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.
Whether choosing a political candidate or a new career, a great way to discern your choice is to tap into your values. What are your core beliefs that structure your decisions?
Think about what matters most to you in the world. Values can be formed through experiences, influential people, family structures and culture, and even difficult times. Common values that changemakers identify include: giving back, creativity, innovation, making a difference, order/control, and equity.
Getting greater clarity on these beliefs can create a scaffolding that weathers the ups and downs of a lifetime. It can keep you focused on a longer-term vision of purpose. Without knowing your values, it is more possible to slip into dismay, disenchantment, aimlessness, and cynicism.
Identifying values is not just stating them but living them. The gap between your work and your vision should feel inspiring and energizing rather than depleting.
Aligning with values also helps to dispel notions of perfection. Values can define a sense of inner standards rather than external judgment. When you feel judged or beaten down, ask yourself how those external judgments align or do not align with your inner values. This mindful work also allows a re-calibration of yourself that can keep critics at bay.
Values may change over time. They might even conflict with some of the expectations of your job, your family, your religion, your politics. Be true to what feels right in your core, not your head. Articulating values and seeing how they align and do not align with your big goals in your life can help you to discern when its time to take the leap and shift to something bigger, more true—how you really want to be.
Resources for Living Your Values
- You can help to distill your values by considering lists of words and debating which ones connect most with you. Here is a list to get you started.
- Ask everyone to tell you about your gifts. Feeling really brave? Post the question on social media—a request for others to list your gifts. Create a visual collage, like a word cloud, of the words shared with you.
- Revisit a rewarding moment of success. Think back to a time when you felt fully alive —a moment in time when you felt a huge energy hit and felt like you were flowing in the stream of success. Use your senses to remember the details of where you were, how your body felt, what the light looked like, who was with you. Then consider—what values/beliefs/principles underlie the meaning of this experience for you?
- Journal about your values:
- How do I define “meaning” in my life?
- What does it feel like when I live my values?
- How do I express my values in my work? my relationships?
- What are signs that I am not living in my values?
- Who can champion me to help me to live my values?
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. Reanchoring 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.
- 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?
Ready for something bigger? Contact me about how to jump start your future. Schedule a no-hassle consultation at firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
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 deletes 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.
I’m a firm believer in the intuition and truth that we get from our bodies. I teach my clients to focus below the chin when making important decisions. For me, the truth lies at the solar plexis. Others find it closer to the heart.
Speaking with my book club the other night about important life decisions, I shared that I have had many decisions in my life that I knew to be true and never questioned. My body told me so and I never waivered. But then there’s a whole other set of decisions where my body doesn’t tell me.
I’ve been mulling over that information, and while in a twisty, long pose in yoga this morning I had an aha moment.
I realized that all of the decisions that I say “I knew for sure. My body told me”—they were all happy decisions. Knowing my husband was the person I should marry. Knowing what schools to attend. What job to accept. Even what house to buy. They felt “right.”
The decisions where I feel less certain are the darker ones. Not the “Hell yes!” life choices, but the firm “No.” The ending of relationships. The creation of boundaries. The times to leave rather than stay. To wait and rest rather than push forward. To quit.
My inner critic has a field day with me when the decisions are about the darker pieces of life. I believe the importance of embracing our shadows. That life is both the sun and the moon. The darkness and the light.
My body DOES tell me lots of information about these darker decisions— but I resist it. I can hear myself say, in a voice that must be a three-year-old version of myself, “But I don’t want to.”
Bravery is easy on the fun side but hell on the dark side. I don’t want to disappoint. Hurt other’s feelings. Give up. Be a quitter. Take the easy way out.
I am learning just how much I resist the tough stuff. I prefer to turn a “no” into a “yes.” If there’s a problem, I will work harder. Dig deeper. Fix it. Taking a brave leap is my superpower.
I see the limits of this strategy as a middle-aged runner. “Push through” was always my motto. These days, pushing harder means an injury. Learning to be softer. To know when to say “Enough” is my work.
NOT stopping, walking away, setting the boundary—it just delays the healing. I believe the Oprah metaphor that the universe throws a pebble at us to notice what we need to do. And then a rock. And eventually it’s a big brick toward our head. And all the while the resistance to these messages are loaded with guilt, grief, doubt.
Being brave means sitting still. Moving through the darkness back into the light. We expend enormous energy trying to stay in the same place, even when it’s time to move on. As with all life coaching work, noticing our blocks is the first step toward choosing new ways to live.
So here’s to the moon and the shadows. May they hold me as much as the sun and the light.
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.
I have set my intentions for 2019. The word, “Shine” captures my intentions for the upcoming year. I’m hoping to stoke the fires of my inner light to keep it bright enough that it can fire my soul and inspire others as well.
With the inner light ready to shine, I thought about how I might shine. I can GLOW. Emit a steady and solid presence of positive energy that is enough to warm my heart and be noticeable to others. A glow feels like a steady presence of warmth and encouragement. A regular level of being a source of inspirations to myself and to others.
Glow comes from loving ourselves. Keeping our batteries charged is self care. When we have enough love within ourselves to glow, we can inspire others, as well as attract others who value our energy. But the starting point is how we treat ourselves. Believing we are worthy of being lit from within.
I learned from 2018 that I have to make sure my soul’s batteries are always charged sufficiently. We seem to glorify exhaustion in our culture. We even connect loving others with giving of ourselves to the point that we have nothing left within. I’ve been called selfish for saying that I needed to pause and restore myself before I could help others. Because I know if I try to serve others from a place of energy emptiness, that’s a recipe for bitterness, meltdown, exhaustion, and transferring my negativity to the very person that I was trying to help. If I find my batteries too low, I need to say “no” to anything extra until I am recharged.
This glow business seemed to feel just right as a goal for 2019. Until I saw a little girl strut across a room, showing off her sparkly gold boots. She was striding right through Quaker meeting (my version of church). She walked on her heels, toes in the air, with a swivel in her step. She was utterly full of sass and spirit.
This kid SPARKLED. With a joy that bordered on the edge of daring. So full of herself that she might cause a stir. Ruffle some feathers. Risky and bold and brilliant. She was so clear about her inner shine, it exuded from her.
To fully embrace the biggest version of myself, I need to sparkle. Lean into the brave, bold, badass version of living.
The glow and the sparkle. Like the yin and the yang. The calm and steady with the explosive joy. Next year, I wish for both.
Ready to build your vision for the new year? Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to get started.
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.
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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.