Setting Boundaries

5 November 2017 by Lisa Meloncon

Setting boundaries has a lot to do with making decisions about your life (which I take to mean here both your career and your not career parts) and what you want to prioritize. While I written before about ways to say no and yes, here I want to focus more on some of the bigger—abstract even—concepts that go into making decisions about boundaries and priorities.

In published scholarship across fields, there seems to be a love/hate relationship with the word boundary. Fields and disciplines want to have them because it makes the work a little more manageable, but at the same time, boundaries impose limits and restrictions (which most academics want to constantly push back against). This same push/pull exists when trying to create boundaries for our lives.

I have talked a lot about being strategic in your career. Strategic is probably the word that I use most in trying to help faculty and grad students understand that there should be some deliberate thought and consideration put into each decision that you make. In being strategic, you stand a better chance of then instilling boundaries that are healthy.

Here are some big boundary setting concepts.

Set aside time for you

You need to set aside time for your own self care and your life outside of work.

Schedules shift in higher education based on the ebbs and flows of the academic term and the ebbs and flows of where your projects are (no matter if they are research, service or teaching). Because of this, it is always a good practice to set up a an ideal term schedule but then to be flexible enough to shift that from week to week.

One of the first things is to map out on the calendar are the times that you will not be working: exercise time, social events, events for children, time with your family, etc. To push back against the cult of overproduction, one of the first things I do every week is to mark through all of Sunday and most of Saturday. It’s a material reminder that the weekend is (or should be the majority of times) for rest, relaxation, and fun.

Recognize that you can’t do everything (nor should you)

It’s really easy to get off track and overwhelmed because there are so many cool and interesting things that you may want to do. One must remember that you truly cannot do everything that you want to do because there’s not enough time and there are other things you have to do that take up even more of that time. In other words, you have to learn to pick and choose what you’re actually going to devote your time to. Outside of the pointers in deciding how to say yes and no, you also need to consider what is best for you at this particular time of your life.

One area where lots of folks get bogged down is thinking that they have to contribute to every call for a special issue or collection or go to every conference. All of these are completely untrue. Submit when it’s something that fits with your research agenda. Attend conferences that are recognized in the field and the ones that resonate with you in particular ways. Every one ends up having a favorite conference for all sorts of reasons, and often, these are smaller events. So pick one of those to attend and then pick one of the bigger, nationally recognized conferences. You truly can get tenure and promotion and be successful without trying to attend everything and do everything.

Remain a professional at all times

Boundaries are often difficulty not because we don’t want to set them, but because of the outside influences that push on them—in both real and perceived ways. We have all had those moments of where we feel we need to do something even though we don’t want to and/or even though we feel we shouldn’t be the one being asked.

You can so no. The key to this is simply remaining professional at all times and simply saying no. For women, we are often tempted to give a long drawn out explanation as to why we’re saying no. That is not necessary. You can say no in a professional manner and end by suggesting someone else for the task or thanking the person for thinking of you. That’s it. If it’s something that you feel particularly sad/bad about saying no to, then it may be a good time to add extra context.

Remaining professional at all times is a reminder that we do have control over setting boundaries for what we do and when we do it (for the most part).

However, there is a line between protecting yourself and your time and simply being a selfish ass. Understanding this difference isn’t hard and is a key to boundary setting.

Believe in your work and believe in yourself

One of my first dial-a-mentors was Paul Heilker (Viriginia Tech). We were introduced through a mutual friend, and he was instrumental in helping me the first couple of years on the job. (Hey, Paul!! Thank you!!)) One of the most powerful things he ever said was, “Believe in your and believe in yourself.” I have repeated this phrase hundreds of times because it is so true. Now, I get that it can be much easier than done, but I encourage you to move toward this idea. It removes so much of the stress and the feelings of imposter syndrome and so many other things when you start to believe it.

And connected to the theme of this post, it helps you to remember what is important to you; thus, it helps you set reasonable and respectful boundaries.

Once you have some idea about what your boundaries are then you need to say them out loud. First, say them out loud to yourself. Then you need to say them out loud to your family and your colleagues. They’ll have no idea you have them and more importantly, what they are unless you tell people. Regularly. (Cause they can shift from term to term and year to year.) Verbalizing them often opens a dialogue about larger issues related to goals and strategic plans on how to accomplish them.

This is the time of the year when the stress mounts and because of that, we start to think of (dream about) starting fresh in the spring term. So as you’re putting off grading or procrastinating on writing or just sitting around watching TV, be thinking about these big concepts as they relate to your career goals and your institutional requirements. Good luck with the process. It’s one of the more difficult ones we face in higher education, and remember that there are lots of folks out here who can help you talk it through. You are never alone.

Wishing you health, joy, and peace.


Find your voice

15 October 2017 by Lisa Meloncon

Over on Twitter, where I spend some social media time, there has been an uproar over the suspension of the actress, Rose McGowan’s account after she spoke up about being sexually assaulted by Harvey Weinstein. The gist of the uproar is that so many accounts have not been suspended for what many feel are more egregious “policy violations.” {1}

This started a call for #womenboycottwitter on October the 13th (or some had said Sunday, October 15). In any case, the call for women to log off twitter then—as you might suspect—started a related dust up about silencing and what was the best way for women to protest.

What these “discussions” did was to underscore a couple of important points. First, it’s hard, really hard, to figure out when to use your voice. Particularly, women have to work extra hard in figuring out when to speak, and even more so, how to phrase it. There are the endless studies and articles about gendered language and biases where men are perceived as being strong and women just bitchy.

Second, this issue of voice and when to speak or how to speak is a common topic and concern in higher education. Women at all stages of their careers wonder about the “hows” of voicing their views and concerns on anything from curriculum changes to the need for resources to a differing perspective in a faculty meeting, as well as how to combine their academic life with their own personal activism.

