To be or not to be exceptional?

I can’t remember how I came across this video from philosopher Alain de Botton, but I feel seen.

Like many academics, I guess, I have always prized scholarly achievement. And of course, within our systems of research assessment, we are forever talking about notions of excellence and exceptionalism, spurred on by the relentless competition for jobs, grants, and admission to the ‘top’ journals, and by the powerful grip on our imaginations of the idea of the genius or hero scientist.

Increasingly, I have come to question my priorities, not only for my own quality of life, but also for the health of scholarly endeavour in general. Why do we so willingly submit, as de Botton puts it, to “the cruel absurdity of other people’s expectations”?

How might we find our way to a place where doing your job well is good enough? This question is hardly new, but it is one that many of us repeatedly fail to answer and, to me, it feels more urgent than ever.


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