My three week stint in Paris draws to an end tomorrow. It’s been a work trip peppered with lots of outings with family, though they did way more sight seeing and touristy activities than me. That’s what they have been here for. As for me, I have thoroughly enjoyed having solo time at work. This is a luxury in India, where the work place is a juggling act involving much more than the core components of research like fieldwork, analysis, reading and writing. Much time is spent in project and team management and in attending meetings and conferences too. I enjoy all that buzz as well, so carving out time for more solitary kind of work has been very challenging indeed!
Here in Paris, the work environment has been conducive for solo activity, though I share an office space with two other researchers, both senior to me from whom I am learning a lot through observation and everyday conversations. The solitude has helped me increase my concentration span and somewhat improve my ability to schedule work more realistically. It has also taught me the value of reading beyond my subject, something I have wanted to do for a long time. The importance of embarking on a PhD at this stage in life has come home to me as well, as I interact with academic researchers at various stages of their careers.
For the most part, I find my colleagues here immensely focused and dedicated to their own sliver of research (though not in a restrictive way). PhD students and scholars working on remote Asian and African nations have spent years teaching themselves new languages, delving deep into understanding the cultural traditions and political economy of faraway lands as well as spending vast amounts of time physically experiencing these geographies and cultures. As a relatively new entrant to social science research, I realize my training as an urban planner somewhat limits my attitudes because I tend to focus on solution-oriented approaches without adequately steeping myself in the context. This is a drawback I am determined to address going forward.
Being outside my comfort zone and a change of scenario also helps me reflect on myself in other, more personal ways. My time here has strengthened by belief that life must be a delicate balance of self-confidence and humility. The former in the sense that I imbibe the importance of being myself, not judging myself too harshly, not overthinking everyday decisions and certainly not worrying about appearances or what other folks think of you! This has been a work in progress for the last few years and its got a fillip here in Paris. Humility in the sense of being open to new ideas, really listening through when other people talk, opening out the senses without judgement and leaving the ‘I’ out of as much a possible. To be honest, I have not progressed as much in this because temperamentally I am the talker/do-er/impression-maker type. Stepping back and toning down when I need to is something I am aware of but have not been able to practice as well.
All in all, these reflections form the base for my second stint here in September this year. I will be unaccompanied by family or friends then and will be living alone for a month for perhaps the first time in my life (yes, believe it or not!). During that trip, I intend to catch up on the missed out parts of tourism, the alternate experiences in Paris and also work much more on my journey towards serious and focused research.
Over half of January has gone by. 2014 is shorter by half a month!
It’s been a ‘wake up call’ sort of day for me. And the thoughts in my head have been about looking ahead. I’m making a conscious effort to break from the past in the sense of not spending too much time ruminating over the last year, what it was like, what I learnt, etc. That stuff is important, but I tend to overdo it and get dangerously into the zone of procrastinating over stuff I need to get done NOW and in the future.
So, why so dramatic? What am I waking up about?
A few really important things.
1. Finances: I’ve opted for flexi work and consultancy the last many years and the kids have been a cushy excuse. I can’t look at joining work full time immediately, for various reasons. But I realized that my flexi work often took up as much time as full time work and paid me very little. So this year, I’m going to be a little more hard-nosed about money. That, of course, also goes for my spending, as I gear up to apply for PhD programs this year and hope to slide back into student life over the next few years!
2. Priorities: Being superwoman ain’t easy. It’s also stupid! I’m taking Rahul’s advice in 2014 and focusing on ME. Of course, it doesn’t mean everything else fades away, but there will be times I will make choices that appear completely out of character. All those of you out there who think I already am a self-centered *****, get ready for more of that! No apologies.
3. Productivity: A big part of my self-improvement drive this year hinges on this. Managing my time better and also meeting targets set for myself will be critical for me to achieve my goals. To begin with, I’m betting on being more self-aware of my schedules and less scatter-brained as I’m juggling many things as usual. Accountability to myself is also something I will be very careful about. I’m one of the most self-delusional beings on the planet!
4. Focus: This is the toughest one and should have been the first, but I’m under-confident. It’s in my nature to segue here and there and I love the experiences that emerge from those distracted journeys. But I’ll have to change some of that this year.
So you can see. 2014 begins on a very different note. My list looks a lot more like the ones in self-improvement books. Already, it’s not sounding like me, but someone else. And I’m intrigued, amused, impressed, motivated and also a little bit blah about it already! Hmmm…
I need to get a fairly complex research paper out in a few months. I need to look for universities where a mother of two kids can pursue a PhD without dislocating her entire family. I need to focus on projects at work. I need to sing. I need to dance. I need to do fun activities with friends and family. I need to be creative everyday, every hour. On top of all that, or because of all that, I am a compulsive doodler! I am in a perpetual balancing act, but I also need to do one thing at a time to do things well……
When I write my paper, I find my browser searches veering towards the PhD- potential supervisors, university admission requirements, funding…..
When I abandon the research paper and decide to focus on the PhD searches in earnest, I am drawn to the snippets of fiction that I have started to write, some scrawled on the back pages of diaries and notebooks, some on random word files on my laptop, some others as memos on my phone and now as notes on my brand new ipad mini!
I find myself dreaming of a 6 month travel and writing break. A new destination every fortnight, lots of fiction writing and travel writing, lots of photography……
Thud! I have a research paper to write and the funny thing is that I am passionate about that as well! It also takes every ounce of my creativity and I love doing it.
Then why are my energies so scattered? From the past, a voice comes to me. Of a teacher back in college who rued my lack of focus and predicted it would hamper me some day. And it has, all my life!
I compensate for it with a stubborn sense of self-confidence and most times that works. But not always….
I wrote to a friend in a chat conversation earlier today:
“so much creativity comes in spurts
to have the time, energy and discipline to convert it is the real talent!”
This is not a crib. I am happy. I know I am lucky to be able to do so much of what I want to do. I hope the lucky run continues….