A Cure for my Academic Angst... Maybe?
I do this every year. At the start of every teaching semester, I experience a kind of 'academic angst'. Each year, I pause to reflect on my practice as an academic - as a researcher and educator, and connector to the real world. I ask myself questions about my purpose and, reassuringly, each year my answers become increasingly consistent.
This year, I am inspired partly by recent conversations with some of my work colleagues about values in the Business School, and by the knowledge that many friends and colleagues also regularly engage in similar reflective exercises. This year I decided to transcribe the salient points of my annual internal monologue. I have found that writing these thoughts down (though not necessarily in a scholarly article) has been an effective cure, at least thus far, for recurrent bouts of academic angst.
There are three core pillars of my practice (what I do): Sustainability x Education x Impact.
I prefer to view and talk about these pillars through the lens of Knowing, Being and Doing.
My work in sustainability has always been more than work to me. It features prominently in my own values and beliefs about what is important (Being); in my acquiring and sharing of facts and knowledge (Knowing); and in the actions I take and advocate in the world (Doing). Sustainability is the central theme of what I do. It is, also, the focus of my research.
I research to understand the imperatives and drivers of change towards a sustainable future. My current research focuses on Degrowth and is motivated towards finding practical solutions to apply Degrowth principles to businesses.
I engage with businesses and communities to listen, facilitate (Doing) and bear witness to imminent change. My mission is to use my knowledge, infused with core values and beliefs, to realise change in the institutions and communities affecting and affected by the dilemma of Limits to Growth.
I teach to share and exchange knowledge (Knowing), values and beliefs (Being) with future leaders. I see knowledge as a tool, to be used for action, which is why one of my favourite quotes is one attributed to Herbert Spencer: "the great aim of education is not knowledge, but action".
(I must pause here to lament that, despite the resonance of this quote, Herbert Spencer's work on Social Darwinism, which seems inexorably linked to scientific racism, is an additional source of angst, but of a different kind. It is not just Spencer. I do often consider that if I were to meet some of the 'great men' and 'great women' of history in person, whose ideas I share and enjoy, their attitude and behaviour towards me as a Black woman would possibly be exclusionary and unpleasant. But, I digress. That is an issue for another blog post, perhaps).
"The great aim of education is not knowledge, but action" resonates with my practice and experience as an educator.
Indeed, there is a third piece - my experience - which I do not often bring with me to the office. My experience is that of an island-born traveller, haunted, humbled and motivated by the Limits to Growth dilemma. I was born in Trinidad and Tobago, in the West Indies, and have lived in six different countries. My passion, value and beliefs about sustainability started some time in my youth (Being), and those experiences continue to influence my practice today (Doing).
Although I rarely intentionally address my personal background and heritage at work, it is an important influence on my identity and my practice as an academic. It has influenced who I am and what I do. It is how I approached sustainability as an ecological, social and economic solution to some of the grand challenges of our time. It is how sustainability became a core aspect of what I do.
So hear I am again, three days before I start teaching again, and I have finally captured my internal monologue... I think! The answers will no doubt evolve as I progress through the semester and academic life, but I feel privileged to have asked these questions of myself.
I am a sustainability researcher, educator and consultant. I write, I speak, I share - sometimes in unconventional ways - what I know, what I do and what I value. My mission is to apply the Limits to Growth dilemma to business research, education and practice in these unprecedented times.