Finding FUN in WORK

I have long known that a presentation on the calendar helps me focus on my research, but I never really appreciated what it was about this type of work that brought happiness to my life–well, until now.

In the early days, I signed up for conferences to network and share my research, but I did so because I was told that a yearly presentation was part of the job expectations. Lucky for me, I am extroverted and love how conferences provide opportunities to meet new people and nerd out with for a few days. I also found that having a presentation deadline was super helpful in channeling my creative energy, forcing me to commit to a line of inquiry and argumentation. This instrumental view of presentations as a tool for getting my work done has compelled me to sign up for conferences that line up with my idealized publishing plans–even though this rarely lines up as expected. 

As I prepared to give another presentation this week, I felt the familiar stress of the impending deadline. I was still messing around with the analysis in my head and on my millions of scratch pads. I had lots of annotated articles and books that I wanted to engage with. Yet the synthesis of ideas was still a mess. Who talked about this method? What year did the field start using this term instead of that term? Have I read enough? Do I know enough? 

As usual, I had veered into another sub-field to build bridges connecting theories and methods to serve another interdisciplinary project. I was deep in the exploration phase. Definitely, my happy place! But now it was time to get my shit together and synthesize it in time to present. 

When I felt the death spiral of anxiety pushing me towards inner panic, I noticed it. Wow! That was different.

Then I started to dig deeper to learn about this old friend. The relationship with presentations that I had cultivated over the years was no longer working for me. It was time to rethink whether I wanted to be in this relationship anymore or if I needed to change the rules of engagement. One thing was certain. The anxiety associated with my process was not bringing out the best in me, nor was it contributing to my own well-being. 

Yes, dear reader, it’s true. I am mixing metaphors left and right and it may feel a little disorienting. Welcome to the world inside my head when a presentation is looming. In my defense, as a researcher of dating, thinking about my habits and responses to the work of presentations in terms of intimate relationships feels apropos. And well, it’s just too fitting to pass up. 

So there I was, stressing about whether my presentation was anywhere close to being done. Was the argument fleshed out? Were the slides reflecting a flow of ideas? Was it coherent? How much time would I need to get this done and do I have enough white space in the calendar to dedicate to putting together a kick ass presentation that I would be proud of?

It was time to step away from the computer and reflect.

What do I get out of presentations–really?

Besides a line on my CV, what is it about presentation that fills my tank? 

As luck would have it, my friend Serendipity was in town. What timing! She pulled out some reflections I had written in a workshop I’d participated in years ago. It was right there–all the juicy details about what I value and what fills my tank. Apparently, nothing had changed in 10 years. My fears and dreams remained the same. And, I still stress out when I don’t feel “control” in my life.

I reflected on the workshop notes and applied them to doing presentations and my current project about online dating. What if, instead of being stress-inducing, the process of preparing for and presenting my research was all about doing what makes me most happy? 

I know, this probably isn’t novel at all. But then again, what if it is–-at least for a few people out there? Then writing this and sharing it was worth it. 

As I considered what drives me, I could see that presentations aren’t just about a deadline to get the writing done. In fact, they were often terrible at helping me to get the writing done because I spent so much energy on the presentation and not following up with the writing. *sigh*

At my core, I want to understand what makes people tick and how they connect for deeper self-realization–including for myself. Most of my research activities–be it interviewing people, presenting research findings, or writing up the results– allow me to engage in the type of learning that feeds this need. 

I am in my happy place when I am exploring and expressing ideas, as well as creating and connecting with others–especially in connection with others. When I put this in perspective, it becomes obvious that the process of synthesizing research, putting together a presentation to creatively and logically express myself, and connecting with other people to get to the bottom of deep questions about communication and society is FUN!!!! 

As I write this out, I am hit upside the head by one of my favorite sayings. Cliche as it may be, it is true: it’s the journey, not the destination. And anyone who knows me, knows that I like a good adventure to unknown places. I’m all about the journey!

Today, I woke up early to give a presentation about language, power, and dating on the app Bumble. Instead of going in with fears that my final argument isn’t “ready” yet, I reminded myself–and the audience–that it’s a work in progress. Since part of presenting–at least for me–is the collaboration that comes from sharing ideas and learning from others, I shifted from thinking of my task as “presenting” my research to “collaborating” and inviting others to be a part of the process of figuring things out. And, indeed, it was FUN!

So, dear reader, I end this with theses questions for you: 

How can you find joy in work that stresses you out?

What would it look like to find the fun in your work?

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