In this podcast, I discuss how academics can find success and fulfillment in their careers. Ian asked me about how faculty can improve equitable conditions within their university, and contribute to staff retention and well-being. Our conversation focuses on my recently released a book entitled “The Empowered Professor: Breaking the Unspoken Codes of Inequity in Academia.” Click on link below to link to how to listen wherever you find your podcasts–including Apple , Google, Spotify, and more.
I speak with Dustin Ramsdell on succeeding in academia, including a discussion of successful academic publishing, work/life balance, and finding ones purpose. I also discuss ways for a university to create a supportive work culture . We focus on highlights my recent book, The Empowered Professor. Listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and elsewhere.
We may think that we are “over” something happens to us. But our bodies might never get the message. Our brains and our bodies don’t always talk to one another. To be free of a difficult event, we might need to midwife that stressor out of ourselves.
In our brains, the actual stressor is separate from the stress. The cognitive brain thinks that if a stressful situation is complete, the moment is over. But Emily & Amelia Nagoski demonstrate that the stress response does not know to stop the emotions of fear, grief, and shame.
Brain scans are teaching us that emotions are chemical reactions that affect every organ of the body. While we tend to think of ourselves as highly rational, this neuroscience research show us all to be highly emotional, with the cognitive brain not having any ability to “control” these emotions.
Stuck emotions in our bodies show up as health issues including anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, and infection. They lead us to numb ourselves through harmful behaviors such as overeating and substance abuse. And they work their way into our relationships when we blame others for the unsettled emotions stuck inside ourselves.
Friends, we’ve gotta get that nasty stuff out of our bodies. The scientific phrase for this process is “attending to the stress response itself.” Viewing these triggers as a gift or recognition of the work that needs to be done. It is only by moving through the dark parts of ourselves that we can feel free enough to be the fullest version of oneself.
Getting rid of the stress response involves intentionally releasing trapped energy in your body. All processes for doing so involve tapping into your body:
-Spend five minutes taking slow, deep breaths. Even better, try a version of yogic breathing.
– Laugh or cry heartily until you feel a release.
-Drum with the intention of pulling heavy vibrations into lighter vibrations. You can just use your thighs and your hands to shift your energy, as Jim Donovan teaches.
Seek out a loved one to hug. Tightly. For at least thirty seconds.
Get a massage or other body work. Use a foam roller to massage yourself–notice where you have tightness, sore spots and lean into them.
Trauma is the deepest version of bodies embedding stress responses. When it feels like the inner critic cannot let go and the emotions feel much bigger than an immediate situation at hand, it might signal that an underlying trauma. If paralysis, fear, sadness feels bigger than one can handle, it is an opportunity to work with a helping professional to move through these experiences toward a path of healing.The memories of the trauma will never disappear, but they can become a part of one’s history and rather than taking hostage of the present.
Professional mentors can help to reduce isolation and increase connectedness. Through a process of mutual respect and advice, a mentor relationship provides strong ways to build community in a profession. Effective mentors speak clearly and openly about power dynamics. They can talk explicitly about bias and advise on paving the way with critical research agendas critical scholarship that focus marginalized and vulnerable populations.
It is important to form your own chosen team of support for your professional goals. No single person can fill all of the roles that a person needs. Seek out people who seem like a great fit for your personal needs. Mentors can provide information and introductions to colleagues. They can provide information on the unspoken rules of the academy. They might speak openly regarding political guidance and social capital. Some provide opportunities; others provide a space for confidential conversations. Mentors can take on various personalities—what I categorize as confidants, political insiders, connecters, sponsors, and hired.
Types of Mentors
|Confidant||Offers confidential space for asking messy questions|
|Political Insider||Explains the politics and unspoken rules of an institution|
|Connecter||Brings people together|
|Sponsor||Provides formal and informal opportunities for career advancement|
|Hired||Guarantees time and energy focused on your professional needs|
Confidants allow space for asking questions. They are comfortable with emotion and a lack of clarity. They do not judge struggle but instead provide a source of support. A senior professor who also held administrative responsibilities was my “safe place to land” as an assistant professor. An older woman with a background as a guidance counselor, I could shut the door and be messy while processing a difficult conversation with a colleague. She was my advocate and I trusted my ability to share my worries and mistakes with her.
