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.
Faculty success and wellbeing are key themes for higher education. 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.
Everyone has gifts to share with the world. Living a fulfilled life includes finding pathways to share these gifts. Doing so brings meaning to our lives and intrinsic worthiness. Working on projects that align with a sense of purpose tends to be energizing rather than depleting. We tend to feel most energized and tapped into our lives when engaged in tasks that align with what sparks creativity and curiosity.
But what about when we are stuck? listless? uncertain? Then it’s time to reconnect with our values. Re-anchoring to core values creates a scaffolding that can weather the struggles of a career, a relationship, a passion. It helps us to keep focused on a longer-term vision. Without values it is more possible to slip into dismay, disenchantment, aimlessness, and cynicism.
Anna came to work with me because she could not finish her writing assignments for her job. She had deep writer’s block, which led to a negative performance review. She had a piece of writing rejected that she had labored over for months. The reason given was that they did not find her topic compelling to their readers. The rejection sent her into a tailspin. It led her to believe that her field doubted the value of her work.
Untangling the threads of her experience, Anna discerned that the piece aligned with deeply held core values. We talked through whether one set of editors could judge the value of her work that is so close to her purpose. We even considered–if most editors rejected her work, would she stop working on these issues?
Anna realized that she would want to persist despite the judgement of others. Future rejections would fuel her fire rather than extinguish it. She redoubled her faith in her work going forward. She honed her purpose instead of shying away from it. She decided that part of her purpose was to push the dominant paradigm and to encourage her profession to embrace a broader understanding of viewpoints.
Honing her purpose helped Anna to understand why she did the work intrinsically. She could use this sense of purpose in the future as a rubric for discerning difficult career decisions. She had found the strength to engage in her work from within.
Deepening Purpose by Identifying Your Values
Identifying values is not just stating them, but living them. By paying attention to what is our passion in our work, we define a sense of inner standards rather than external judgment. This process helps to fend off the perfection demons. We seek to be our authentic selves rather than a generic standard that may not even fit what we believe. This mindful work allows a calibration of the importance of self-improvement with destructive inner critics. The gap between our work and our vision the can feel inspiring and rather than depleting.
SEVEN WAYS TO RECONNECT TO YOUR VALUES
- Revisit a rewarding moment of success. Think back to rewarding moments in your life—a particular moment in time you fully alive and were flowing in the stream of success. Drawing on your senses to bring you back to the exact moment—where you were, how your body felt, what the light looked like. By feeling the moment fully, you can distill the essence of what made that moment special. Sitting in those feelings—what values/beliefs/principles underlie the meaning of this experience for you? If you have a photograph of this moment, hang it up in a place you see every day.
- Choose from a list of values. Choose what defines you the most from a list of values. Try to narrow down to three, or even one as a guidepost for the next year. Create a way to visually remind yourself of these words daily.
- Reread performance reviews/critiques and highlight ONLY the positive words. We tend to only listen for the negative. Instead, take note of your strengths. Focus on the verbs especially–“ I inspire. I build bridges. I organize.”
- Ask everyone to list your gifts. Ask colleagues what is important about your work.Choose your most trusted peers. Ask them what they value about your work. An even braver strategy, post on social media a request for others to list your gifts Create a visual collage of the words shared with me and posted them in my closet where I get dressed every morning.
- Journal about your values, Research on finding your values suggests that you focus reflection on “what” questions instead of “why” questions. Some prompts to get you started:
- What do I wish to accomplish?
- How do I define “meaning” in your work?
- What academic work inspires me and why?
- What does it feel like when I live my values?
- What drives me to do excellent work?
- How do I want to show up as a scholar?
Why did I choose a career in academia?
- How do I express my values in my work?
- What are signs that I am not living in my values?
- What struggles do I have with my scholarship?
- When do I experience conflicting values within my scholarship?
- What does support look like? Who can champion me to help me to live my values?
People often say their lives are out of balance. We over do things so often. Stretch ourselves thin. Multi-task. Say yes when we really need to say no. These habits become so familiar that being out of balance feels normal.
