Sunday, October 24, 2004


It was 1980 and my mother had just picked up a bunch of us neighbor kids from some event at the enormous public high school. My mom was a popular mom, and she bantered easily with the other children. Upon hearing the story of how the oldest boy had defended the rest of us in a confrontation with a scary high school student, my mother praised him heartily. "Eric, there's no doubt about it. You've got guts!"

I had never heard this phrase before, and it delighted me. Guts. I'd sung the "great green gobs of greasy, grimy gopher guts" song with my school friends, but never had I heard of someone having guts in a way that made them tough and brave.

I cringe to think of what my daffy seven-year-old self did next. I leaned forward from the back seat to address my mother, because I just had to know: "Mom? Guts? Do I have guts, too?"

Note to self. So maybe that was a silly, self-centered question. Still, if ever a child asks me this question, the answer will be yes.

My mother chuckled. "No, Cello. Guts aren't your thing. Having guts means that you're bold."

I say back again, cheeks pink. No guts! And she'd said so in front of everyone.

Years later, when I was a successful pitcher for my softball team, my mother would praise me for having grace under pressure. "You wait until things look really bad, and then you show everyone your steely core."

Which would you rather have? Adrenaline-spiked, intuitive guts? Or a sharp and chilly, steely core?

This afternoon, it's been a struggle to conjure either one. It's another one of those "What am I doing in this business?" days. What do people out there do when they start to drown in self-doubt?

Or do the self-doubting ones self-select out of academe? I feel myself at the cusp of a Darwinian moment here. How best to steel one's brain against fear of failure? How best to guts out the academic hierarchy while searching for a more healthy standard of self-evaluation?


At 9:17 PM, Blogger New Kid on the Hallway said...

I think I'd rather have the steely core, myself. It seems closer to endurance, which is in the end what I think is the most important quality for dealing with academia.

Wish I knew what to do about the self-doubt, though. If you find out, make sure to let us all know...

At 11:19 PM, Blogger bitchphd said...

I have no idea. I just keep telling myself that 1. everyone feels this way; and 2. it's only a feeling. And that my friends say I'm successful, and maybe I should listen to them.


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