Year-End Reflections

Hi, there 2021, I thought I had more time with you, but it turns out you are almost over! What gives?

I know I’m not the only one who feels this way, nor am I the only one who, wanting to reflect on the past year, feels a bit more whip-lash than usual as a result. For my own part, I feel like I spent most of the last year disconnected as the days, weeks and months whizzing by. Some of this was completely part and parcel of just what happens when you are involved in a big writing project–you have to shut the outside world off and lose yourself in the creative, generative process of crafting a book, which means losing touch with some pieces of reality, too (sorry, harsh but true).

But part of my 2021 retreat had nothing to do with big career projects: I simply wanted to prioritize spending quality time with the people I cared about, and as soon as the windows of hope opened up in 2021 (of course, only to be shut and re-opened many times), I did that. I also wanted to prioritize my relationship with myself. Years on the tenure track meant that I had forgotten what matters to me and why. I meditated a lot, journaled a lot, read up on systems of thought that I had always wanted to learn more about but quite never “fit” into what I needed to read or think about for my academic work.

And I also focused on my health and fitness; I ended 2020 as unhealthier than I’ve ever been, but I’m ending 2021 fitter than I thought was possible. I’m not just doing a lot of cardio and strength training; I’m also running, which is an activity I thought wasn’t in the cards for me after a few big knee injuries from roller derby convinced me that my body was no longer built for high-impact. (And oh yes…if you were wondering, I did indeed join the Peloton cult.)

Now that 2021 is coming to a close, I’ve started combing through the listicles of year-end reflection questions that are supposed to spur you into a deeper appreciation of the year and what it meant for you. But I find myself making up my own questions–sociologists, after all, tend to be much more interested in the questions than the answers. Before I think about how I want to head into 2022, I want to spend a moment thinking about the questions that have arisen, often unanswered, for me most often and most urgently–both throughout the year and at its close. These are the questions that have gnawed at me, that have rattled and unsettled me. They are the questions that make me wonder whether it’s all worth it–but they are also the questions that remind me that, if I can just figure out a way toward some answers, it will be worth it.

Here they are…

  1. How can we serve graduate students in a time of change, turmoil and job market collapse? How do I face the fact that my own experiences in academia are often utterly irrelevant to the world grad students are now facing as they pursue graduate studies and academic or industry careers? How do I develop the tools to support graduate students–instead of just throwing up my hands in despair?
  2. How do I face the reality that I’m often not much more than a cog in the academia machine–whether I’m upping undergrad enrollments, reviewing for for-profit journals, and or composing DEI statements that are at best performative because few are willing to do the hard work that must follow in order for them to be anything else? Where do I draw meaning and inspiration–from within the cracks and crevices of the system, or well beyond it?
  3. Another way to put 1 & 2: How can I best balance my obligation to take up space–as a mentor, as a scholar, as someone who has enough security to take some risks–with my duty to get the eff out of the way for the next generation of emergent scholars to take center stage?
  4. What does community look like? How can it be nurtured through a screen? Have I done enough to create community where I live and work? Have I seized the opportunities for community that the “new normal” poses? When is community exhausting versus exhilarating? And how I can responsively listen to those around me and myself to figure out the difference?
  5. How can I embrace my limits rather than just try to blow past them? Why can’t I let go of goals that I know were never realistic to begin with? How can I better understand the difference between good discipline/commitment and bad discipline/commitment?
  6. I had a lot of ideals about what I would do after getting tenure–how I’d prioritize certain aspects of my job versus others. Some of those I’ve doggedly pursued and achieved. But there are others that nag at me–like regular blog writing!!–because I just haven’t been able to make them part of my routine, even with a pandemic upending any routine I thought I had. Why is there such a gap between what I think I want, and what I’m actually willing to do? What needs to give?
  7. How do I balance my own needs with the needs of those around me? How do I maintain a sense of equanimity when I feel like I’m being called on too much–and also when I feel like I have to inordinately call on other people?
  8. How do I say no and mean it? But also: how do I say yes and mean it?
  9. In a time of multiple system collapse (government, economy, healthcare, climate), what is the role of sociology during crisis? What’s the message, if any, that we can offer? Or are we innocuously bereft of much of anything other than busywork? If we have something to say, who most needs to hear it–undergrad students, grad students, fellow sociologists and social scientists, the general public?
  10. From whom should sociologists be learning? Who or what should be our guiding stars? Who/what needs to be thrown out of the cannon–and who/what needs to be (re?)centered? Have the last two years finally taught us that we cannot create meaningful human-centered knowledge without also centering trauma, bereavement, vulnerability, grief–that is, without a sociology of loss, as Rebecca Elliot advocates?

That’s enough to chew on for now. Stay tuned for hopes for 2022.

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