Research Ideas and Foreboding Joy

The other day, I had an idea. I had a research idea, and I got very excited about it. I did a quick literature search and came up with almost nothing. That got me even more excited. And then it got me worried.

“Nobody’s done this idea before! It’ll be new! That’s so exciting!”

“Why has nobody done this idea before? What is wrong with this idea?”

“This paper is going to be great! I’ll involve students in multiple ways, and it’ll be a great fit for the journal I have in mind.”

“It’s not really my idea. I got the idea from something my students did. Can I really take any credit?”

“I already have a plan for this project: we’ll start with X this fall, then I’ll do Y so we can do Z in the spring. We could be submitting a paper by next summer!”

“I have no plan for this project. I haven’t thought through the funding or the logistics of getting the students research credit. Approval could take months, and writing could take years.”

Both of those voices are mine.

I’ve been reading the works of Brené Brown (I Thought it Was Just Me, The Gifts of Imperfection, and Daring Greatly) on shame resilience and vulnerability. These books are certainly coloring my world right now. As I flipped back and forth between excitement and doubt, I suddenly recognized the tone of my self-talk.

Holy crap. This is "foreboding joy." (see Daring Greatly, Chapter 4)

I want to do awesome work. I am terrified of doing awesome work. More accurately, I am terrified that my work won’t be awesome enough. I steel myself for the blow: if I let my hopes rise too high, something will come to crush them.

When did I get so skittish?

Countless times I have stood in the dark beside my daughter’s bed and waited for her breaths to come because something in me feared the next or the next or the next breath wouldn’t. I am told this watchfulness is common for new parents, and the knowledge comforts me.

But my work? I didn’t realize I was preparing myself for disappointment. If I expect myself to disappoint, how could I hope anyone else will find my work even adequate?

I don’t have the answers today, but I have a lot to think about.