The energy to resist, the energy for joy

Diwali celebrations on the streets of Southall, London, 1984. (via @brownhistory in Instagram)

There are two things that I was not quite prepared for post-PhD, and those are 1) how quickly you were expected to get to work, and 2) there really is never an end to the imposter syndrome (but if you are never really good at the things you are doing anyway, is it really imposter syndrome? What meta reflection is this?). In May, less than two hours after announcing that I had succesfully defended my thesis, I was asked, “so what’s next?” from a super smart colleague in the university who could literally churned out research ideas month after month. The honest answer would be, “I want to sleep for 16 hours straight” but because she was this bright human being with fierce determination that I am equally awed, inspired, and intimidated of at the same time, I answered, “maybe I’ll have a think at that paper idea we spoke the other day”. I never wrote that paper, or any. And that’s the prelude to this question and many others along the same line of, “How many papers have you written?”. My answer — which is none — further baffled people, especially in academia, as to how someone with a doctorate did not have any (there were no requirements for paper submissions for me to pass my PhD), and never expected to churn one as soon as I could (I am no longer in academia). My naivety again got me — I took a break from tech industry to escape the ‘hustle culture’, only to be caught in the same culture. 🎶 Maybe it’s hustle culture, maybe it’s 𝓷𝓮𝓸𝓵𝓲𝓫𝓮𝓻𝓪𝓵𝓲𝓼𝓶 🎶

A few months ago I rappourteured for a storytelling workshop where the participants talked about planning workshops of their own. One of them mentioned that in some cases, if there were too many people discussing on how to construct an agenda, she would wait so, read the room, and then deduce her answers from there. “Too many cooks can spoil a broth,” she said. And that’s how she carried herself in the workshop as well — she was quiet most of the time, but when she spoke, it was gold. I did not know if every time I speak up people felt it was gold as well, but deep down I said to myself — as someone who often took longer time to react I might appear dumb, as someone who is so annoyingly prudent at times, as someone who often stepped back to see the bigger picture then zeroed in — “I found my people!”. I was reminded of the time my teammates basically argued — raised voices and insults and whatnot — to get their views across while we were working on a group assignment during one of my MA classes. As someone who often shies away from confrontation, I was at the edge of the table listening and digesting their every perspective and then sketched a draft framework of what we could achieve. They finished arguing about 10 minutes later, and we ended using parts of my sketch for the presentation. That’s where I figured out maybe I am not slow, I am just… unintentionally strategic. 

I have had several mental battles whether to include the PhD after my name in my CV. It especially hit me hard one time when some of my friends, as part of friendly banter, began telling me their shoulders hurt, or that they have a rash, further trying to invalidate that only medical doctors deserve the title. It hit even harder when I was rejected left and right during my job hunt. How many times I have heard people saying something like this: in reference to other colleague who had done her PhD years ago, that she is ‘chill’ because she chooses not to use Dr. in her name? And women who ask to be referred as so, is ‘uptight’, ‘demanding’, ‘eksyen’ (the word originates from English word, ‘action’ but Malaysians often use it to indicate ‘arrogant’)? What an unwelcome challenge for women to ask to address themselves according to the qualifications that they have earned, what a form of feminist act this is.

So here it stands: I have completed an independent research where I have produced an in-depth, critical, and original scientific work within a stipulated time frame — hence a major feat that deserved the merits of my doctoral degree. This imposter syndrome does not invalidate the knowledge I earned, my skills, and my qualifications, but instead, I am accepting it as a pseudo-medical name for a larger structural problem that have historically affected largely women and the minority groups. It is the opposite of “it’s not you, it’s me” trope. It is definitely them. And if you have ever felt so, I am here to tell you that you do belong, and you are good at whatever you are doing.

As for the papers, maybe I will publish them, or maybe I won’t. And when/if I do publish them, they would be ✨gold✨.

Reading in my tabs:

  • What really makes us resilient?
  • Timely: “I have to remind myself that I’m resting to store up the energy it takes to resist, and also the energy expended in experiencing joy.” Lots of beautiful insights here in this conversation with Black writers in rethinking rest and productivity, embracing imperfections, exploring different modes of resistance, and many others.
  • Online misinformation is rampant. Four tips on stopping it: 1) make sure that you have your own facts straight, 2) alert the platform early, 3) think about the impacts of reaching out publicly versus privately, and 4) remember our social media posts are tied to our identities, so lead with empathy.
  • “If you’re not door-knocking, if you’re not on the internet, if your main points of reliance are TV and mail, then you’re not running a campaign on all cylinders.” Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez consistently talked about the importance of digital and organising — which is what successful modern campaigns are made of.
  • Another brilliant piece from Zeynep Tufekci that made me gasp and go “This makes perfect sense!”— the real message of this election is not that Trump lost. It’s that a weak and untalented politician lost, while the rest of his party has entrenched its power: the perfect setup for a talented right-wing populist to sweep into office in 2024.
  • The European Union has agreed to stricter rules on the sale and export of cyber-surveillance technologies, which requires companies to get a government license to sell technology with military applications; calls for more due diligence on such sales to assess the possible human rights risks; and requires governments to publicly share details of the licenses they grant. However, the new regulation only seeks to provide more transparency, and it remains to be seen how much of a difference they will make on the ethical front.
  • TIL gleefishing: the antithesis to doomscrolling — it’s when you can’t stop scrolling to good news.
  • “Be careful. With what relief do we fall back on the tale, so often told in revolutions that now we must organise, obey the rules, so that later we can be free. It is the point at which the revolution stops.”

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