Feb 25, 2020 | The Tree
LITTLE EVERYDAY INFLUENCES
A few days ago I had a long and interesting conversation with a friend who started doubting in her future in academia. At some point, she realized that in case she stayed, the long working hours would never end. But for worse, if she stayed, she would always need to deal with frustration. She complained that academic life negatively changes both personality and mindset. This is one of the main reasons why she is seriously thinking about leaving.
And, we started discussing how academia distorts people’s personalities, and whether the academics’ often problems with maintaining mental health, and with adapting to other working cultures are nature or nurture. Of course, isolation, uncertainty, unrealistic expectations, and constant competition associated with academic life do not help in developing as a person, and can negatively influence your personality in the long run. But on the other hand, isn’t this true about any hierarchical system?
In a corporation, you also under pressure: you need to closely follow your boss’ directives and the company’s policy and regulations—some degree of discipline is a must when you need to coordinate a mass of people. You also need to follow the dress code, be present during working hours, adhere to the deadlines, and tolerate some toxic and/or opportunistic people you will need to interact with whenever you like it or not. Whenever you have a boss, you will need to tame your behavior to some extent and be diplomatic. You won’t be able to always say what you really think, you won’t be able to always choose whom you work with, and you won’t be able to always spend the time in a way optimal for you.
HOW YOUR JOB AFFECTS YOUR PERSONALITY IN THE LONG RUN
These are tiny compromises that you need to make every day, and these compromises will not destroy you immediately. But in the long run, they will distort your personality in one way or another—usually, in a negative way. You will not notice any difference from day to day, but after a few years, you might wake up one day with a deep feeling of wasted potential.
I would compare this to the bonsai tree. To grow a bonsai tree, you need to start working on it when it is very young, and its trunk is still meek and delicate. Then, you need to pull and push its trunk and branches sideways using a little amount of tension. Even a tiny thread will do! But, since the tree is under this pressure every single day and the pressure is uncomfortable to it, it will grow in a way to minimize the pressure. And, over the years, it will develop its final, crooked shape.
This remark made me think about why I finally like my life, after all these years in academia when I hated it. I feel like a balloon that was squeezed in some tight container for a long time, and is now slowly getting back to the original shape—and it is in the process of discovering that it is bigger than it thought it was. I am just slowly coming back to being the person I was meant to be, and that couldn’t be for all the years spent in the (academic) system. And that’s one good thing about living an entrepreneurial lifestyle: since you have no constraints, your personality can blossom and reach its true potential. And, in this constraint-free environment, qualities undesired elsewhere—such as creativity, authenticity, honesty, edgy sense of humor, establishing and following your own set of rules and values—make you noticeable and memorable, and encourage more people to work with you. These are not the traits that are positively reinforced if you try to fit into any form of army including academia.
I am also finally learning to love myself. This involves making choices that serve my own well-being right here right now rather than on behalf of what others expect of me, or what might potentially improve my life in 10 – 20 years from now. Ever since I got rid of detrimental factors in my life such as toxic people, bureaucratic duties, doing nonsense projects, etc., I noticed a lot of positive influence on my personality: I became more cheerful and energetic, I use to joke more often, and I don’t stress myself out that much anymore. I also started reaching out for more and making braver choices that improve my well-being immediately. I also feel that most people have the wrong picture of personal freedom. Freedom to do anything you want does not mean that you’ll become lazy, you’ll get self-indulged, or you’ll step on other people’s feet; growing your own tree straight toward the sun will not prevent other people from growing their trees straight as well.
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Please cite as:
Bielczyk, N. (2020, February 25th). The tree. Retrieved from https://nataliabielczyk.com/the-tree/
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If you would like to read more about careers (for PhDs and other white-collar professionals) and effective strategies to self-navigate in the job market, please also take a look at the blog of my company, Welcome Solutions where I write posts dedicated to these topics.