Political insiders understand the dynamics between colleagues and help to explain the unwritten codes of an institution. Savvy, experienced colleagues, these individuals know how processes and politics truly work. I met regularly with a seniorfemale faculty member of color to understand the politics of my program, including who did not get along with whom. I shared my tenure dossier with her as well since she previously had served on the college promotion and tenure committee, and she gave me pointed advice about how to improve my work. She even advised me, “If you are going to have another kid, have it as quickly as possible. You don’t want a new baby in your fourth or fifth year.” All of her advice was heartfelt, sincere and golden. I trusted her implicitly.
Connecters. Some mentors introduce you to others and build relationships. My former advisor from graduate school had many research assistants and little time to work with them individually. She built a community structure that included an expectation that students would train and support each other—not just current students but former students as well. She hosted a dinner each year at our discipline’s annual meeting. The dinner served as a space to build and to renew ties with the diaspora of academics who shared the experience of working at the same research center at some point in time. This group of professors continues to remain my strongest network of colleagues as I have moved through my professional career—long past the time that our former advisor retired.
Sponsors will suggest your name for important roles and vouch for you. In my first year on the tenure track, a senior professor invited me to write a chapter for the very prestigious yearbook that he was editing—far before I had established a reputation in my field. He also added me to the associate editors of his journal. He told me what business meetings and associations I should attend and then introduced me to the people that he felt I needed to know at these meetings with a strong endorsement. I ended up on the executive committee of this association and drew upon my connections in this association for many of my outside letters.
Hired. Often mentor support is not enough to meet all of the needs you might have professionally. A career-coaching model can lead to greater persistence and retention of individuals pursuing academic careers. Coaches and academic consultants can come from a variety of paths to provide their services. One noted affiliation for coaches is membership in the International Coaching Federation (icf.org). Academic coaches and consultants provide a sounding board, feedback, advice on publishing, research, office politics, time management, goal setting, and work life balance, among other issues. Some focus specifically on improving academic writing. Others focus on leadership for when faculty transition to formal administrative work. Others focus more on coaching—focusing on how individuals have a sense of wisdom on the inside that they can draw up on to find guidance during tough decision processes.
The extra time and space of 2020 is a time to plant seeds for a new way of being once we are out of this pandemic. I expect beautiful blooms to spread across this planet as we re-engage after such a time of collective dormancy. Many of us have come to some pretty big “a-has” about how they want to live life differently as we are beginning to see light at the end of this long tunnel. Choosing a coach to help you along this journey might be the best gift to give yourself in this new year. It seems that there are all kinds of people hanging out a shingle, calling themselves a coach. I encourage you to interview a few coaches before settling on the one that is a best fit for you. I offer some guideposts for discerning quality of training, depth of experience, and fit with your needs.
Ask any prospective coach about the training they have received. The International Coaching Federation is the professional association for coaches. The federation includes a list of coaching programs that it has verified as high quality training. If your potential coach does not have training from one of these high-quality programs, ask why and consider whether the training that they received instead is sufficient. High quality training has received rigorous external review process. These programs have demonstrated that the curriculum aligns with the ICF “definition of coaching, Core Competencies and Code of Ethics.” Training should include enough hours of learning to be a deep and substantial program. The program also should include a certain number of clinical hours that allow for sufficient practice and feedback as a coach.
Ask prospective coaches about the scope of their experience, including certifications received. The ICF offers levels of certification–Associate Certified Coach, Professional Certified Coach, and Master Certified Coach. Each level of certification requires a set number of clinical hours coached, plus a required number of professional development hours of additional training. Certified coaches must also engage in many hours of supervision–sharing coaching sessions with a higher ranked coach to receive feedback and paths for improving one’s practice. Again, if your prospective coach is not certified by the ICF or otherwise, find out why.
Assess the vision of your coach with your needs. What is the emphasis of the work that your potential coach provides? Does her background resonate with your professional career? Your spiritual faith? Your background? Perhaps you want someone with similar identities to you; perhaps you want someone with a very different outlook. Have a meaningful conversation with your prospective coach on what they value in a coaching relationship and what their ideal client looks like. Feel the chemistry and see if it will inspire you to stretch into your best version of yourself.
