A Caring Look at Your Own Publications

photo by Kylie Sabine

When I was working full-time in academia, thinking or talking about my publication record often made me feel small.

I felt that I hadn’t published enough. And also, with a few exceptions, I felt that what I had published wasn’t what I should have published. My publication record just didn’t live up to the expectations I had of myself and that I imagined others had of me.

As the years passed, I grew increasingly confident in other areas of my academic work such as teaching and administration. But in relation to my research output, I didn’t have that confidence – instead there was the sense that I badly needed to ‘do better’.

I sometimes hear clients or friends express similar sentiments, but our relationship with our publication record isn’t widely discussed in academia. Maybe this is because so often we feel we need to project confidence even when we don’t feel it. I think it’s also because, for many academics, it feels normal to not be proud of our publications and let ourselves be driven by the sense of ‘still not good enough’.

And yet, aiming to do better doesn’t need to involve rejecting or downplaying the work we’ve already done.

A healthier relationship with your writing

In fact, recovering care for completed publications can be an important strand in developing a healthier and more empowered relationship with your writing now.

Why?

Because instead of cutting yourself off from your past efforts, you get to stand on these efforts as you find your way forward – a whole different feeling.

Whichever way you feel about what you have published, the ‘you’ that wrote those pieces wasn’t all that different from the ‘you’ that’s writing today. Sure, you have more experience now, and more skill. And sure, you may have gotten yourself involved in projects or collaborations that didn’t bring out the best in you and that became a learning experience of what not to do again.

But: a lot of what’s right with the work you’re doing now is also what was right with the work you were doing then.

I’m talking about the intentions, values and natural gifts that come through in your writing. These are a big part of what’s right with your work. They can be found even in texts that are otherwise easy to be critical of. And, to the extent that intentions, values and natural gifts are what you can’t help but bring to your work, they probably haven’t changed all that much since the start of your career.

Daring to side with what’s right with your publications

Your publication record is an untapped resource you can turn to for evidence of your intentions, values and natural gifts.

Looking for what’s right with your work in this way is not about putting a positive spin on things. It’s an act of daring, and one of academic activism: Daring to side with what’s right rather than to find fault. Refusing to not respect your own work and efforts. Reclaiming that work and those efforts as a positive part of your identity.

This way of working with your publications makes for a powerful form of self-coaching. I created an exercise for this a few years ago, because it pained me to be stuck in that ‘need to do better’ loop and I wanted a healthier relationship with my writing. I recovered a piece of myself through that exercise, which now also informs some of the work I do with clients. The details are written up in a book chapter in the collection Healthy Relationships in Higher Education: Promoting Wellbeing Across Academia (Routledge, 2022), edited by Narelle Lemon.

Beginning a practice of recovering care

In my own case, I found evidence of how I’m drawn to adventure, wont to follow inspiration, and eager to jump in at the deep end. I also saw a love for detail and for precision and integrity in how I express myself.

Seeing these values and gifts, even in publications that weren’t what I thought they should be, shifted something in me. It gave me a way to recognize myself. And to understand better what I’m really seeking when I do my research and my writing.

The key components of the exercise are simple but potent:

  • As you re-read your work, look out for evidence of your intentions, values, and natural gifts as a researcher and writer.
  • Instead of taking a ‘hard look’, literally soften your eyes and your posture as you re-engage with your publications. This heightens your capacity to be receptive to what is here rather than focusing on what’s missing.
  • Allow for the possibility that there’s more in your own work than you already know. Be willing to look for what’s here to discover about your specific way of caring for the world.

I trust that whatever you’ll find will be precious.

This is your place to stand: the intentions, values and gifts that show up here, in your writing. It’s a beautiful place to stand – remarkably solid, too.

I hope you’ll check out the chapter if this is a topic that resonates with you. And maybe try out the exercise sometime? Drop me a line to share how it went, or to let me know how you look after your relationship with completed publications – I’d love to hear. If you need a pdf copy of the chapter, let me know and I’ll send it to you.

with love,

Catelijne

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Catelijne Coopmans

Catelijne Coopmans

Life coach, interdisciplinary scholar, advocate for inspired paths in and beyond academia.

Resources & Reflections

for calling forth authentic strength and unapologetic expression in your practices of writing and  living.

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