By Stacey Goguen
In this series, I want to talk about what goes into the work we do as philosophers, what sorts of difficulties arise when we’re trying to work, and what we can do about them.
Hello! I am an ABD graduate student, and I’ve spent a lot of my nascent philosophy career so far struggling to figure out what I should be doing when I “do philosophy.” When starting graduate school, I found talking about philosophy easy enough, as well as thinking about it on my own. But when it came time to sit down and write for any substantial amount of time, I often felt lost. And it didn’t help that there seemed to be a voice in the back of my head asking if maybe I didn’t belong in philosophy, if I was having this much trouble with what is supposed to be our basic activity. Furthermore, I was puzzled by the observation that people in philosophy rarely talked about how they worked. It was like some secret, mystical process by which we all retreated to our private quarters and returned some time later with the philosophy we had birthed in the interim. (Maybe I didn’t have the right philosophical reproductive organs that everyone else had?)
Now, years later, after asking a bunch of professors and graduate students how they work, taking a cold, hard look at my own work habits (and lack thereof), and tripping over some life lessons as they came barreling at me, I think I have something of a grasp on how to be a working philosopher. By this I mean, I sometimes feel like I actually know what I am doing, and most days, philosophy does not feel like it is slowly eating my soul. In fact, some days I down right enjoy working.
So I want to talk about what I’ve found out—about myself, about doing work, and about some of the psychological processes that may be in play when we try to do philosophy. I want to do four things with this series of posts.
(1) I want to share what I have learned from struggling with my work, in case it is helpful to others.
(2) I want to solicit what other people have learned from their struggles with work, in case it is helpful to others.
(3) I want to talk about how our struggles with work relate to our health, for two reasons.
First, I have been floored by the proportion of graduate students I know who have experienced anxiety or depression during graduate school. I was floored when I found myself struggling with them. And this may be a trend across academia.
And second, we have certain health hazards in our field, which are not treated as such, because they are not physical things. I think our cavalier attitude towards our health relies on two mistaken premises: that many mental health issues can be solved by an extra dose of willpower or a positive, can-do attitude, and that, barring seriously mental illness, there are no negative, long-term effects of neglecting our mental health. Thus, we often praise the workaholic, even when they are exacerbating their chronic stress.
(4) I want to talk about how we talk about our work, and ourselves.
Many of us have heard that having a “growth” mindset about intelligence can be psychologically beneficial in all sorts of ways. But we often use terms and concepts that are entrenched in a “fixed” mindset about philosophical ability and interest. So, I think the way we often talk about philosophical ability is not only inaccurate, but also pernicious.
Here are some of my plans for posts in this series:
--That time I seriously considered quitting philosophy
--Me, Myself, and Imposter Syndrome
--My ridiculous thoughts about how other people worked
--My realization that to assess my work habits, I need to know what they are
--Why setting goals is not stupid and totally something you should do (maybe. probably.)
--How a semester of writing pedagogy was helpful for my writing, which was weirdly surprising
--Reasons for using more carrots than sticks, alternatively titled, why regularly being a mean asshole to yourself may not be as helpful as you think it is
--My rant about our cultural ignorance of psychotherapy (spoiler: therapy is awesome and totally not what I thought it was going to be)
--Why self-care is totally something you should do, if you are a mortal with cortisol