If there was every a time for making a vision board, I would suggest that now is it. You have the time. You have the desire for next year to be better than this one. Time to lean in the magic of manifesting what can be.
I’ve run Vision Board workshops all across the country. Each opportunity is a gift of seeing clients light up with possibility. I invite you to engage in this exercise yourself. Perhaps you do it with your family. Or on zoom with good friends. Light a candle. Make a favorite beverage, and drive in to possibility!
I’ll share here the nuggets of what I’ve learned about a successful vision board experience. I draw on two contradictory sources of information–Martha Beck and Jack Canfield. The distinction is how you use the tool. One view is you lean intuitively into putting images on there when you don’t even know what they are, and then keep it in the background–something to explore occasionally to see what is coming up. The second view is to very intentionally and specifically articulate your goals, and then keep that vision front and center in your life so you see it every day. Which path feels right to you? That’s the one to choose!
PART ONE: CREATIVE YOUR VISION BOARD
Create a vision board that represents who you are. Choose words, visions in your head. Write them or sketch them yourself. Or search for them online. Aim for deep resonance. Less is more.
Be as specific as possible. Watch out for what you put on a vision board because you just might get it. The more specific you are, the more you can focus on that vision. The more vague you are, you leave up to the universe to interpret your dreams. And the version of that dream might not actually be what you are hoping for. For example, you could wish for “adventure” and end up having instability in your life that is definitely an adventure but a pathway of adversity rather than excitement.
Use your intuition to find images. Turn magazines upside down and just notice what colors, photos and words you are drawn to find. Or squint your eyes to filter out some of your conscious mind. Keep the brain out of it. Don’t question what you find. Just put it out there and be curious how it makes sense months from now. Focus on your breath and how your body is resonating what what is coming up for you. Martha Beck says: “Knowing what that thing is will not help you as much as picking it without thought.” Don’t question what you know from an intuitive place. Put down all the messages–the more nonsensical the better
PART TWO: USING YOUR VISION BOARD
FOCUS ON IT: Jack Kanfield says to keep that vision board front and center. Put it by your bedside, or where you brush your teeth. Check in with it daily. Visualize your dreams before you fall asleep each night. Affirm the words and the images. Picture your dreams as if they are already present.
OR DON’T FOCUS ON IT. Martha Beck says, don’t push too hard. Let the magic happen behind the scenes. Stop thinking about what you want out of life. Instead of “results-oriented energy” trust that the process is in motion. Keep that vision board in the background. But remain active with your goals. Take steps toward the dreams but also trust that the magic of the universe is also helping you along. Think if it as a set of images that brings you joy rather than dwelling on the outcomes.
Clients often ask me how to know when it is the inner critic and when it is your own inner truth. This struggle can be especially problematic with academics, whom are trained to over use their brains. An inner critic voice often has some of these properties: mean, harsh, stuck in binaries, judging and demeaning, repetitive, persistent, draws on previous failures, sounds like critical people from your past, creates feelings of anxiety and worry, and/or sounds like perfectionism.
We can know our inner critic is spinning when we can’t stop the thought in our minds. The struggle is to stop the replay “tapes in our heads”—to review difficult moments in our lives over and over, as if doing so will change the outcome, or allow us to say the “right” thing this time.Known as rumination, we can obsess over these struggles and stay stuck in the past. We can never change what happened. Rumination just keeps us feeling miserable. Ongoing rumination raises anxiety, which interferes with problem solution.
Sometimes the warning of inner critics were important for former times of our life but are no longer valid. Perhaps we lived in times of physical or emotional danger. We carry with us alarm bells into newer, safer situations. Thank these alarm bells when you notice them. Acknowledge their purpose in your life and also intentionally notice the skills and the supports that you now have that no longer make them needed.
