One of the comments I got from my editor when working on the Short Guides was “What do you want them to do with this information?” She was really not happy with a prompt that asked the reader to notice something without following it up with an action based on what they noticed. I can’t remember what I did in every case. I’m sure I added an action a few times and maybe clarified that noticing was enough in others. It is also possible I wasn’t clear enough in my own mind, or confident enough, to push back and say “they don’t have to do anything”.
I’m telling you this now because I use the same kinds of prompts in A Meeting With Your Writing and in Establishing a Writing Practice. And I suspect a lot of you are wondering what you are supposed to do with those notes. You don’t have to do anything. Noticing is an important practice.
You are not broken. You don’t need fixing.
If you’re new here you may not believe this (yet). After all, you are here to get help with getting writing done, juggling your absolutely ridiculous workload, while also having some kind of life outside of work and related issues. Even those people who have joined the Academic Writing Studio or hired me as a coach don’t always believe this, at least at first. In fact one of my coaching clients told me a couple of sessions in that me telling them they weren’t broken and didn’t have to “overcome” their ADHD had already made a huge difference.
The fact that you need help or would benefit from a writing group or class doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you. It means you work more effectively with some support.
There are probably things about how your work and life are going that you do want to change. That’s okay. That doesn’t mean you are broken. It might mean you are still figuring how what works best for you or learning how to juggle or getting better at something you already do reasonably well or whatever. Growth and development are fine things. You get to decide when and where you want to develop, and when and where you just want to stabilize for a bit. You don’t need to be growing all the time.
What noticing can do.
Noticing can help you connect with yourself. This is particularly useful if you are in the habit of comparing yourself to others and wondering if the way they do things is better. Most people notice things that are uncomfortable or painful. This is why I focus on encouraging you to notice things that just are. What doesn’t hurt? What isn’t uncomfortable?
Noticing can help build your confidence. Noticing the things that aren’t causing pain/discomfort will help you recalibrate your sense of how things are. You will have a better sense of how much is going well. You will have a better sense of your strengths. Suspending judgement is hard so it’s important to notice the things that you judge to be good. (And trying to suspend judgement might mean allowing things to be good without worrying that good isn’t good enough.)
Noticing might shift things without you even trying. I’ve noticed this about my physical comportment. Because I’m better at noticing what good alignment feels like, I can now adjust my body in response to discomfort and pain with much less conscious effort, which prevents more serious discomfort and pain. (One thing I’ve learned from yoga.) Habit change is hard but making minor tweaks to habits is much easier.
Noticing can help you set goals if you want or need to set goals. Noticing more details helps you set more reasonable goals and also helps you adjust your plans as you go along. You can use goals to inspire action.
I want you to be kinder to yourself. I want you to judge yourself based on your own values. I want you to feel good about your achievements even when they are different from those of people around you or different from what some people expect of you. I want you to be able to celebrate the different accomplishments of those around you while feeling confident about your own path. I want you to have enough confidence, self-compassion, and support to be able to withstand unkind criticism, adverse career events, and adverse life events. I want you to be able to notice what you have control over and do what you can even when there are some big things that you don’t have (much) control over.
When you want to make a change, all the noticing you’ve done will make that change less overwhelming. You’ll know what you don’t want to change and be able to use that as a foundation. You’ll have a sense of what might work well for you. You’ll make better plans. You’ll be more likely to stick to them. And you’ll have a practice of noticing that will make it easier to adjust as you go along.
You can do this job. You can do this job and have a family. You can do this job while prioritizing the parts of it that are meaningful to you. You can be ambitious and define ambition in your own terms.
This was originally written for the Academic Writing Studio members newsletter 10 July 2020. It has been edited.