Staying hungry

I’ll open by saying that stagnation and lack of motivation are not currently an issue for me professionally- if anything, it’s sorting through these choices that I have made (and all of which are important to me) and not feeling overwhelmed. Staying motivated and feeling listless about how I contribute is not a struggle…right now.

About six weeks ago, there were nearly simultaneous pieces in the HBR and the Chronicle of Higher Education discussing what happens once we achieve something that’s been the brass ring for a length of time.  For many of us in academia, it’s that day when we find out that we’ve been promoted and received tenure.  For my friends in the business world, it’s a big promotion; for attorneys, it’s achieving partner.  You get the idea.  There’s this thing out there- whatever it may be- that represents high achievement in our professions.  So, we get there.  Then what?

In my usual “completely honest” fashion, I suffered from post-tenure depression.  After spending the first several years of my career in academic surgery trying to episodically balance inquiry/ publication, teaching/ education, clinical work, and administration in a fashion that kept me on the pathway to promotion.  And I did wake up thinking, “What now?”  I also realized that, quite honestly, I was tired.  Not completely exhausted and depleted, just tired and in need of a recharge.

After wallowing in this for a bit and wondering if this was finally my chance to become lazy, I woke up one day and realized that the whole point of tenure is to have academic freedom.  So much for that lazy idea…but hooray for being at a point that allows me to choose what my next great work will be.  I’ll also admit now that I’ve settled into this role in the last couple of years (and have used my “security” to pursue work examining disruptive surgeon behavior and the status of women in academic surgery, both using qualitative methods) and have realized that if anything it’s harder.  I have a greater need for time and space to think; I have more difficulty finding that time and space.  My goals are less set for me; I have more opportunities to seek broadly.  Most importantly, it’s my responsibility to stay hungry- no one else can provide that internal drive and inherent curiosity that is ultimately required to make a difference in our profession or in the world.

Right now I’m in the process of changing up how I do my white board in my office.  I’m working on embracing my productivity style as a “visualizer” (no wonder OmniFocus was such a dismal failure for me!).  I’m embracing new roles and responsibilities that require my very best leadership and more creative problem solving than I anticipated.  I’m writing my mentors thank you notes because I realize what a challenging role that is.  And right now, even though it’s a bit late, I’m going out for a run.  It’s time to clear my head.