The most central query when unsure is to ask if that voice and that message is lifting you up and giving you energy, or tearing you down. Our inner nature is never to destroy ourselves. An inner critic voice tends to feel harsh, mean, negative, binary, and focuses on “not enough,”
Another tactic is to tap into our bodies, which possess innate ways of knowing.Tapping into knowledge below our chins can be a great way of discerning what is our deeper truth. The truth within ourselves is much bigger than our minds. In fact, our bodies give us great insights all of the time that we tend to take for granted. Consider how different parts of our bodies help us to know truth. Our hands may be shaking during an important conversation.
We know something is true from a “gut feeling.” Our throat constricts when we feel silenced. These sensations are driven by the stimulation of the vagus nerve. The largest organ in the autonomic nervous system. that communicates with the threat, lungs, heart, stomach, liver, pancreas, and gut. Called the “soul nerve” , the vagus nerve informs our consciousness the ways we are just beginning to understand. It also is part of the process that tells the body when to fight, flight or freeze. Much of these signals are out of conscious awareness. Yet, with practice, attending to our gut feelings can help us to discern messages our body are sending to us, as well as to intentionally calm messages to reduce stress response.
We can step away from rumination by reconnecting below the neck–through drawing our attention back to our bodies and the emotional reactions within them. Tara Brach refers to the process as RAIN—Recognizing the emotion, Allow its Presence. Investigate with curiosity, Nurture with Compassion. The process acknowledges the feeling but meets it with compassion rather than rejection. If we catch ourselves repeating a thought or problem without resolution, our first step is to notice it. It does not help to berate ourselves for that as well. Instead, we can just notice, “There it is again.”
Our next step is to exit the “negative memory network” in which negativity feeds upon itself and grows. Rumination tends to be triggered by mood. We can recall positive times when we faced similar struggles and ask our support network to help us to remember times when we succeeded. To pull ourselves away from our tapes, it helps to take in the present moment.
Mel Robbinshttps://melrobbins.com/five-elements-5-second-rule/ suggests a similar pattern of disruption by counting backwards from 5. It has to be backwards, she says, and by 1, we are in the present moment and the tape is cut off. We are conscious and able to make our own choices of what we choose to think in that moment. We can then choose a positive image or concept to replace the negative one.
As the COVID world has become the new normal, we find ourselves having to get work done that has been put on a long delay.
For some, this challenge is happening in a crowded space. Children underfoot or needing help with homeschooling. Dogs barking. Multiple zoom meetings happening for different family members. For others living alone, COVID can feel like an isolation that shrinks the walls and slows the brain. Old habits no longer work. The coffee shop is no longer an option for changing scenery.
What can successful work look like in a COVID world? While we might need to shrink our expectations of what work looks like in our new reality, we find ourselves needing to make progress. Due to external deadlines and also to feel a sense of purpose. Here are a few strategies for feeling a personal sense of accomplishment, no matter your set up.
Begin with your heaviest weight.
The best way to complete meaningful work each day is to begin with the tough stuff. Do the task that is your greatest stressor first. The one that matters the most–the one that is weighing on you. The tasks that leaves a pit in your stomach because you ignore it.
Pay yourself first in your day and do the hardest work when you are freshest. Do not check the easy items off of your “to-do” list. When you have your carved out precious writing time, do the hard stuff. Tackling that project will ease the anxiety, make you feel like you are in control of your destiny. You can make steady progress on your goals, visiting with your real work. Every day.
Conditions to set the mood. Notice the conditions that make your most important work easiest to do. What conditions help you to work well? For example, music can help us to connect with a particular mood or mindset . Consider using the same playlist when working on a project over a few months It might be with particular music that helps you to focus. Or consider the same white noise if you do not like music.
I tend to listen to Pink Floyd when I can’t seem to be productive. I don’t even usually listen to Pink Floyd. But it gets my writing processes flowing and I am able to do the tough thinking stuff.
Also notice your blocks and barriers to successful work time. Notice when you make unnecessary rules that block meaningful work opportunities. You can write even if your inbox is full. Even if your kitchen is dirty. Even if your phone is ringing. Notice what habits or conditions pull you out of focus. Turn off the internet on your computer. Leave your cell phone in another room. Set a timer to reward yourself for staying focused longer.
