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The elusive quest for balance in academic life

I often write and tweet about my quest for that elusive notion of balance. Not only in academic life (e.g. the tricky process of juggling research, teaching and service, or the need to work in many multiple research and writing projects so that I can get stuff published in time for, you know, tenure reviews or yearly evaluations), but also in personal life. While I have built rest, naps, exercise and social life into my weekly template, this year I have travelled so much that my schedule has been thrown into disarray. That, and of course, the fact that I, like many other academics, also work on weekends.

Parque El Cedazo (Aguascalientes)

I had something really interesting happen to me this year: not only senior professors OUTSIDE of my institution, but also senior professors WITHIN my institution called me up and said “you need to slow down or you’re going to burn out“. When your own bosses are telling you to stop working so hard and pushing yourself so much, you know you really need to listen. I’m lucky that I work at an institution where my well-being is important to The Powers That Be. Where I’m encouraged to take a break every so often, and where I am told that yes, the standards for tenure are high, but work hard, at a steady pace, and you will get there eventually.

I know for a fact that I push myself so hard because of my childhood and PhD training. I was competitive as I was growing up (in everything I did, in fact – volleyball, dancing, school). My PhD also made me work really hard and strive for excellence, and I know that it made me competitive as well, even though I have a Canadian PhD (normally, this level of competitiveness would probably be reserved for US-based PhDs).

So when I got sick after my last trip to Portugal, I made a promise to myself: I would build balance not only within my daily routine but also within my long-term planning process. Yes, I love working hard and yes, I absolutely adore what I study and the research I undertake. I wouldn’t study what I do if I weren’t passionate about it. But I have decided that this year (2013), I am, in fact, going to take real holidays. I am NOT going to be working over the holidays. I am going to spend a week taking care of my 6 and 3 year old nephews, and 4 days chaperoning my 19 and 21 year old nieces. I’m going to enjoy my holidays and recharge my batteries. I’m spending my cousin’s birthday with her and hew husband, and I am going to come back fully recharged and with the energy to start 2014 with my full power.

Parque El Cedazo (Aguascalientes)

I also promised myself that in 2014 I would get to know more of Aguascalientes. To this day, I feel that the only times when I actually get to see the city and know new restaurants are when my best friend and his wife take me out for dinner. Or when I have foreign visitors come to Aguascalientes. In 2014, I am actually going to get to know this city that is now my home.

Self-care is incredibly important in academic life and I don’t think we actually pay enough attention to it. I experienced an incredible loss this 2013: I broke up with my partner of 8 years, the one I actually thought I’d spend the rest of my life with. I couldn’t solve the two-body problem. I owe it to myself to take better care of myself, not only because I am human, but also because I really, really am looking forward to the next stage in my academic career, and in my life.

Here’s to 2014 being the year of achieving balance.

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