Yesterday I had coffee with one of my former students, Mo. He’s now a member of staff at Bristol Business School and a PhD student, and I’m proud to call to call him a colleague and a friend. He often remarks that I inspired him with regards to his studies and his thirst for academic work. He remembers that I gave his first lecture in his first year on his first day at university. He tells me he has kept feedback I wrote on his work 6 years ago. He’s now doing a fabulous PhD (in a different subject group to me) on organisational archives and is being supervised by the fabulous Charles Booth. But yesterday it was Mo that inspired me.
We met for coffee in our new business school building and sat in the window of the Atrium Café. The title of our meeting in Outlook was ‘Chinwag’ and the main aim was to gossip about people, places, things and recent changes at work. But quite by accident the conversation took a different turn and ended up being rather like a coaching/mentoring session (for me at least!) and it was really refreshing. There is nothing quite like a former student, now fresh into the weird world of academia, sitting in front of you reflecting back what they see in you – the great, the good and the questionable. I’m not sure how often really honest conversations happen at work, least of all when they are about the choices you make, the perception others have of you, and what people really think of your potential. Our conversation went to lots of places and as much as I would have happily continued into the late afternoon, the moderation of undergraduate dissertations called…
As I went back to my office I found myself thinking about one topic in particular – how I might spend more focussed time on building up an external profile. Mo had talked about how my research ‘gets out there’ to a bigger audience, how I might inspire others with what I say, how I might engage with the outside world and take my expertise out of the university walls and make my stuff matter. I had talked about my experience of imposter syndrome, my rather uncomfortable feelings about being seen as an ‘expert’, and my fear of failure. He asked me about my blog and why I’d stopped writing. I answered that it had turned into something that I found difficult – it had started as a joyful activity; the freedom of writing about work/ creative stuff (without the academic referencing!) but had morphed into apprehensive it’s-got-to-be-perfect writer’s block.
He told me to get over myself – that these sorts of patterns of thinking are sabotaging my creativity and potential, that opportunity shies away from neediness. Then we both laughed. But he’s right. And so are others that I have talked to about similar things in the past. But there was just something about Mo saying it. Something about someone who treads fine lines between colleague and friend, someone who knows your work but not your field, someone you trust but don’t see on a regular basis, someone who lives a different life to yours but appreciates the world you’re in. And someone who offers a new view with no other agenda. I think everyone needs a Mo. Everyone needs a coffee and a chinwag with someone who treads that fine line.
With all this in mind – it’s about time I got over myself (or at least the writer’s block) and got back on the blog.