was bleeding onto the pages I wrote. I have some wonderful cheerleaders in the UCI History Department faculty, and knowing that, for the first time (at least to my knowledge), I was disappointing them, helped me realize that I needed to reset. But how? How do I leave my “grad student imposter” identity behind and become the “Six Million Dollar Scholar”?

I’m not 100% sure yet, but I do know this:

I can rebuild myself. I have the technology. I can make myself better than I was. Better, stronger, faster.

I’ll add “happier” to that list. I’ve realized that the key to a productive and fulfilling scholarly life comes—at least partially—from being content with one’s life outside academia. And so, starting December 31st of 2013, I began making multiple incremental changes to my life. Those changes—which I’ll discuss in detail in future posts—are really beginning to add up. By practicing radical self-care of the Audre Lorde variety, I’m finding it much easier to live a life of the mind. I’m happier, more resilient, and more committed than ever to getting my Ph.D. and landing the job of my dreams.

This blog is one of the more drastic changes I’m making in my life this year, which explains why this first post is coming in July, not January. I really needed to psych myself up to launch this particular project. I’ve wanted to blog for the longest time, but something’s always held me back: I’m not interesting enough, I won’t have the time, I might make a huge mistake and nuke all my job prospects, I don’t know how to use a computer, etc.

I may well be boring, and yes, sometimes blogging is going to take time away from other more valuable things, but guess what? I have both good judgment AND a content management system! I’m just going to do this already. If other people read it, that’s fantastic. If they don’t, that’s cool too.

So there you have it. I’m laying the foundation and starting to rebuild. I’m well on my way to being the Six Million Dollar Scholar.

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