Pushing hard all the time causes our adrenaline to surge and then tank. When our batteries hit empty, emotional and physical hardships multiply. We lose the ability to be kind to one another. The ability to think clearly. The ability to make good choices. Over time, running on empty can lead to burn out, anxiety, depression, and dysfunctional relationships. We become physically sick, we damage our relationships with loved ones, and we inflict shame and stress onto ourselves.
Finding balance requires monitoring our energy levels. Keeping our energy levels high enough allows us to take on unexpected stressors. Research indicates that having a reserve of energy improves accuracy, innovation, and patience.
Step One: Learning what drains our batteries.
Step one is paying attention to what charges our batteries and what drains them, including \people, activities and thoughts. Do we feel higher or lower after interactions with others? With our work? With our family? Successful people monitor their energy with a goal of being energized and renewed daily.
Learning about what depletes us is an ongoing task and constantly changing. It might vary depending on your season of life. I find myself growing more introverted as I get older, for example. It may also vary according to weather. To the amount of daylight outside. The cycle of the moon (and monthly cycles for women). It could relate to patterns of stress at work and in the lives of your loved ones as much as your own.
Step two: Acknowledging when we are drained.
Step two is acknowledging to ourselves and others when we are drained and unable to be our best selves. When we have no energy left to give, we must learn to say no to avoid depletion—for the sake of others as much as ourselves.
I have been working on this process with my own family. When I know I have depleted myself, I try to say out loud: “I have nothing left! I need to recharge my batteries. ”
Sometimes such conversations do not always go well. The response from a child is sometimes: “How dare you take a break from being a mother?” But by doing so, I’m showing that they can create boundaries themselves.
Flexing new muscles takes practice. I don’t always get it “right.” But I’m learning when it is necessary to pause a decision. I’m noticing the choices I made in that day that caused me to say I needed to take a pause. And I hope that I’m learning to adjust my schedule so that I have less days when I need to take that pause because I’m too depleted to make healthy choices and to hear my loved ones.
Step three: Notice when we are numbing.
Often we think we are giving ourselves a recharge but we are numbing ourselves. (a distinction that Brene’ Brown has discussed). Numbing occurs when we think we are giving ourselves a break, but we are bringing ourselves further down instead of up. Scrolling through social media endlessly. Pouring that extra glass of wine. Eating the whole tub of ice cream. Binge-watching television for hours. Most often, these actions began with a small break for ourselves, but shifted from a short respite to numbing. And we feel worse.
Step Four: Finding true energizing strategies.
We need day- to-day strategies to have the agency to re-balance in the moment. We gain energy from activities that spark creativity, according to the research. We are inspired from work that feels like we are making a difference. And we re-juice from unplugging through mindfulness and peaceful moments.
Recharging rarely needs to all day or all weekend. It can be stolen in quick moments. Ten deep breaths. Prayer and affirmation. A talk with a close friend. At work it might mean excusing yourself from a meeting for a five minute walk around the building to regain composure.
To discover new ways to find energy, be curious about all of your senses. A song that lifts your spirits. Moving your body—dancing, walking, swimming. Essential oils can uplift (citrus) or calm (lavender) in the moment.
Recharging can also occur from stopping the numbing habits. Unplug from social media. Stop drinking the glass of wine after work. Taking a deep breath instead of a puff of a cigarette.
In those moments when you find yourself saying “I don’t have time to take a two minute break!”—that’s exactly when you need to do so. Give yourself permission to recharge in the moment, in the day, in the week.
By following these four steps, you can begin the path to finding balance. Even in the darkest days of February. Notice how your relationships improve. Your productivity improves. Your peace and happiness grow.
Ready to take the next step? Contact me for a consultation on how to move from where you are to where you want to be: email@example.com
Finding room in your new year to do the work you want to do means taking other stuff off of your schedule. Often, we can identify potential tasks for elimination when we say we “should” do something. In the coaching world, we commonly say that we “should all over ourselves.” When you hear a should coming out, ask “Who is speaking in these moment? Is it my inner critic or our inner mentor?” I suggest using Julie Morgenstern’s process of “Deleting, Delaying, Delegating, and Diminishing.”
