Monthly Archives: January 2013

“Did You Cure Cancer Last Month?” Stress in Academia

Stress in Academia | New Faculty

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Stress is the imaginary, yet real, elephant in the room. No one wants to actually admit how stressed out they are, we just go into our caves where we eat our feelings, drink them, push our stress onto those we love (and hate), and continue to swallow it without doing much about it. Some say that meditation or exercise can help, but what can we do on the back end to help make life a little less stressful from the time we rise out of our coma-like sleep?

HBR ran an article about 9 Ways to Reduce Stress and while I’d like for everyone to think that I ride on a magical unicorn throughout my day with nary a problem from an undergrad, grad student, or colleague without the occasional technology hiccup that eats my emails like Cookie Monster….I’ll just cut to the chase here and say it, “i’m effing stressed out.” So are you. Here’s HBR’s list:

  1. Have self-compassion.
  2. Remember the “Big Picture.” 
  3. Rely on routines.
  4. Take five (or ten) minutes to do something you find interesting.
  5. Add where and when to your to-do list.
  6. Use if-thens for positive self-talk.
  7. See your work in terms of progress, not perfection
  8. Think about the progress that you’ve already made.
  9. Know whether optimism or defensive pessimism works for you.

It’s a few weeks into a new semester and since my goal for 2013 is to stop being so generous with my time, I’m also working on different ways to figure out how to deal with the stress that comes in my life as a result of learning to ‘just say’no’ (like nancy reagan’s drug campaign) or when I say yes to a good, valuable project. I’d like to think that I internalize my stress pretty well, but if you talk to the woman who gives me a massage once a month, she would say otherwise. I may internalize my stress but it magically reappears in my shoulders, neck, spine, and hips. My masseuse jokes that she can always tell how stressful the prior three weeks were based on how hard she has to knead on me like bread dough. It’s funny because it’s true, it’s not funny because I shouldn’t be getting myself all wound up like a spring. Once she said to me, “girl, what happened to you last month? you cure cancer?” Clearly, it had been a busy month.

As I read through the HBR list of ways to reduce stress, I am missing #1. Missing it like I missed the broad side of a barn. I don’t give myself a break. Ever. Rarely. By missing out on #1, it sets me up to be less successful at #2-9 on the list.  Don’t get me wrong, I see the big picture, but I usually follow up with, “how come I’m not farther along?” or “I should be doing more about XYZ.” See the pattern? Lifehacker sent me to this blog post about offering up more margin for _____ in life.

The one thing I am pretty good at is routine. I love my routine of waking, reading, working, working out, and working some more on most days. I don’t have a booming closet with racks of choices unless you count cords or trousers as a choice nor do I keep more than three ‘lunch’ choices on hand to pack because I will stand in front of the open refrigerator until I hear my mothers voice in my head saying, “you’re cooling the whole kitchen.” I go to bed within the same half hour time frame each night and usually wake around the same time each day with no alarm. I know, I sound old, but I really love routine in my life and it echoed similar sentiment of the HBR post with some other aspects pointed out. The most successful person at work is often less successful at home and finding that balance is what many of us strive for during our entire lives when we should just be giving ourselves a break and going to the kids’ soccer game.

There’s always room for improvement and while HBR is not my personal bible, it is a timely and relevant post for me and probably many of you. I’m going to incorporate some of these into my goal of my time this year and look to give myself a break more and begin to look at progress more instead of product. It is difficult in our society to measure our worth if there’s no product. We’ve become so ‘end focused’ that we’re killing ourselves in the meantime. Media and society do it too. No one talks about the thousands of hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars that go into a pro-athlete, a Rhodes Scholar, or the design of the newest gadget, but only see the end product of the medal, the lectures, or the packaging before it gets ripped open. Lest we not forget about the cheating, plagiarism  and other negative consequences around us.

What on HBR’s list would you work on? How can you, as a scholar, faculty, or student begin setting up good habits for longevity?

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Stop Being So Generous

Faculty Resolution for 2013 | New Faculty

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I have heard the following statement twice in the last week:

“new faculty, you need to stop being so generous with your time.”

