Be More Henry

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Henry is a French Bulldog. He’s my dogs’ best friend, and together they like nothing better than chasing each other in circles. They’re an odd group of friends: Maya and Jaggers are Collie x Kelpies; long-legged dogs who can run and work all day. Henry, with his short legs and muscular, stocky body can keep up for short bursts and sprints, but he can’t keep up for prolonged periods of time … and he knows he doesn’t have to. He runs with them for as long as he can. Then he rests and waits for his opportunity. Henry watches them going in circles until they slow down or pause, and then he launches himself into their sides with a well-timed ambush, like a barrel-shaped bullet. He doesn’t mind waiting for his opportunity. He doesn’t cry because he can’t chase around with them as much as he’d like to. He’s happy to preserve his energy and do what he does best to get what he wants.

So, why be more Henry? There are lots of things at which I’m really shit, for one reason or another (simple inaptitude and lack of talent spring to mind, as does childish resistance). But I’ve stopped dwelling on the stuff I’m not very good at, unless I’m trying to think – constructively – of ways in which maybe I can get a little better at it. The key doesn’t lie in wishing you could do certain tasks as well as other people, but in recognising what you do well and using it to your advantage.

As far as it’s healthy and sustainable, accept the ways in which you work best – late at night, early in the morning; in your study, in a cafe, or in the bath, for example – and roll with it. As long as you’re happy and healthy, there’s no right or wrong place, or time, or way to get stuff done.

Academia demands a peculiar combination of skills, and no one has them all. I don’t know anyone who is as brilliant a public speaker as they are a writer, an administrator, a lecturer, and a seminar tutor. Everyone has their weaknesses, but if you use your strengths right, then it’s unlikely your so-called “flaws” will hold you back. Show people what you can do, not what you can’t.

This doesn’t mean you can’t push yourself, of course, to improve on the things that don’t come easily to you. But remind yourself of your strengths, of the things you do well, and use them strategically.

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Nadine Muller

Nadine Muller

Nadine is Senior Lecturer in English Literature and Cultural History at Liverpool John Moores University. Her research covers the literary and cultural histories of women, gender, and feminism from the nineteenth century through to the present day. She is currently completing a monograph on the Victorian widow (Liverpool University Press, 2018), and is leading War Widows' Stories, a participatory research and oral history project on war widows in Britain.

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