Academia can sometimes be riddled with good folks and bad folks. Good from the standpoint of outstanding colleagues who are excellent collaborators and go into projects with focus, their goals defined, and then help the rest of the team carry out the vision of the project. The other side of the coin is often a colleague who is the polar opposite of that. Whether you have to work with them directly or not, they often drain you, hog your time, and you find yourself distancing yourself so as to not be subject to the ‘brain drain’ that can be felt in all areas of life, not just academia. Being mindful in an academic world can be difficult because we get so caught up in what we’re doing, that we often fail to see what others are doing. Is it being self-important? I’m not sure because when I do it, it’s not on purpose but it’s tough to find the balance when working with colleagues. Students are my first responsibility and being charismatic with them is easy because the student is there for the education not the faculty. Faculty charisma gets tough because it’s more like a dog-eat-dog world around academia. People are sometimes not self-aware when they interact or they just don’t care, making them even more toxic. Knowing the difference can be tough because sometimes human nature takes over and we think we’re ‘in the zone’ and others think we’re being a giant jerk. It’s a fine line to walk. Everyone has their own baggage, their own interests, and their own selfish whims. I see it regularly and it’s becoming easier and easier to spot from farther away. People will interact with you because they’re pushing their own agenda or they’re just totally NOT aware of their actions. Working with people who aren’t your favorite per say isn’t that hard, just grin and bear it. I can get around in life with that, no problem. Other people who you may be closer to you are tough because you don’t want to put them in a ‘toxic’ category, but sometimes you must. As a new faculty (and a human being) it’s alright to walk away sometimes and create distance for your own personal good.
I have such a colleague. A simple ‘how are you doing?’ turns into an hour long rant about how much they hate their job, hates life, can’t wait to do something else, look at everyone around, exhausting diatribe on everyone else. While I will never claim perfection and will probably claim insanity first, it’s tiring. I dread interacting with this person now. I have distanced myself on purpose and yet with each interaction, I find myself more frustrated than before. I felt bad that I let it get in the way of my other friendships at one point and went to a lunch in a terrible mood and unloaded on another friend. I apologized for my bad behavior, but when I got back to the office after lunch, I started really thinking about why I let one person get in the way of what was usually a very pleasant lunch with another friend.
I don’t have a problem with their viewpoints, their life (it’s not for me to judge), or anything they do, but I do have a problem with the fact that every time I think of them, I immediately get annoyed. During our last interaction they were lamenting about how they would lose computer privileges of the university databases and wanted me to pull articles and their current project at work was exciting yet they immediately asked me how to run the stats on it. I’m busy with my own job, was this a joke? I did push back and tell them there was no way I would be pulling articles, that was just a ludicrous request and that they should probably reference their own set of expertise and sources in order to do THEIR work at THEIR job. I have yet to ask them to do my work for me.
I think the part that really set me over the edge was that they never took the time to ask how I was. They never even brought anything up about ‘what’s new with you?’ or ‘how are you doing?’ I looked over the chat history just to make sure and it was really a one sided conversation. Elmore breaks up folks into a few categories and I think the article really resonated with me. It also makes me aware when I’m the guilty party of these toxic relationship cues. Everyone is negative, sad, needy, and selfish every now and again but someone who is on a never ending spiral with no regard for others can be tough to deal with, work with, or have in your life.
As a new faculty, people will suck the life out of you for several reasons. They feel like they need to impart how truly educated they are, they don’t realize they do it, or they just don’t care and do it anyway. It’s like ‘only child syndrome’ but for academics. I know this applies to other disciplines as well but dealing with folks with whom you may find yourself collaborating with down the road can be tough.
Separating yourself is an excellent place to start. I had begun creating more distance with my colleague months ago when I received a frantic phone call over nothing. I decided that I would no longer engage as much. I would not go out of my way to be communicative, and if they wanted me, they could certainly initiate the conversation. Like touching the hot stove more than once, I made the mistake of simply saying, “howdy ho” and that was my mistake. Emails are answered professionally but with little ‘other information’ about personal life or other musings. I have learned my lesson and I gather that this person doesn’t notice any difference if they’re too wrapped up in their own world to forget simple pleasantries.
Closing the door. I know I’ve discussed it before but valuing my time over others has become more important than anything. I covet my time, create small pockets for a few minutes of solace and while I used to feel bad, I no longer feel bad about coming to the office, unlocking the door, letting myself in, and then promptly closing it for several hours. I don’t tell anyone where I’ve been or where I’m going, unless it’s someone that needs to know or someone who I’m actually going to meet. I finally understand it. In terms of my digital life, I’ve taken steps to get away from social media, separate my life and compartmentalize things in a more efficient way that works for me. I’ve begun purging friends, blocking people who are too aggressive for me, and getting rid of connections that no longer exist. Instead, I have great people sitting right in front of me, next to me, and around me. I’ve begun investing in them.
Sometimes, getting the life sucked out of you in inevitable so it’s important to keep in mind that it will happen from time to time with no one to blame. The lesson comes in when it happens over and over again and it’s up to you to collect your sanity, self-worth, and you personal self and disconnect when and where you can. How do you deal with people who take too much but never give anything back? How can you help other young faculty members flourish instead of suffer in this area?