I was chatting with my office neighbor (also female) and she had finished a meeting with the director of our school (also female) and had heard the exact same message, “stop being so generous with your time.”

I’m not a fan of New Year’s Resolution’s. If you look at the statistical data on them, they’re usually not very successful long term. So, I choose not to set any. I do try to remind myself throughout the year that there are often key words that I need to work on. Work/life balance was my goal last year and I’m happy to report that I did work to make gains in that area. I was laying on the chiropractor table recently and my chiropractor asked me if I worked over the ‘break.’ I told her that, yes, I did work much of break. She followed up by asking, “do you work on weekends too?”  I was proud to say that, “no, I don’t work on weekends anymore.” There is always an occasional weekend commitment that cannot be avoided, but for the most part, writing articles, reading, prepping, etc… is done M-F and I have worked extremely hard to get to that point. My ex-husband would come back and agree: I used to work on weekends all of the time. I’m still guilty of emailing, but for the most part, the computer is used for facebook and pinterest on weekends. There, now you know my deepest, darkest Internet browsing on weekends…

For 2013, I need to stop being so generous with my time and guard it more. I let it get away from me, allowing me to be sucked into projects that honestly, I just don’t need to be involved with. These ‘extra fatty’ projects are the ones that are the slowest (speed is not a factor in success mind you), but slow from the standpoint that they have little direction, no clear goals, and are often wrought with leadership issues. These are also the projects where I’m asked to merely consult or serve a minor, yet necessary role. Let me describe one situation that I’m involved in and perhaps you’ll understand my reasoning for 2013:

I was asked to be on a research team as a consultant a few months ago. Incidentally, it’s also with the same dept I had a somewhat disastrous interview with. The research team wants my consult on a piece of advanced software that they don’t know how to use. They offered up a pub as a carrot and initially, I was fine with it because I wanted to greet the waters of potential employment carefully and professionally. After this disaster interview, my feelings have changed. It’s no longer about the interview, it’s my time. It’s my skill set, it’s respect for me as a human being. The last year I’ve been too generous and after a lot of reflection ove the holidays, it’s time to get a little selfish. The other part: the research team is a mess. They have not set a question, methods, or anything in between and I can see it falling apart quickly due to lack of leadership (ironic since it’s a leadership dept) and no one wants to take charge of it. I have been to three meetings, about 4 hours of my time and there have been few decisions. I was so bored/annoyed at the last one because of the lack of progress, I excused myself after an hour because my time was not being utilized well.

After thought and reflection, I no longer see the professional (or personal) value of continuing with this group. It has taken me several weeks to get to this conclusion, but I don’t see it as a professional gain for me to continue. The only way I would continue is as a paid consultant. I am valuable. I am worthy of a few dollars. I am not a fearful graduate student any longer.

So, my professional resolution for 2013 is to stop being so generous with my time. Not be a jerk but stop being so giving. As a female, I know it’s somewhat genetically built into me but I need to start ignoring it. My boss and I were chatting a while ago and his comments went something like this…(paraphrased):

“stop being so generous, even if you don’t have anything else going on, just stop. you’re too valuable. you have too much to offer. you deserve to be compensated with more than your name almost last on a byline.”

You know what, he’s right. This is not a situation with young students but I think our society has programmed all of us to just keep on giving until there’s nothing left. When I was teaching middle/high school, it was the same way. I would give and give until there was nothing left. I’m doing the same thing right now and I know it’s affecting me. I’ve started to gain a few pounds back (not withstanding the excuse of the ‘holidays’) and it’s time to stop. Finding that work/life balance continues to be a struggle for me and unless I begin learning to say no more now, I fear for my future as a faculty, a daughter, a sister, a partner, a parent, or whatever hat I put on.

As a new faculty, we all need to stop being so generous. Go home. See your people. Cuddle your dog. Have a drink of your choice. Sleep more. Whatever floats your boat. Stop being so generous with your time. As my boss said, you are valuable. You have too much to offer. You deserve more respect than that.