Perhaps you find yourself in a funk. Change it up. Take responsibility. Write anyway but with a new habit. Save habits that you enjoy for rewards when completing a project. Savor the victory.
Taking on some challenges to alter your usual rhythms can provide experiments in how to improve writing quality and to shrink the amount of time necessary to complete your work. Some experiments to try:
- Shrink your “meaningful work” windows. Finding time also includes changing mental models of how much time is needed for quality work, and especially writing. Research indicates that daily attention to the tough work you need to get done is much more effective than blocking out a giant chunk of time once a week. Challenge yourself to see how small of a time window can be used for meaningful work. Even a half an hour is enough to write one paragraph. Push yourself to break your own record in efficiency in small time periods. See if this strategy can work for you.
- Ride the energy flow. Dive in deep for short spurts of time when you are feeling especially productive. When you find yourself in a period of time when your energy is particularly high and the work is flowing, honor this energy shift and write as much as you can. Ride the inspiration wave. Cancel other plans when possible. Ask for support from loved ones. Such a wave of energy will not last forever, so treasure it and slide into the flow of writing.
- Create a “meaningful work” cocoon. Shut your office door when you are working. Place a post-it not one it to not be disturbed.
- Create accountability structures. Rely on friends to ask you about your deadlines. Work in the company of others–online if need be. Ask colleagues to ask you about your progress. Set deadlines for others to read about your work. Hire a writing/life coach to help you to prioritize your goals and to stick to them.
- End each “meaningful work” session with a note to yourself of how to jump in and get started substantively. Give yourself a question to answer for the next day. Note in your work where to begin the next time and give yourself a clear task as a starting off point.
Whether it be mastering your schedule, creating boundaries, or trying on new ways of writing, the goal is become a student of your habits. Notice what is working, what problems you create for yourself, and be brave to try on new habits.
I am an extrovert junkie. When I felt too ordinary or sluggish, I seek adventure. I yearn for the energy of a crowd. “Self-care” for me when I feel resltess is to look for a place for connection with others. Attending a lecture, watching a movie in a crowded, dancing in a busy night club. Even when I needed to work, I would reconnect to my mojo by sitting int he middle of the busiest coffee shop and feel the buzz of the people around me.
I was proud of the way I would take care of myself in the pre-COVID world. I could reset by surrounding myself with others.
The pandemic world offers a few opportunities for that sort of energy injection. I miss the spontaneity to go into the world and pull some energy out of it. It was the way I knew to rev up my engine. To find some sparkle. My “go-to” tools for self-care have vanished.
I struggle with what exhilaration looks like in the world of fewer human interactions. I hike with one person instead of running a race with thousands. I picnic with a friend instead of hosting a dinner party. I ask for hugs my teenagers more than they might like because I haven’t hugged a friend in seven months.
In the first months of COVID, I felt these losses deeply. Even when I thought I was embracing stillness, I was actually numb. Numb is not the same as open.
On a solo hike last week, I started trekking up a steep ridge. Suddenly, I remembered the value of surrender. I asked out loud what I need to learn from this time of stillness. How can an extrovert thrive in this new world? How can I embrace life right now, rather than fight it?
As I pushed myself up that ridge, I tapped into my body and found it struggling. My limbs were telling me that they were suffering from the effects of the adrenalin hits that I had asked of it for so long in my life. In the pre-COVID world I would push my body by attending high-intensity fitness classes that would drench me to the bone. I would dance the night away with friends while drinking alcohol. The endorphins in the moment felt wonderful. But afterward, I wouldn’t sleep well those evenings. I was stiff and sore the next day. In the COVID world, I break my exercise into multiple smaller efforts throughout the day. It gives me structure to my day and my body doesn’t scream back at me the next day. I am changing.
I also acknowledge that, while I am yearning to see my son shine his light on the soccer field, I was tired of the endless travel to games hours away every weekend. I had come to hate being in a car. I had secretly yearned for weeks of nothing on our calendar on the weekends (be careful what you wish for!)
I almost feels like the universe is playing a joke on me of asking me to show up and all of the ways that I’ve coached on for so long about trusting the process. Seeing the same walls in my house day after day has caused me to dive deep into the reservoirs of what peace and inner wisdom truly mean.
