Great advice for academics planning next year’s conference and travel schedule, from David Plotz of Slate:
What an honor! You have been asked to appear on a panel, to keynote a conference, to advise a celebrity, to be publically acclaimed. Perhaps you have been offered a plump check. Perhaps you’ve even been promised a prize! Of course you’re flattered. Of course you accept, because you have so much time to prepare. After all, this thing isn’t happening until October. It’s next year. It’s in 2018. It’s so far in the future, you’ll probably be dead by then.
You’ve made a terrible mistake.
Here’s what will happen. Though the engagement seems infinitely far away today, it will eventually, inevitably, be a week away. Then it’s a day away. And you still haven’t written the speech you need to write. You still have to make a hotel reservation and buy a train ticket and find a baby sitter and apologize to your sister for missing her birthday dinner and beg Dan to cover for you in a meeting. (Sorry, Dan.) The opportunity that sparkled so brightly when they flattered you into it six months ago isn’t gleaming anymore. It’s just a gigantic hassle.
It’s like he read my mind! I always experience this in the week or two before a conference or an invited lecture, for example. No invitations to accept “plump checks,” at least not outside of modest honoraria rates anyway, and no prizes in the offing of which I’ve been told. (Maybe that’s why I drag my feet about buying a plane ticket, getting a hotel, writing the paper, etc.?) And then there’s the dread before the travel and the conference–dread that it’s a bad time for me to leave town considering all my deadlines and other responsibilities. Why on earth did I agree to do this? And then the guilt about the dread because I’m not a neurotic person. I take pride in making decisions and sticking by my commitments.
I experience this dread knowing full well that once I hit the road, I’ll drop the dread, relax, and have fun, as I always do at conferences. Do any of you go through this ridiculous emotional cycle before conferences? I always spend the day before I leave thinking how nice it would be not to go. But I always go, and of course, I always have a good time. (Possible exception: when I attend AHA and spend all day in the pit conducting job interviews. It’s worthwhile work and it can be intellectually stimulating, but it’s not fun.)
So how should we try to cope with invitations and the feelings of inadequacy and frustration that result? Plotz has advice about the “one question you must ask yourself before accepting any invitation!” Would I do it tomorrow? In my case, the answer would still be “yes.” Maybe this question will help me curb my procrastination. Or just remind me that when I said “yes,” it was because I decided then that it was worthwhile or even important. (Or at least not a “terrible mistake.”)
Also: I know I’ll look back in old age fondly on this busy time in my life. There are worse things than being in demand and having people counting on you to show up–far worse–so I try not to complain too much.