Shameless Joy: The Importance of Celebrating Academic and Professional Success
You may have noticed by now, but the women of The Drawing Board have accumulated considerable professional and academic successes in the form of accomplishments and awards. And we shamelessly celebrate these events every time they arise. While there is a lot to be said about online issues of contributing to another’s depression or low self-esteem when we celebrate our own successes, it is important to realize that publicizing these facts goes beyond mere celebration: they are acts of political defiance and feminist resistance.
Every time I have been inclined to share a success, I have been hesitant for a variety of reasons. In Islam, we are encouraged to thank God first (which I do, alhamdulilah) and to avoid showing off in front of others. Additionally, Muslims are taught about the dangers of the evil eye – or jealousy that comes from unexpected sources. The other reason I hesitate is my personality. For anyone who knows me personally, they know that self-confidence has only come with a lot of work in the realm of self-development and, even then, only recently. When you don’t think highly of yourself, and don’t want to think highly of yourself (as an ascetic practice) it is difficult to see the benefit of announcing your accolades publicly.
But there are a few reasons to do it.
Firstly, as Rachael has reminded me, people who are successful are often entangled in numerous projects and initiatives – so much so that they can forget to take the time to recognize what they have done. For people who are particularly focused on the betterment of their community and other altruistic work, it can be tragic to fail to realize how far you have come and the difference you have made.
For activists and academics in particular, this is especially important. Our communities (along with artists) tend to suffer from mental illnesses disproportionately. Additionally, activists can be focused on how much more work we have to do, and will push to make change tirelessly, not taking a breath in the meantime. The constant focus on the negative (on what is left to be done) can cast shadows over the light-filled ventures that activist projects can be for the communities they serve. And it can take away from the actual change initiated, making our work feel more like a performance than anything else. A moment of celebration or recognition can be the antidote to negativity before we put our nose to the grindstone again.
For academics, the focus on “what is left to do” is also ever-present, perhaps more so. In academia, you are constantly reminded of the greats who came before you, and how what you do will “never be enough.” Yesterday’s doctoral degree is today’s post-doc. A colleague of mine recently passed his candidacy and is now ABD (All But Dissertation) for his PhD program and when he made this monumental announcement via social media, he received some comments like “Don’t get too comfortable” or “Now the real work begins” when I personally think the only thing in order was a solid congratulations (which also came in droves). I can’t say how he felt nor what the others meant by those comments (he doesn’t even know I am writing this or thought about it), but I couldn’t help but feel like the reminders that others have “been there and done that” diminished the countless, likely sleepless, hours he had spent to get to that point. But that’s just me.
The second reason that it’s important to celebrate accomplishments comes to me from Liz. When I was really worried about posting that I had received the SSHRC for the coming academic year and to support my thesis research, Liz reminded me that, especially for women, the celebration of our recognition is its own form of social activism and feminist resistance. For me, celebration gives time and space to countless hours of work and tireless efforts. It means that long nights and juggled commitments have not been in vain. That slogging towards a better future can not only be recognized in the here and now, but ought to be. It is injecting a “good news” story into the prevailing narratives of oppressive patriarchy and can inspire others to pursue their dreams, whatever their inhibitions about them.
Nakita Valerio is an academic, activist and writer in the community. She is currently pursuing graduate studies in History and Islamic-Jewish Studies at the University of Alberta. Nakita was named one of the Alberta Council for Global Cooperation’s Top 30 under 30 for 2015, and is the recipient of the 2016 Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, as well as the Walter H. Johns Graduate Studies Fellowship. She has also been honoured with the State of Kuwait, the Queen Elizabeth II and the Frank W Peers Awards for Graduate Studies in 2015. She has been recognized by Rotary International with an Award for Excellence in Service to Humanity and has been named one of Edmonton’s “Difference Makers” for 2015 by the Edmonton Journal. Nakita is the co-founder of Bassma Primary School in El Attaouia, Morocco and the Director of Public Policy with the Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council.