Blog

Resilience

4 February 2018 by Lisa Meloncon

Horizontal side view of a lonely yellow flower growing on dried cracked soil

The topics or inspirations for blog posts are typically something that has come up in conversations with people in the #womeninTC community or that have come up in discussions across higher education. This blog is no different.

One of the greatest benefits of this job is the flexibility it affords., That flexibility plays out in a number of ways such as our day-to-day schedules, topics of research, diversity of classes, and the ability to choose where we put our time. Absolutely, we all have documents that guide our work lives to an extent i.e., workload policies, annual reviews, and reappointment, tenure and promotion guidelines. The ongoing challenge is figuring out how to make the decisions to make that flexibility work in the most beneficial way for you in both career and life.

All this flexibility comes at a cost, however, as we’re challenged to maintain a balance in our life because it’s so easy to use that flexibility to work all the time. I have been a vocal advocate about the need to move away from what I have started to consistently refer to as the cult of overproduction. I have had several tweet threads over the last month or so that laments the pervasive and destructive nature of over work, particularly on graduate students and early career faculty.

  • There is something wrong with a culture that seems to from the early days of graduate school start to program (for lack of a better word) young scholars that the only way to survive is to work all the time.
  • There is something wrong with an institutional culture where people don’t get the irony of announcing how terrible the culture is and we should do something at the same moment they announce of yet another all the projects they need to finish.
  • There is something wrong with an institutional culture where for some reasons our early career faculty feel that they can’t pick and choose their own destiny when in fact they can.
  • There is something wrong with an institutional culture where doing good, slow research is overshadowed by doing more work for the sake of (over) production.
  • There is something wrong with an institutional culture where people (especially graduate students) think they need to go to every conference with no rationale for it except they believe it’s an expectation (but it is not).
  • There is something wrong with an institutional culture where people feel no matter how hard they work it still does not feel like enough?

I could go on with so many more examples*, but the point is where have we gone wrong in training and mentorship and professional development? How do we shift the tide away from lore-based decisions or emotion-based decisions that aren’t’ grounded in actual practice? How do we realistically show how expectations for the job can match the requirements for the job? How do we help each other understand how to make better decisions around finding a balance in their lives? How do we make the norm not overwork?

I have thought a lot about these questions and trying to determine ways to address some of them. That’s one of the reason #womeninTC was started. Since some of these issues cut across academic job titles, and they definitely cut across all institutional types. This means having these conversations are important for all of us. These are big, hard questions and ones with no easy  immediate answers. But they are questions we need to start trying to ask and answer because the amount of stress, exhaustion, and fear associated with this job needs to be tempered with more realistic expectations that result in less stress, exhaustion, and fear.

As Colleen Derkatch** recently pointed out on Twitter, there is something fundamentally wrong when institutions market and encourage faculty to attend resilience workshops all the while touting and encouraging all the behaviors that lead to the need for resilience.

I’m all about being resilient. It’s a great word. There’s a lot to be said for building up a toughness to get through the day-to-day realities of life. But what we as a field need to focus on is how to invoke resilience in less toxic, work driven ways. We need to celebrate and perform resilience in different ways. We need to encourage and praise our collective resilience when we

  • stand our ground based on decisions that benefit our physical and mental health
  • choose to say no more to overwork
  • make strategic decisions to protect our time that has direct benefits in balancing our lives
  • support one another when hard decisions are necessary
  • find ways to shift our institutional cultures ever so slightly that benefit the most vulnerable among us
  • push back against policies by drafting new ones that encourage a healthy work outlook

But the thing about resilience is we need to use it and our ability to be resilient to our advantage. What about a resilience that helps us get back up when we’ve knocked down not to just do the same thing again, but to thoughtfully and carefully consider what factors led to the need for resilience in that moment. Figuring out what the difficulty was that forced us to recover is the first step to changing institutional cultures, and those are steps we can take individually and collectively. Let’s use our resilience to change the system.

Wishing you peace, joy, and health!


*This is in no way a criticism of anyone and the decisions they make. I get why most decisions are made. I do this job too. But the overarching point is that so many people are suffering in big and small ways based in large part on a culture that needs changing.


**I want to thank Colleen and Aimee Morrison for helping me think through some of the ideas here and helping me articulate some of my ongoing concerns about the systems and cultures that are in part causing so many problems with people’s mental and physical well being. However, all ideas are my own.

Plan to celebrate

14 January 2018 by Lisa Meloncon

As we are all starting again—new year, new term—the perennial questions of how to better plan and organize our lives has started. The new year also brings with it resolutions of trying to shift or change workflows to achieve a specific goal or to create better habits.

The idea of starting again—the do over—is one of the best perks of this job because if you felt like the previous term was all out whack, you have the chance to make changes, change strategies, try something new, and even expand the things that did work.

However, there is no magic solution to planning, and the key is to find the thing that works for YOU. So the most important step is you have to be realistic in working with the schedule you have and within the framework of the boundaries that you’ve set for yourself.

Each term our schedule changes. Even if you’re really super lucky to teach at the same time each term, other commitments in your life are often variable—committees, deadline driven work (e.g., grants, chapters or articles, conference things), schedules of your family, etc. Many of these things have timelines that dictate the “schedule you have.”