Strategies for Finding More Time
|Delete:||What tasks can you just simply eliminate without retribution?|
|Delay is||What items can be put on hold?|
|Delegate||What work and chores can be given to collaborators, students, staff assistants, family members, hired people?
|Diminish||How can you create short cuts and streamline tasks?|
“Delete” the parts of your schedule that are a “should” instead of a must. Skip optional lectures and unnecessary meetings. Stop adding more detail to student comments than is necessary. Stop opening social media reflexively. Notice the increase in energy even when you make this decision—that is a sign that it is the right choice.
Include “delay” items on a separate part of the to-do list. Keep track of items include items that can wait for another day but you don’t want to forget about. Include also items that have punted elsewhere and you are awaiting response. Delaying can often mean that issues diminish or disappear.
It took me a long time to understand the value of delaying response to some email. I had the luxury of a sabbatical recently, and I turned on a vacation message that indicated that I would not be responding to emails quickly since I was not on duty that semester. I was fascinated to realize how well people could solve their own problems with a bit of time. Solutions that I would have spent time given were often not necessary after a few days—often people figured out their own questions if I gave them a few days to let them “season.”
“Delegate” tasks that others can do. Give assistants tasks such as copy editing, tracking down citations, and researching specific content. Consider what household chores can also be hired out to maximize writing time during busy periods. Discern when to spend the money to hire others with the question: What tasks can others do that would significantly decrease my level of stress?
I struggled with the inner critic images of the perfect mom and the successful academic pre-tenure. Looking at my internal rhythms, I was keenly aware most efficient writing hours were between 2 and 6 p.m., I was struggled with the limiting belief that they were the “most important” parenting hours of the day (an idea that seeped into my brain as an inner critic from some parenting book). They were certainly the most challenging parenting hours and if was fully honest, they were some of the least satisfying hours of parenting as well since they involved low energy for every one and lots of frustrating errands—driving to activities, meal preparation, and homework time.
When on a deadline for a publication, grant, and during the critical year before my dossier was due, I invested in childcare several days a week during these key hours. I asked the babysitter to clean the kitchen and prepare dinner for the children and to transport the kids from place to place.
My sense of accomplishment increased and stress declined. I emerged from my writing cave on those days with a sense of professional accomplishment. I was much less likely to procrastinate knowing I was paying for that time. I was also ready to fully engage with my children, rather than burdened by the tasks of parenthood of transition and mealtime preparation. On my best days, I gave myself permission to appreciate this gift of child care rather than feeling guilty about it, knowing that these pressured days were not forever but instead a period of time in my career and in the developmental stage of my kids’ lives.
“Diminish” emails. Handling emails more efficiently and read files only once. Respond to items requiring less than ten minutes immediately. Be precise in the subject line to improve the efficiency of the emails you must send (Morgenstern, 2011). Move longer term items to folders and add the tasks to your to-do list. Your inbox should not be your to-do list since you cannot change the order easily. Keep focused on your priorities and use your to-do list faithfully instead of email to decide your next task. Beware also of the virus that is “zeroing out your inbox” rather than doing your important work.
“Diminish” schedule gaps. Diminishing also can occur by stacking meetings. Meet with students on your schedule, not theirs. That might mean that people have to wait a few days to talk with you. Stack your meetings around your teaching time so you can limit the time you are responsible to others in your office. Have days where you are only accountable to your five-year writing timeline.
A recent article getting a lot of attention talks about how some people may thrive on a lack of balance and mindfulness. It suggest that perhaps being mindful and calm just isn’t for everyone.
Taffy Brodesser-Akner, an acclaimed writer for the New York Times, speaks to the need to hide in the bathroom to puzzle out a piece of her novel during a family dinner. Of juggling many balls at once to get it all done. She talks about NOT letting the big idea float away because she is trying to lie in savasana in yoga and empty her mind.
I agree with the author on her premises of how to work as a creative and get her writing done. When working with my writing clients, I often say that it is necessary to ride the creative wave when it hits. When everything is clicking and the words are pouring onto the page, clear the decks of all else and let that flow happen. Hide in the bathroom when the inspiration hits. Cancel plans and let the house get messy when inspiration is visiting.
In such waves of inspiration, sitting still is excruciating. Clearing my mind–not helpful.
