Home > Identity, Uncategorized > Rome was not built in a day

Rome was not built in a day

My musings this week unveils a struggle I have begun to deal with in regards to my identity as a researcher.  My natural ‘get on with the job’ spirit seems to be getting in the way of the natural pace of academic research i.e. its gradual, reflective, its takes years not months (it seems is the mantra) for contribution to knowledge to occur.  I’m being asked to slow down and take my time…. not easy for me.


My research area is focused on how program and project managers might take their understanding of the identity lens to bring about more successful outcomes within and between organisations.  It seems to becoming clearer to me that an initial study is required to find out ‘what are the identity processes at play?’ and ‘do program managers understand the identity processes available to them?’    As a practitioner, I will admit I don’t know the answers to either of these questions – yet I can see a time when I will.


One thing that I do know for now, is that I am beginning to understand the Identity Theories ‘out there’ a little better (not crystal clear but concepts are emerging).  It has many forms whether it is: external or public (reputation or impression management), internal and private (organizational, group or individual); entitative or an emergent process; whether it is a whole self; or conflicted and fragmented by our multiple roles; whether it is collective, dominated or imposed by an organization, profession or role and social constructionism; or existential and individualistic; or most probably a dialectic amongst all these perspectives.


Frankly speaking, while I am finding Identity studies very interesting although I am not finding anything directly and obviously usable yet…. Is this me being a functionalist in pragmatist clothing?  I hope not.  Is there anything wrong with wanting to do research that starts from a critical and interpretivist paradigm, yet finishes up with new additions to theory that managers can use?  It seems logical enough to me to want to ask the question – now we understand what the identity lens might be – what practical difference can it make in our lives?


Five days a week I am a practicing professional – a program manager. Two days a week; and as many nights as my energy allows I am a practicing post graduate student doing his MRes and aspiring to a PhD!


In all areas, I find that once you have worked on a new discourse, a new language – then it can start to impose itself on you, kind of like being assimilated by the Borg (Star Trek).  Becoming a researcher, becoming more critical and investigative, and being socialized ‘part-time’ into the academic institution is not without its effect.  It can feel like I have a split personality at times; at other times it feels like they actually support each other i.e. 1. seeing and doing professional practice; 2. reading theory and research; 3. performing a faculty role as guide on the side and local counselor, or 4. Mixing them all up together.


For example: this week I have been looking at what might be required for an outsourcing and transformation programme.  My first stop was the literature.  What are people saying in 2011 about IT outsourcing; and what are they saying about ERP implementations; and how can I use what I have learned?  Truth is, some of the literature has helped me frame my approach and prepare a solid foundation to move forward with advising the client.


I will also say it is only because I am being socialized into academia that access to the literature is now open for me to use.  This is for two reasons: 1. Practically, as a student, researcher, and adjunct faculty I now have access to these publications. 2. Yet much more importantly, I’m building up a vocabulary and interest in certain academic traits: philosophy; paradigms; methodology; methods.  This results in the literature informing my thinking.  I must admit, I sometimes send the odd article to a fellow practitioner; but as I write this I’m questioning whether I should.  I’ve given access – but perhaps not thought about the ability to navigate complex academic language to find the jewels that might exist within!


So the natural question remains – who am I?  Am I a professional, am I a student, a researcher, or an academic, or am I some kind of hybrid?  What are the consequences, and how do I manage this transformation?


We all seem to “naturally enough” adopt many roles in our lives: a son, a father, a husband, a friend, a colleague, a manager, and an employee.  But this emerging identity as professional and academic seem to be conflicting roles: practice verse theory; fast verse slow; practical tendency verse rigour and deep thinking.


Ultimately I’m not sure how to approach this challenge.  Am I uncomfortable because of these conflicts, or is it because it is shaking up who I am?  Identity has private and internal perspectives therefore there are consequences internally and externally whether I like it or not!  For example: how do my professional colleagues view me, and allow me to be; how to my academic colleagues (students and supervisors) view me, and allow me to be; and in these relations to these impositions – what do I accept and reject?  I might be seeing these complex forces in play, but what tools do I have to navigate?  After all my reading, I’m sorry to say – I just don’t know yet.


My long standing personal philosophy comes from Existentialist roots through the now passed Professor Robert Soloman, who via his education taught me about existentialism…likes of Kikergard, Nietzsche, Camus and Satre.  From this position, I believe in personal agency, passion, responsibility, and authenticity.  Yet, agency has its limits, and authenticity can be viewed as a rejection of the herd mentality and the socially constructed realities.  The consequences of structure via organisations and society cannot be ignored from sometimes painful empirical experience.  I might want to be something and move along a certain trajectory only to find serious sometimes immovable obstacles that come from tradition, gender, race, religion, experience, and other more variable situational and institutional factors.


I will now take stab at labeling (by categories, group membership, and roles) who I am not!  I am not solely: a program or project manager; an academic; a researcher; a student; an employee, a manager, a leader; a husband, a father, a son, a whatever other family category; a white male; a Kiwi; a coach; a chess player; a golfer; a philosopher; a 41 year old; an expatriate; a human being!  I am not solely any of these, yet I’m not all of them at the same time either.  Perhaps I should just settle on the fact that I am an emerging project that will never be finished.  Or perhaps, I should question that very nature and usefulness of this question in the first place.


Instead of who am I – perhaps the better question is what do I want to do?  Move from some entitative description of ‘being’ to an emergent description of ‘becoming’ and ‘doing’?  Does it make any practical difference in my life to try and label myself, or even be concerned with who I think I am, and others think I am?  I think not, nevertheless it certainly feels of practical and emancipatory use to at least know the nature of my reality.  That my private self and public self seeks congruence, and that individualistic views will come up against realities ‘out there’.  It is also of practical use that skills, disciplines, competence and experience are permeable in between these personal roles, groups and categories – albeit not always socially acceptable.


It is possible I move between an over-identification and under-identification in my various roles, past, present and future.  What I don’t know however, is how to find this equilibrium – to remain firm under foot.  Kind of brings me back to my Coaching experience – who am I, where am I going, what is my purpose, and how will I get there?


All said and done, if there is one thing I am taking away from this week’s experience – I have to take my time becoming an academic level researcher – like building a city – it can’t be rushed.  The limited hours, the other commitments, the time to conceptualize new ways of thinking, the planning, the skill building, the reading, and the academic institution and traditions all prevent rushing the becoming a researcher.  Perhaps, it is because this is the way things really are….and should  be?


So my existential agency has its limits (or does it – as I still maintain the choice on how to respond to this challenge!).  One thing is for certain, my usual total immersion and over-identification strategy I have used ALL my life is going to have to be modified.  The following quote from a researcher describing the learning process – it is like ‘peeling away the layers of arrogance’.  I can relate to that.  Humbling and scary at the same time.  Maybe it can help one discover who one really is…but probably not!  So, for all the part-time post graduate students or academics out there (notice the identity categorisation) –

  • How are/did you deal with these questions of your identity?
  • Are you losing yourself?
  • Are you being re-moulded?
  • How are you changing?
  • How do you balance conflicting roles?
  • What strategies and tools are you using (or did you use) to keep it all in proportion?

I would love to hear from you and share experiences.


Categories: Identity, Uncategorized
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