New Starts

18 August 2018 by Lisa Melonçon

One of the perks of being an academic is that we get a lot of new starts. Each academic year and even each term brings with it a whole set of new possibilities. We often think to ourselves that this year/term will be different from all the others.

I don’t wanna be the bearer of bad news, but well, you gotta let that idea go. Why? Because it sets you up in all the wrong ways. Rather, than the positive thing that you think it may be, it’s actually setting unrealistic expectations around the ever-present ideal of being an academic.

Let me explain.


It’s easy to fall into the cycle that goes something like this. You think through what you want to accomplish, and you feel that this term/year is going to be different. It’s going to the best ever. You say to yourself:

  • This is the term I’ll finally get organized
  • This is the term I’ll get that piece out.
  • This is the term I’ll grade the papers the minute they come in.
  • This is the term I’ll be prepared for each meeting and class.
  • This is the term I’ll write everyday (or not miss my scheduled writing times).
  • This is the term I’ll I won’t be late on [fill in the blank].
  • This is the term that I start my exercise routine.
  • This is the term [fill in the blank].

So you lay out a plan and a couple weeks into the term, you are feeling so good about yourself because everything is rolling along and you’ve kept to your schedule and your goals. And then, life happens.

You get sick or you’ve been asked to fill on some committee or a colleague needs your help or there are more students needing something or the national committee work explodes or [fill in the blank here with the last thing that happened that you didn’t expect].

The painstakingly perfect schedule you created and have been sticking to didn’t fully account for all the things that come up in our day to day lives. And note, in my short list of issues I didn’t even list ones related to your family or your life outside of you job. The point here is that we live complex lives and often we don’t leave room in our schedules for that complexity. Said another way: we forget that we’re human and we have lives (or should anyway) and we can’t control everything.

The new start you laid out for the year/term is a laudable goal, but the reason the cycle above doesn’t work is that it’s not reasonable. We sometimes have come to believe that we can do everything at once, and we have to do a better job of leaving room in our schedules to account for all the things that come up or when things go wrong. Building perfect schedules and trying to hold ourselves to them is not reasonable or realistic, and more so, it’s simply not healthy.

So here’s the new start I wanna talk about today. The new academic year/term brings with a new hope because we can do things differently. But the key is that we need to consider this new start from a more realistic place so that we’re setting ourselves up for success rather than failure and disappointment.

Your challenge for the new start this academic year is to be realistic in your planning. Make a new start by

setting realistic goals

I’ve written about this before. But it bears repeating often. Go ahead and make your to-d0 list. Then get rid of half of it. Then pick the top three items (see below on priorities and satisfaction to help you with these) because that’s likely what you will get done. In most cases, this system works for daily, weekly, monthly, and by term/year to-do lists.

including down time in your schedule for things that come up

As mentioned above, something will always come up or go wrong. Try to build in some time for these eventualities so that when they do happen you aren’t even more overwhelmed or feeling behind. Note: You will never be caught up. 🙂

prioritizing time for your mental and physical health

The work will not get done if you are struggling mentally or physically. Please take a moment and do a personal care inventory and then, if necessary, make the calls to be certain that you are taking care of yourself.

thinking through what brings you the most satisfaction and making time for that

This thought exercise should be related to your work and your life. Taking time to reaffirm or to find what will sustain you is an important aspect of any new start. It helps you to see what it is that you need to be happy and satisfied.

creating a priorities list

Headings on these priority lists could look something: These are the things I have to do because of the job; the things I need to do because they bring me joy; the things I have to do because I said yes even when I should have said no.

doing at least one thing a day that is just for you

I was an undergraduate student working for the McNair Scholars program. The director of that program told me this the first day I met her. I have tried very hard to live by that statement every day since. Thank you, Dr. Govan.


So if you’re like me and you look forward to the new starts that the academic job can bring, then I wish you the best of luck in approaching this new start with expectations that can lead to success rather than disappointment. Instead of saying this is the term that everything will go just exactly like I planned, why not flip that to say instead: this is the term I will kind to myself and set realistic goals to be productive, healthy, and happy.

Wishing you peace, joy, and health at the start of the new academic year.





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