It’s important to realize, however, that creative juices don’t flow evenly and always. I find that they come in waves. Ride them when they are there. But when the flow disappears, it’s time to rest and recharge and clean up our lives to prepare for the next influx.
Balance rarely means doing everything all the time in equal portions. Rather, it means that over the course of a bigger span of time, we are connecting with all of the pieces that matter to us. I can be a super mom for a week, and then a writer for another week. Can I be a super mom and an inspired writer all at once in the same day? Not very often, and if I do, my energy will be zapped for days.
When I do go on a creativity binge and write until my fingers are sore, I have to recover with sleep, self-care, and yoga. I need to recharge my inner battery by shutting off the phone and the email and the to-do list.
Mindfulness is very important in the times when we are stuck in critical pieces of our lives be it work, creativity, relationships or otherwise. It is an important tool when we have a decision to make and need to discern the best decision. Clearing of one’s mind is not necessarily getting rid of all thoughts. It is getting rid of the chatter. The negative tapes. The inner critic that sits in our head and judges us (and is NOT us). It is listening for the inner voice of truth and wisdom—finding the important voice by turning down the noise. THAT voice is where all of the creativity comes from.
Coaching provides a way to help us to find that inner zen. Mindfulness alone cannot find our own blindspots. Partnering with a trained professional can help to create the structures and habits that can restore our energy and point us back to our purpose when we are stuck, lost, or just moving in too many directions at once. It can also help us to rebound into those flows when life seems filled with creativity and joy.
So yes, chaos might reign and be healthy in the good times of abundance. But in the droughts of creativity, of energy, of love—coaching, mindfulness, body movement, rituals and prayer, quiet moments—all of these skills can give us healing. Can give us comfort. And can help us to find our way back to our purpose so that joy and inspiration can flow again.
Forgiveness and closure. These two of our toughest challenges intertwined.
Not forgiving only hurts me. Forgiveness is self love. And it is one of the hardest acts to fully give ourselves over to doing.
It can feel worse when we have an awareness of the need to forgive, but still cannot let go.
But it’s hard to unhook. Pema Chodron calls it shenpa—when emotionally we are triggered and feel ourselves closing down. I envision a fish hook that has lured me in. The barb of the hook twists me around and around. The more I try, the worse I’m caught.
I am aware enough to see that I struggle. And then I get mad at myself that I can’t let go. It seems like others are so much better at forgiveness than me. I want to let things roll of my back. Look forward at the light. But when I spend my energy resisting a negative force, I feed it more. Such heaviness. Then I feel embarrassed and ashamed that I’m still hooked.
Closure is related to forgiveness. Yet it feels more tangible to me. I feel more agency with the idea of closure. I can take my power back. I can step away from a dysfunctional space where I’ve gotten lost in the abyss. The power is in the decision that I alone get to make.
Glennon Doyle Melton nails it when she said: “If you keep reaching back to a toxic relationship don’t pretend it’s ‘closure’ you want. Calling one more time is not a need for closure — it’s a need for one more fix — it’s a sign of drama addiction. Detox by moving forward, not back. You don’t ‘get’ closure. You decide: It’s closed.”
How do I know it is closed? That fish hook is gone. An interaction won’t leave me raw and bloody. The fear of further wounding is gone.
I can love someone. Be loved by someone. But that doesn’t mean that person should be in my life. As a friend and former coach of mine taught me, I yearn for loved ones who love me in a way that I can’t process as love. It doesn’t register. Even when they intend it.
When I finally believed that possibility recently, a deep sigh came from deep within me. A sigh that I’ve come to recognize as the way that I am allowing my body to relax. To let down my defenses. It lets me know that I’m ready for closure.
If I can see my wound as a disconnect rather than an intentional act, I might be able to access sorrow rather than rage. Maybe even lean toward compassion. I can choose to close the wound. No desire to retort, reengage, to wound back. Nothing to anticipate.
And maybe through closure I can lean into forgiveness. Because I know that forgiveness will set me free.
Start the new year with intention. Clear the year before. Joyfully plan for the most a year of expansion and awe. Join us in New Year Jump Start. Just $49 to ensure you can join us, and you can bring a friend along too.
