Things I’m Afraid to Tell You: Academia Edition

A forced smile, a polite handshake, a chirpy “I’m fine!,” our interaction with each other seems to be built upon dishonesty. Or at least, some lying by omission. Instead of engaging with people in meaningful conversation, we often fall back on platitudes and pleasantries. We think nobody wants to get to know us. The real us. Scars, walls, flaws, and all.

And in some ways, it makes life easier. Who really wants to hear the whole story when we casually ask an acquaintance how they’re doing? The whole story is lengthy. The whole story is messy. The whole story is painful. And to hear the whole story takes time and effort. Our lives are too busy for that.

So we’ve gotten used to just sharing the bits and pieces of our lives. The shiny, happy bits. The ones that make it seem like we’ve got it all together and everything is under control. We don’t just do this in real life, but also on the internet. Especially on the internet. The web is plastered with pretty pictures and cheery status updates. The only message out there seems to be, “Look how great I’m doing!”

Jess of Makeunder Your Life noticed and wrote this post vowing to share more of the cake–the substance of her life–rather than just the icing–the shiny, happy bits–on her blog (Did I mention she wrote this post on my birthday?!). She stayed true to her word and later published this post filled with personal admissions and secrets, also known as the “things i’m afraid to tell you.” The novel idea of actually saying how we feel resonated with so many others that Ez of Creature Comforts organized dozens of bloggers to write similar posts. Then another blogger organized another round and so on. And thus, a movement was born.

Most of these posts were written by personal lifestyle or fashion bloggers. It makes sense. They’re the ones post pictures and write about their latest designer purchases, lavish vacations, and well-decorated homes. But I would argue that in the age of 140 characters and Instagram filters, we all feel pressure to to present the prettiest, wittiest, and well branded version of our lives. Even the academics like myself, who are supposed to have the intellectual capacity to stay above the mainstream cultural fray, have fallen prey to it.

Well, I’m here to tell you that even academics struggle with authenticity in the age of internet and depleting privacy. I am one of them. Here are the things I’m afraid to tell you.

1. This blog will never be entirely honest. It can’t be.

I started this blog to give my readers an honest peek into my life as an adjunct, but when I was hired in the public relations and marketing office of my university a few months later, things got complicated. Not only did I have to balance a full-time job with part-time teaching, I had to balance my new responsibilities with my integrity to this blog. In such a contentious time in higher ed, I know what’s at stake here. Ultimately, my full-time job is to make my university look good and sell a college education. I love this blog and its readers, but I am keenly aware of where my loyalties must be.

2. There might any more school in my future. And that scares me.

This isn’t just about quitting teaching, but not going back to school. Period. I was still in undergrad when I began dreaming of getting a doctorate. It was a surprise to no one that I quickly went on to get my master’s, but bewildered them when I didn’t immediately go on to a doctorate. Two years after earning my master’s, I’m still stalling on applying to Ph.D. programs. My inaction on this decision just plain freaks me out. A lot of my identity is based on being a student. Being a student is what I’m good at, and school is the place where I’m most comfortable. Stepping beyond my comfort zone and leaving behind a huge chunk of my identity scares me. And until now, I was too ashamed to admit to anyone.

3. Sometimes, I would go into class unprepared and have to “wing it.”

College professors already get enough crap about not earning their paychecks with their “summers off” and “lax teaching loads,” and I don’t want to help detractors sharpen their pitchforks. Teaching is work. A lot of that behind-the-scenes, unglamorous work that no one ever sees. When I first started teaching, my type-A, control freak personality made exhaustive lessons plans for awhile. That is, until my students routinely destroyed them. I decided to make outlines that didn’t have every last minute and detail planned out, and sometimes, I had to “wing it,” improvise, and rely on just myself, not some detail plan, to teach my class. And you know what? My teaching got better.

4. I still take deep breaths before the beginning of every class.

One of the best lessons I got about classroom management wasn’t taught to me by a professor, but rather a friend that moonlights as a yoga instructor. She taught me some deep breathing techniques that I still use to calm myself before every class. Yes, every class. Yes, even though I’ve taught for a couple of years now. Yes, I feel like a nerd to admit this to you. No, I don’t care anymore.

5. I feel like a fraud. Every. Single. Day.

I hate when people call me a “professor.” It makes me cringe. I’ll often correct them with my official title from HR of “adjunct lecturer.” My uneasiness isn’t based on semantics, but my deep, dark fear that I’m not qualified to teach. Even though I’ve worked hard and earned to be where I am. I still feel like I’m masquerading as a “real” teacher, and that my students would be better off with someone with tenure and more experience. And now that I’ve admitted #3 and #4, I’m wondering if you think it too.

Whew. That was difficult.

To end this post, I challenge you (Yes, you!) to put your fears aside and write a “things I’m afraid to tell you” post. Break the cycle of fear, perfectionism, and lying by omission by telling your audience what you’re afraid to tell them. What you think they should know but are too ashamed to tell them. Especially if you’re a student, teacher, adjunct, or administrator because it’s about time those of us in the education field spoke our own truth instead of letting pundits and the media do it for us. It’s scary, but freeing, I promise. Leave me a link to your post in the comments and I’ll post a link in an upcoming post.

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7 thoughts on “Things I’m Afraid to Tell You: Academia Edition

  1. I have similar fears. Mostly, it means that we have some more learning to do. After we are satisfied with the amount of learning, then we apply it. How we apply our learning determines our professional nature. During this transition, taking inventory of yourself is the first step before moving forward.

  2. Yes, yes yes to those things. Especially the feeling like a fraud bit, I pretty much have my self reassuring pep talk off by heart by now.

    I am currently adjusting to not being a student for the first time in 12 years and it’s a bit weird, mostly I like it. I like knowing I handed in a PhD thesis (finally), but as I don’t have a proper postdoc position I feel like I am biding time and I feel quite isolated sometimes.

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