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Marcus Arvan

Many good points to agree with here. You have to come to terms with the fact that you will make mistakes. The way that I accomplished it was by reflecting on all of the problems with even the greatest works. Almost all of the very best articles in recent memory have tons of problems. Heck, Kant's Groudwork is full of problems from start to finish, and it is a Truly Great Work. Once you realize that even the Masters said all kinda of indefensible things, you can realize it is absurd to expect so much more from yourself? Will any of your articles be so bad that it embarrasses you? Well, the truly bad ones are likely to get weeded out in the review process, so just forge ahead, do your best, and have the courage to live with your mistakes! And yes, also remember that we all feel like impostors from time to time...

Kyle Whyte

I agree that insecurity is a feeling that likely lasts throughout one's career. I assume this about most academics, and I feel it's a virtue to treat people in such a way that you're sensitive to that. But then I feel like there are so many folks out there I encounter who seem to try to cultivate the persona that they are not susceptible to insecurity. I don't think that's a good persona to cultivate, though I understand it as a defense mechanism that some people use. Perhaps I'm reading to much into this or this doesn't reflect others' experiences.

Marcus Arvan

Kyle: totally agree. It's often pretty obvious when a person is overcompensating. People who go out of their way to mention their own journal articles (particularly where their articles appeared), or how many interviews they received. This is something I want to make a post about at some point. It can be hard to avoid seeking out approval, particularly if one has worked very hard and achieved some manner of success -- yet I think, both first-person and third-personally, that it almost always comes off very poorly to others, manifesting a not-very-admirable kind of insecurity. This is not to say, of course, that I have not been guilty of this myself from time to time! I very well have been. But I think it's a very important issue to discuss and to think about -- for in my experience there are good and bad ways to manifest insecurities, and the bad ways (e.g. trumpeting one's own successes) tend to create enmity between people, and within the profession. Indeed, this is one of the main reasons I wanted to create this blog: to generate a more healthy way of supporting one another through our successes, failures, and insecurities.

Kyle Whyte

Marcus: I hope you do post some ideas on this as I'm curious to hear more about what you think. Building off of what you just wrote, here are some of the ways I've tried to make heads or tails of my own experiences. It doesn't appear to me that our field works in a succinct way in terms of our being able to have whatever our accomplishments may be at some point in time recognized without our having to tell someone about it. I think this is in line with what you were saying about it being hard to avoid seeking approval. You kind of have to, at one point or another, when you're hustling on the job market or trying to network within a philosophical community that you're new to, as well as other situations. So this puts us in this strange bind in which we have to express insecurities, and insecurities of several kinds, including what we've been talking about. I also think there's a general insecurity in our field that comes from the fact that, although we know that it's highly possible for one's article to get published and never get any uptake, it is nonetheless unsettling to have to have this reality on our minds. I think there are other insecurities like this that have to do with the fact that there's no precise road to recognition in the field (and I mean recognition just in a very modest and appropriate sense as opposed to in terms of "fame"). When you're fresh off the dissertation or fresh in a TT or non-TT job, this is precisely the time you don't want to have to now deal with insecurities related to this fact I perceive about the field, plus the insecurities you inevitably have about the quality of the arguments in your own work. Then you're confronted with this challenge, like you indicated, that there are better or worse ways to manifest your own insecurities, and you see other people who you think do it badly, and maybe make you feel bad. Nuts. I'd be curious what some good ideas would be for how to manifest it appropriately. I think that one of the strategies might be related to how we engage with other people on shared interests. For example, if I approach someone whose work I think my own work is related to, and may even contribute to, instead of announcing my beliefs (along with superficial credibility boosters) about this as the lead in, I should instead focus on asking questions about his or her work, and delving into a bit, and seeing if the connections come up naturally, without having to rely on boosters like, "You should read what I just published in xyz," or "I'm working on this paper with so and so to send to journal xyz," or any other expression that indicates I'm trying to make my work sound credible before I've even said anything about the arguments. By asking questions in a spirit of curiosity and mutual support, it seems like the conversation would then begin to reflect the mutual interests that may be shared, which will build intellectual respect without the other person's even having to know whether you've published something or not, work with this or that person, etc. Perhaps that's the best kind of respect and approval. Just rough thoughts.

K. Mitch Hodge

I thought I would post this blog entry regarding experimental evidence as to how people view their own performance from both ends of the spectrum (those who learn from mistakes and those who do not). It is interesting, to say the least. I also like the addition of the Russell quote (one of my favorites) at the beginning.


All the best,


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