The holidays can be a time that social anxieties and triggers flare all over the place. Sitting next to Uncle John with opposing political views at Thanksgiving dinner. Social obligations that make us uneasy. Lots and lots of things “to do.”
When we don’t prepare for these moments ahead of time, we often numb ourselves throughout. We drink too much wine. We eat too much turkey and pie.
The numbing tends to make us feel worse. It further drains our batteries when we are already low. We check out emotionally. Or explode. Awkward happens.
How can we avoid this damaging cycle? We need to prepare AHEAD of time for the moments that we know are coming.
Take the time before the crazy times begin to remind yourself of the habits that truly renew you. Stick to what recharges your batteries so that you have the capacity to navigate the emotions and interactions of the holidays. Ten minutes in silence. Deep breaths of fresh air on the front porch. Journal. Take a walk or a run.
If you are visiting away from your home, you might need to walk around the block of a family members house instead of walk in the woods. Or do a few yoga poses in a bathroom. Do it anyway! Take these moments of solitude to clear your mind. Set intentions for the difficult parts of the holiday.
Remembering to recharge is a discipline. Especially on days where we don’t have a normal routine. Recharge requires setting an intention ahead time for self-care. Scheduling the time. Sticking to it when it’s easier to numb. Maybe even getting up an hour early or stepping out of the house for an “errand”
If you can stay grounded and centered, everyone around you will benefit from your ability to be present, calm, sure of who you are.
Doing so might even require enduring the comments of others who might judge and call it selfish. Often such people are not caring for themselves, so it is hard to appreciate when others are making wise choices. They might not think it’s “fair” that you step aside for a few moments. Send them love and light. And do it anyway.
Sometimes when we are the cusp of a big life transformation, the universe gets very noisy if I stop listening. Last night at two in the morning, a loud voice was screaming in my head that I had to clear out all that heavy emotions that are holding me down. And the next step of that process was to purge out my closet.
I realized that I store memories in my clothing. Clothing that looks exquisite and rocks my body needs to get OUT of my closet if reminds me of a person or a moment that hurts my feelings. I spend three hours removing half of my clothes from my wardrobe.
I also was holding on to clothing that was past its prime because it contained positive feelings. Some of the items were worn out, tattered. Others just did not flatter my body. I’ve been wearing my teenage daughters’ clothes because she’s in Argentina for the year and I miss her. But they do not look good on me. I can find other ways to keep her close, like a bracelet of hers, than a shirt from Forever 21.
Compliments also can weigh me down. There are lots clothes out there that somebody thinks I look good in but don’t serve me. This statement also holds true for jobs, friendships, ways of speaking to others, and just about everything that matters.
So, questions to remember the next time I clean out a closet (or need to let go of anything in my life big or small)
- Am I holding onto things that hurt my feelings and pull me down? Does this have a negative memory attached to it that I don’t want have to ever think about again?
- Am I clutching to past memories of joy—even when they no longer me going forward?
- Am I holding onto this because others think I “should”
Happy winterizing of your closets. And for those of you feeling that twinge of a feeling that change is coming, clear the space you need physically, mentally, and emotionally to prepare for what is coming. Even if we don’t know what it is yet.
Every year I spend a week in the woods. I live in a tent and I cook for my children’s summer camp. I unplug from my technology and steep myself in a much camp magic as possible.
I especially the singing at the fire circles. This song spoke right to me this year, sung over and over in a round:
Humble yourself in the arm of the wild
You’ve got to lay down low and… [repeat]
And we will lift each other up.
Higher and higher.
We will lift each other up.
Camp offers me the gift of slowing down. Noticing a bug walking across the roof of my tent. Sampling the blackberries along the trail. Staring into a fire.
The slower I get, the more I know. The more wisdom seeps up into me. The more grounded I am. The greater I am in touch with my truth. My intuition. The part of knowing that comes from deep within my belly and tells my monkey mind to hush up and surrender. To “be still and know.”
I’m back I’m the frenetic life of the day to day. But I keep trying to hum that melody and remember to notice. To wonder. To be thankful. And to get still and to listen deep within myself.
Ready for transformation? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org