But no matter how hard it is, we still have to figure out when and where and how to speak up. There are no set rules or even really good advice for this. The most common advice is for pre-tenure faculty and that advice is to stay quiet, which is a bit too general and troubling for me to totally get behind it.

Though, I would offer three general suggestions:

Professionalism is key

One of the most important lessons I learned as a consultant is to deliver not great news (or in academic language, deliver a critique), while still being a professional. , All of those things we teach our students in our classes, such as establishing goodwill and being clear and direct, come in handy when trying to your voice.

While some of the conversations may not be easy, one must always treat people with courtesy and respect (even during those moments they may not deserve it). Being kind, staying on point with the discussion with evidence and support, and encouraging shifts in thinking through questions are all ways to voice your position.

You’ll always feel better about voicing your opinion when your professionalism can never be questioned (though it will be, but that is for another post. Sigh.)

 Go as you mean to go

As I’m working on my own personal and professional reboot, the issue of voice has been an interesting one. Why? Well, I am at a new institution with it’s own culture and trying to figure out how best to interact in a new department with new people, but within the realms of old histories and cultures. It’s a tricky balance, but I was reminded recently that no matter all of that, you still have to go as you mean to go.

What that means is you need to be you. If something is important to you, speak up. Be professional (see above) and speak up. Now please know I do get and understand the need to learn a culture. I am not advocating you go a bit over the top and critique and question every little thing the moment you’re hired, but it’s not a good idea to be one person before tenure and another person after tenure. There’s much truth to pick your battles, but it’s an important truth. You have to figure out what is most important to you (in teaching, service, research) and then find your voice around those things.

Go as you mean to go.

Try out different approaches that fit you

It’s no secret that I walk to a different drumbeat and the fact I often tell a story about “calling bullshit” in a meeting with the university president (about his own idea) is a case in point about my own approach. But, it’s an approach that wouldn’t in a million years fit the vast majority of people. So as you’re finding your voice and determining when and what to say, it needs to fit who you are.

I encourage you to try different approaches to see which one fits you best. With a little practice, you’ll find one that works the majority of the time or that you can adjust based on the specific situation. Work on different phrases that you can start with that give you time to breath and get your thoughts in order before you speak; take good notes to help keep you on track; prepare to build your confidence; practice and role play when the stakes are high….There are lots of ways to try our different approaches.

There’s much debate and intellectual musings on whether silence means you’re complicit. One thing that we’ve learned in rhetoric is that sometimes silence is the move you want to make and we also know (ala Ratcliff) that silence enables listening. You can find your voice in any number of ways.

Working on ways to find our voices can help with feelings of being overwhelmed and of focusing on the things we can control. But finding your voice—and when to use it–is extraordinarily personal. So I wish you strength and focus to find it, and know that there are lots of us out here to help you along the way.

Because we have to speak out against the things we feel are wrong at work and in society.

So find your voice. We’re ready to listen.

Wishing you joy, peace, and health.



{1} This is a long standing and complicated sort of issue where Twitter has failed on many counts. No space or room really to recount it here. It all boils down to the seemingly willy nilly way that Twitter enforces and also interprets its own rules.



By Lisa Meloncon 23 September 2017


So I tweeted out a mini-thread this week:

It’s been a helluva a few months for all sorts of reasons and over the last few days, I have finally felt like I’m not drowning in work. Well, the work hasn’t gone away, and I’ve still missed deadlines and failed to keep people informed among a host of other things. But the difference has been that in the last few days I finally admitted I just had to do a reboot.

That’s a hard place to be professionally (and even personally) because it opens you up to all sorts of frailties and vulnerabilities. For me, particularly in this space, I have often opted not to use myself as any sort of example (except for research methodology 🙂 simply because I know that I have a unique way of approaching the world.

However, in this case, it means walking the walk and opening up to all of you that, yes, my life, too, falls apart. In that regard, I am no way unique at all. And in the midst of all the pieces of life raining down around me, the mundane details of life still go on. I have still managed to do some things, but it takes so much effort, and often, I feel drained after a few tasks. Larger, more ambiguous tasks with fluid deadlines, have languished. My own research has stalled. I’m working on 15 minutes at a time and trying to go back to the basics of being kind to myself.

I’m ok with that on one hand. On the other hand, though, it’s so freaking hard because of my own self-imposed expectations, but more so because of the expectations of higher education. As a recent post on Hook and Eye pointed out, we are often not allowed to be our whole selves in our academic jobs.

In other words, the academic culture is such that we are only supposed to be academics, dedicated to the job without any bodies or families or outside lives. We (the academic collective) are unfortunately, through actions showing young scholars that the dedication to the job is the only thing that matters. And it’s not. Of course, one of our goals at #womeninTC has always been to show that our academic jobs are only part of who we are.

When I tweeted that I rebooting EVERYTHING. I wasn’t kidding. Both professionally and personally, I am facing challenges. And here’s the thing we don’t ever talk about. This is common. It is more ordinary than extraordinary. Because we are human.

So I’m talking about the struggles and the problems to encourage all of us—particularly those of us in our little writing studies world—to not only talk about being human and the problems (and triumphs). But more so, it’s because we have to set a different tone. We have to start trying to shift what is a powerfully unjust culture and system that encourages us to be one dimensional and focused on the culture of overproduction rather than encouraging us to be real, three-dimensional people committed to slow scholarship and being excellent, thoughtful teachers, and kind supportive colleagues.

Across every aspect of life and the world, we are experiencing challenges. In an effort to take control of the things that I can, this is my attempt to start shifting academic cultures, to reboot the academy a little at a time. And maybe help others do the same.

Wishing you health and joy!