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On self-care, balance and overwork in academia

For those of you who follow me on Twitter, you may know that I ended this 2014 extremely sick. I was under an impossible amount of pressure (finishing two project reports, my Mom was in the hospital undergoing cardiovascular surgery, and I also had a negative reaction to the flu shot). Overall, these conditions combined leading to me being sick for two weeks. As in, my physician told me “you need to rest or you’re going to die”. Those are not the words you want your physician to tell you, at any point in time.

Sunset while on the BC Ferries to Vancouver

I understand why I ended up this broken. We have 3 holiday periods at CIDE: April (3 weeks), July (3 weeks), and December (2 weeks). I didn’t take any holidays last December, nor this April, nor in July. Not even statutory holidays and long weekends. Which means I was on 24/7, 365 days. No human being is capable of sustaining this amount of pressure for an extended period of time.

Sunset in Parksville (The Beach Club Resort, Parksville BC)

Yes, I do schedule self-care every day (I go out with my friends, with my parents, I schedule naps). But even daily self-care isn’t enough in academic life. Because it’s not a job that is 9 am to 5pm, as most jobs would be. In academic life, you are on 24/7. Your brain is always thinking about your research (at least, mine is).

This amount of pressure isn’t something my institution brought on to myself. Much to the contrary, all senior faculty at CIDE insisted “you need to slow down” in late 2013. And to be perfectly honest, I *thought* I had slowed down. I was learning to say “no” to requests, I said NO to many conference calls, and invitations to participate in academic seminars, etc. BUT (and here is the big BUT), all the planning I did ended up being screwed because there were things I didn’t foresee (like my parents’ poor health, which is something you can’t schedule or plan around).

So what am I going to do in 2015, with all this learning I just gained?

1) I’m not going to answer work-related emails on weekends.

2) I’m going to take weekends, statutory holidays and holiday periods. All of them.

3) I’m going to erase any commitment that doesn’t bring me forward in my career. This means book chapters, Spanish language publications and edited volumes.

4) I’m going to make my commitment to my own health and well-being public with my institution (which I have to admit, is incredibly supportive and human), with my colleagues (who are simply amazing and understanding and caring) and with my own students (who are fantastic), and with my international colleagues (who are outstanding scholars who understand the need for self-care).

5) I’m going to go home for the holidays. I miss Vancouver and Canada like crazy and this is the first year since I left Canada I haven’t been back to Vancouver. I did go to Toronto, but I miss my own home and my friends. So next year, a visit to Vancouver WILL be in the cards.

Sunset in English Bay (Vancouver, West End)

I have ZERO fear about how much I need to publish. I have 5 journal articles in press for 2015, 2 English-language, peer-reviewed book chapters, and I’m working on another book and a special issue. That’s more than enough. I am not putting myself through the wringer again. As I said, if I am to be a role model, I want to be the academic who can prove that you can be human AND publish AND mentor great students.

But first, I need to be healthy again. And the only way this is going to happen is if I take holidays seriously, rest and rejuvenate. I encourage my readers to do the same.

No academic accolades are worth your health and your life.

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  1. Annette Nagle says

    This post hit home for me… I’m a Type A and I often feel guilty when I make time to mentally rest myself when I know I need it. Seeing blog posts like yours puts my mind at ease when I’m taking a break from reading for four hours, or practicing piano or voice rep for hours. Hope your rest does you well. Best wishes for your new year!

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