The most common mistake that people make is to create their ideal, perfect world schedule and that, unfortunately, is just setting you up for disappointment. We all want to do all the things, which typically leads to trying to push too much stuff into our schedule. Nothing we can do changes the number of hours in the day. Thus, we need to ensure that we’re creating healthy work schedules.

Because here’s me saying the obvious out loud: this job is hard. Having had other jobs, I can attest to the fact that not only is this job hard, it comes with additional sets of stressors that other “normal” jobs don’t necessarily have. For example, much of this job is being told no, which can definitely temper positivity.

To try to make the job easier means that we really need to plan and more importantly, we need to plan to celebrate. “Huh?” you ask! Yes, you read that write. Plan to celebrate.

The pressures of the job (external and internal) mean that it becomes even more important to celebrate to celebrate our successes—big and small. As you’re planning your term and your year, I want to encourage you to find a way to celebrate your successes. Lots of advice out there on different ways to do this so I’m going to share three that can remind us of all the good things we are actually doing that bring us joy and make us difference:

Got it done list

We are so focused on the to-do list that we often forget what we’ve actually done. Every day or every week, try to make the time to write down ALL the things you got DONE. In this, I promise, you will be amazed.

To be clear, this means all the things big and small. It’s no secret that I’ve struggled a lot lately. Some days or weeks, one of my things to celebrate would be getting up. Some days that’s a damn big win. It can also mean a particularly good class or a great advising meeting or making it through the committee meeting that is not your favorite without saying something stupid. And it means bigger things too such as working on a revision or finishing a big committee report or getting something accepted.

The key is to actually schedule a time, to plan to write a got it done list and take the time to celebrate it.

Create a good things folder

We all have had that moment when a student from a class sends us the message about how impactful the class was or how they’re using the information they learned. You have to save those so create yourself a good things folder or a spot in Evernote or some other electronic place or actual folder where you could put the printed copy.

These come in handy for annual reports and such, but they are material reminders we can turn to when we’ve had a particularly difficult or trying week. This way when you need inspiration you can turn to you “good things” folder and inspire yourself and get a reminder about why we do this job and how fabulous you are.

Say it out loud

Share your successes so that your colleagues can celebrate with you. If you’re on twitter, send it out. Go on the Slack channel #celebrateit and let us know. Send a short note to your small group of colleagues.

If it’s a big thing, be certain to tell your chair, your program director (if you have one), and your dean. People are busy and they can’t keep up with everything. And if you truly can’t get over sending that email yourself, you let me know and I’ll do it for you 🙂

Or you can simply say it out loud to those closest to you in a quiet moment at home or in a phone conversation.

So as you’re planning your do over, rather your term, please plan to celebrate you and your accomplishments. I’ll be waiting to celebrate with you.

Wishing you peace, health, and joy

 

Wishing you…in 2018

31 December 2017 by Lisa Meloncon

One of the nerdy great things about this job is that we can read lots of things and call it research. For me, I have always enjoyed the expertise of early modern medical texts that were part actual medicine of the day, part advice book, and part collections of lore. These little books are easily some of the earliest forms of public health communication. As I was re-reading parts of these books recently (this time truly in relation to the J-O-B), I was struck by this line from Thomas Elyot, ca. 1534, “Ioye or gladness of harte dothe prolonge the lyfe…”

Merriam Webster gives three definitions for joy:

  1. a : the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires b : the expression or exhibition of such emotion
  2. a state of happiness or felicity
  3. a source or cause of delight

Joy in its many forms always reminds me of children. I so love watching their faces and expressions as they do things. If you watch closely, you can see their struggles and then the precise moment when they figure something out. It’s a magical moment. It’s a joyful moment. Children also have the innate and unconscious ability to simply be joyful, to find a “gladness of heart” in all sorts of things both big and small.

It has not been a secret that I have had, personally, a difficult year. Admittedly, joy has been hard to come by. But as I have worked toward rebooting my life, I was reminded of something that my father said many years ago.

His wisdom often found its release in pithy sayings and odd aphorisms. Some of these are legendary because he said them all the time. So for example, “if you’re gonna be stupid, you gotta be tough,” is a Joe classic. But others I remember not because of their frequency, rather because of their weight. After a difficult conversation many years ago, he asked a couple of pertinent questions, and then he looked at me and said, “let’s go make some joy.”

I have always appreciated my father’s connection between the material process of making to that of an emotion, state or source. To talk about making gives us back control over something that often times seems so far outside of it.

This is also the thing with children. They are experts at making joy simply through the process of experiencing the world with a passion and zeal of openness and exploration. A child’s courage and fearlessness is the foundation of their joy, and unfortunately, these things shift and change as fear weaves its way into our adult lives. Because as we get older and experience gets in the way, we often forget what that childhood joy felt like—unencumbered, full bodied, optimistic, and magical.

To embrace this part of childhood again…

So that’s my wish for each of you in the coming year. I wish you joy:

  • lots of joyful experiences with those dear to you;
  • lots of joy over your successes big and small;
  • lots of remembrances of joy in times of trials;
  • and lots of joyful moments that together simply make a life well lived.

Yes, in 2018, I wish you so much joy.