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Taking Time Off

Taking Time Off | New Faculty

 

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I don’t have kids. Or a spouse. Or even a pet that’s here with me right now. But, I still take time off. The holidays were an excellent excuse to follow a slightly modified compass and take it easy for a few days. Not my rear-end, that’s always well rested, but my brain. And my mind and spirit. It takes an emotional beating during the semesters. The onslaught of emails, the demands from others, the demands I put on myself, the pressure, the endless requests from people and places who think they’re the only person on the planet who need something. It’s not like my dog who I can give a command to and she listens, these humans–they’re something else!

So, I took a week off, ok, about 9 days if we’re really slicing here. I scheduled them. I relished in them. I failed to even turn on my own computer for a few days. Don’t worry, I still have my iPhone for the withdrawal symptoms. I read a piece in the Chronicle about taking time off and while this woman’s situation was much more dire, it got me thinking about taking time and how precious it has become. I’ve harped on technology use time and time again, but it’s not invading the worst situations in our lives, making it more and more difficult to just ‘be’ sometimes. I loathe it for these reasons but also rely on my own good judgement and sometimes others to gently nudge (or tell me flat out) to knock it off. This statement hit home:

“This is the way we live now: We can work from almost anywhere, at anytime. But that doesn’t necessarily mean we should.”

No matter the situation, where you work, what you do, or how you do it, check in with your employer about the time off piece. I’m not saying you should use every hour you get the moment you get it, but it can’t hurt to be aware. I know that at my university there are weeks allotted for maternity or medical. There is an emergency medical act for things that spring up. There is also time off granted for other reasons as well. The policy is negotiable to a point with the department and as long as everyone can agree, the university will even let employees work remotely for up to six months, depending on the case. Pretty generous as long as all parties are at the table being accountable.

Taking time off is NOT a sign of weakness or inability to do a job. It’s a sign that you need it. By taking some time, it will give you the energy to take care of an infant, a loved one, recover from surgery, take care of your mental health, or a host of other reasons. Time off doesn’t have to be  three months long. It can be a day, an afternoon where you need to steal away, or a long weekend. However you choose.

As I sit and write this post, I’ve been back to work for a week now and my brain is screaming (go chill out) at me. Luckily, I worked hard this week, accomplished the majority of what I’d set for myself, and will do it again next week with a reward at the end: a long weekend to go visit a good friend and colleague from my grad program. I don’t need six months right now, but I will gift myself three days to do some catching up in a more southern location on the map in the sunshine.

Instead of ‘should-ing’ all over ourselves over taking some vacation time, just take it. Don’t feel bad if it’s warranted. As a young faculty it will become more and more necessary to take that time when we can. The work will always be there and finding the balance will come naturally. That’s what they tell me anyway!

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What I Did on Winter “Break”

Winter Break | New Faculty

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I don’t know who gets a break other than the students…it wasn’t me! I am fortunate to have a job that gives me flexibility on where I work (I’ve been hiding out at home for optimal productivity lately) and technology is truly an amazing thing but I’m here to tell you one thing: anyone who thinks that faculty get the ‘whole month off’ is nuts. Did I take a week off between Christmas and New Year’s? Yes. Did I feel guilty? No. Did I still check email? Yes (hangs head in shame). I also planned a four day weekend to see a good friend. Sue me later.

Here’s what I did accomplish:

  • coding a mass amount of data for research
  • contributed to an article with a grad student
  • contributed to a pre-accepted article
  • consulting work to earn some extra cash to pay for the ‘holidays’ that I gave myself
  • catching up on/writing new posts
  • job hunting (I’m funded on soft money still)

I had several people lament that I would have the whole month off. I’d like to know where these people work because I have yet to meet any kind of academic who ISN’T always working to some extent. After the week of Christmas off,  I was going a little nuts anyway. I DID clean out my closets, organize things, and donate several bags of goods to good will so I guess I channeled that energy some place else that was abandoned once the work break was done.

All in all, it has been a successful ‘break.’ I did need a week to clear my brain, do some other things, and take a little time to not run around like a crazy person. But, I have bad news for the rest of the world: I did NOT get a month off….have to find another faculty who did!

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