I remember a Quaker elder teaching me the value of discipline. The need to face truth and to seek guidance from places broader than our minds daily–even when we would rather not. Discipline means seeking and making habits of opening up. It means trusting that the truth that is bigger than ourselves is safe and diving and can be more beautiful than what we fear.
Much like the birthing process that my doula taught me long ago, I have to remind myself to say “open” through this time of great change—even when I want to shy away and stay closed down. When I consciously open, I find myself more able to trust the process.
It’s not about being an expert at this. It’s about being okay with struggle. It’s about trying.
I try to stay curious. I try to find wondering in the smaller spaces. I try to write in my gratitude journal at the end of each day.
By promising to try I am finding ways to remember that I am not alone. In fact, this is probably one of the few times in history where our greatest stressor is shared globally. We are sharing a collective grief, but we also are sharing the grace of collective healing and purpose amidst the chaos.
I am trying others how they are doing more. I am trying seek spaces to talk about how others are struggling but even more, turning the conversation to how they are learning to thrive in new ways of being. I ask others what opportunities they are finding. What surprising grace they experience. By holding others “in the light” as we Quakers say, can try to lift others up, and in doing so we also lift up ourselves.
By finding connectivity, in connection as well as in silence and meditation, I can find a calmer, more steady replacement for my energy hits that I crave. I can find that inter-web of relationship with the broader world. Through spirit and energy, I can seek the synchronicity and grace that are a mystery. The space of curiosity and seeking—that is the magic that will get us all through these days.
Ready to open up to possibility? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I sense out there a transition—from the clutching of crisis to an unsettled awareness that fear and isolation are far from over. Temporary changes in routine are becoming new ways of doing things for the long-term. Loss feels greater perhaps as the thought of a curtailed summer becomes more and more real.
I found myself feeling claustrophobic in the same spaces that felt just fine a week ago. I realized today that I was withholding a part of what keeps me “zen” but not having a corner for my own thinking and “being.”
I had given up my meditation/journaling corner to make space for my husband to have an office, now that he works from home. I thought it was fine to squeeze in some time when he was elsewhere or just to take my journal in any other part of the house.
I realized that I had been holding out for “temporary” when these changes are here for a long time. Yesterday, I sought a new space to call my own. I carved out a corner of our bedroom by moving a few pieces of furniture around
Immediately I felt a sense of peace. I brought all of my treasure from my nook in the loft to my new little corner. I have my books, my art supplies, my journal, photographs, my vision board—my kit of things for introspection. I felt a restoration of a part of what keeps me positive, grounded, and hopeful. I now have a little space of retreat in a household full of people. I didn’t even realize I was missing it.
My students too have been struggling with a loss of space. Having their routines when they were at school, trying to work effectively at home created struggle, anxiety, depression, hopelessness. Some of my students had little siblings who tugged at them constantly. One had a disabled brother prone to screaming for large parts of the day. Another had a mother who worked a stressful job on zoom calls in the middle of their small apartment for 10 hours a day.
I urged my students that, no matter how small their space, no matter the people, that they too could create space their own. Take over a tiny closet. Reclaim a corner of their bedroom by moving something out. Push their desk in front of a window instead of a wall. Make small changes until they find a glimmer of joy that helps their spirits to align at a higher frequency.
We can also find outside spaces for working and being as the summer approaches. One of my favorite spaces for Zoom meetings is at a small table on our outside patio. I can look at the trees and birds while engaging with my colleagues. I walk our neighborhood on phone calls. I sip my evening tea on the front porch and take in the sunsets. Each of these moments of blending outdoors with my regular routine feel like tiny gifts.
Little tweaks can restore ourselves in a time of change. The places that help us to feel a part of something bigger. Productive when we don’t want to be. Put a plant from your office near your laptop in your at-home workspace. Find music that drowns out family noise and reminds us of our favorite coffee shop. Light a candle; add a lamp to have a better lit space rather than overhead lighting. Focus on your senses.
In this brave new world, we have the blessing of focusing on the little adjustments that can keep our spirits higher. How can you change the spaces in which you live to align with your yearnings and comfort?