Grappling with loss of intellectual passion?




In our newest “how can we help you?” thread, X writes:

I am not interested in philosophy/intellectual work anymore, it seems.

I’ve been devoted to (formal) philosophy for about a decade, and was really passionate at the beginning, with ok success (some ideas people liked, books with ok presses, a few decent papers in good generalist venues, some invitations, visiting appointments, great track record of getting good grants for my career stage).

I feel that’s about to change. Some bad experiences with administration, plus two pandemic years, plus a few relocations, make me unmotivated. I do the bare minimum to keep up with my commitments. My new papers keep on being rejected (from very good journals, but still), and I can’t be bothered to work on them. I don’t feel there are extrinsic challenges left (in the profession) that are enough to be attainable and motivate me to do this for another 40 years or so.

All I can think about is *hobby* (which is outdoorsy, time-consuming, very expensive, and intellectually challenging). I already took last summer completely off work, but wasn’t recharged enough coming the new academic year.


Another reader, Y, submitted the following response:

I can’t help but empathize with X, although I may come from a different place. My motivation took a dip 2 years ago when covid started & I graduated and no longer have an adviser who held me accountable and gave feedback (and encouragement) & I was relocated & racism was rampant. For me, I do research because I want to achieve new understanding and to be part of the conversation that I am interested in. That has kept me going. I suspected that getting rejections play an important role in X’s case among all the other unfavorable conditions. It has substantially helped my motivation to get positive feedback from referees and get my papers accepted. This is not necessarily advice to X since what do I know, but maybe it would help to put more effort into getting new papers published and see if that gradually improves the motivation—before considering options of quitting.

This is an excellent query, as I sense more than a few academics are feeling this way nowadays. Indeed, I’ve heard at least anecdotally that an increasing number of academics are leaving the profession post-COVID due to similar experiences, and I’ve personally known about a handful myself. I’m not sure, but maybe the OP is experiencing burnout? This is actually a genuine syndrome, and although I’m not a psychologist, I guess I’d suggest the OP look into it more if they haven’t already. While I appreciate Y’s response, and it’s entirely possible that publishing more stuff would improve X’s outlook and motivation, I’m curious whether other readers have any other suggestions. Indeed, I’m curious whether there are other readers out there who have grappled with similar situations as X (and Y), how you dealt with the situation, and how well your approach worked.

Do any readers have any helpful tips or experiences to share?

Originally appeared on The Philosophers’ Cocoon Read More