I’m obnoxious when it comes to success. Not externally, I don’t think. Externally I think I am able to advocate for myself while avoiding arrogance, through a carefully monitored cocktail of social graces and impostor syndrome. I didn’t mention the name of my fancy post-doc institution during interviews unless directly asked, because people can get a bit weird about it*. I am very unlikely to waltz into a junior colleague’s office unannounced to spend 15 minutes expositing on my relative fame and success**. I would not say I am humble, but I really am conscious of how my discussions of success can be viewed***.
Internally though, I’m a jerk. I have impossibly high standards. It is not enough to do well, I have to be best. It’s not enough to achieve, I have to win things. THEN I am happy. I was pleased to hear my first grant was funded (50% success rate because Canada is awesome that way), but then dispirited to hear I’d been allocated the “usual” first-time funding package.
This is not a sustainable mindset for academia. Good and done is better than perfect. Taking a leap that might fail is important, and critical. I need to retune my expectations in the next few years or I risk being permanently unsatisfied with something perfectly satisfactory, which, let’s face it, is all one can reasonably expect for pre-tenure research life.
* both people at the school: “We will never have trouble in life, because we are at Fancy Pants U!”, and people not at the school: “You must hate the idea of being here after being at Fancy Pants U!”. Neither of these are good assumptions to make.
** as happened last week with not one but two of the senior members of my department at separate times. 15-20 minutes straight of chest-puffing blowhardiness, my input not necessary to the conversation. Both mentioned my media-darling paper briefly, so I assume that was the reason they were in my office in the first place. Self-congratulations as a proxy for actual congratulations is an odd method.
*** this has never been more true than when sharing war stories about the academic job market. I am employed by the first university I applied to. My war story is The Pig War, minus the death of a pig.