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My 2016 word: FOCUS

If you follow me on Twitter you probably know that I decided not to write anything until I felt physically better. As usual for me, I finished the year 2015 sick. This was actually quite predictable. I accepted an invitation to participate in a “best practices in local government” judgment competition committee which increased my workload four-fold in the space of 2 months. My Mexican passport expired literally a week before I needed to participate in the polycentricity workshop. It was end-of-the-term and I was teaching two courses, plus I’m collaborating with a colleague who asked me to give a seminar in Guadalajara that I hadn’t expected would take all the time that it did. Final projects advising for the Diploma in Government and Public Policy students. Add to that a one-day fieldwork day in Guadalajara (really exhausting as we did 6 interviews in one day), and you can expect the world to start to crumble fast.

Some of my great academic friends on Twitter know all about what to do when the world crumbles. I recommend Steven Shaw’s essay for you to think about what you want to do in 2016 to avoid having a rapid crash-and-burn when tough times happen, which is what happened to me last year and to a lesser grade, this December. Trust me, it wasn’t as bad as 2014. If you read my post on SAS Confidential, you’ll know my 2015 went swimmingly. I had learned my lesson. I was doing perfectly fine through the year. Except, of course, for November and December of 2015, as I just mentioned.

I don’t have any big resolutions for 2016. Heck, I haven’t even written a Year In Review blog post for 2015! So far, I’m riding 2016 as it comes. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have a plan. As I discussed on Twitter with Christiana Peppard earlier, I follow Janni Aragon‘s model of writing what I want to achieve in the academic year (2015-2016) but I also map what I need to do for the actual calendar year (particularly my writing commitments).

You can read an excellent 2016 resolutions post from Kevin Gannon here. When I read his paragraphs on “be present”, it reminded me of the word I have been looking for as my theme for 2016. Psyc Grrl decided hers would be “don’t know” (and as Will Lowe reminded us, Bayesian thinking says it’s better knowing that you know that you don’t know than not knowing anything at all, and improves your decision-making). It’s ok if you don’t know. In many ways, this year I also don’t know. But there’s one thing I DO know. I need to FOCUS.

I want to thank Kevin, Steve and PsycGrrl for prompting me to write this blog post, particularly because their writing got me thinking and excited to blog about my own 2016. I am healthier now, and had been thinking for a long while about what my 2016 theme would be. This year, the word is FOCUS.


Photo credit: Dani Ihtaho, on Flickr Photo license: CC Attribution-Non-Commercial

I’m going to focus on WHO is important to me (my coauthors, my students, my friends, and a number of colleagues who are ALSO friends, but more importantly, my family and specifically my Mom and Dad). I’m going to focus on WHAT is important to me. I want my scholarship to be read broadly, which means I’m probably going to publish less, but HIGHER and with a BROADER dissemination strategy. I’m going to focus on ME. I decided that it’s ridiculous that I haven’t been able to teach (let alone TAKE) a dance class in 3.5 years. I’m going to at least, TAKE one dance class this year. Also, this will be the year I’m open to at least going on a date. Or a series of dates. Not to find the love of my life, but at least to find someone to see a movie with. And come hell or high water, I’m going to find a volleyball team.

Focusing means also saying no. I already started. I am doing the political science conferences (MPSA, WPSA, CPSA and APSA, as well as ISA), but there are MANY that are in my NO file: sorry geographers, no CAG, no AAG. No sociology ASA, no anthropology AAA nor SfAAA. And in public administration I’m only doing one. I also have refocused my writing commitments to reflect what I NEED to write rather than what I am asked to write. I agreed on chapters for books on this basis. I already have 6 co-authored papers committed, I’m not accepting anything else at the moment. I’m going to honor Every Single One of my Writing Commitments, and even more so, my priorities are my coauthorships. I owe my coauthors the respect of knowing that I appreciate our collaborative work, A LOT.

Focusing means submitting to higher-ranked journals. I took a high-volume, high-speed output strategy these past three years because I needed the numbers (ask me at a conference, in person, what I think of the “publish-and-perish” model that prevails in Mexican academic evaluation schemes). I no longer need the numbers. I want to publish high, but perhaps even more than high, I want to publish broadly. I want more people to read my work in English (and trust me, I am well aware that I had promised I wouldn’t publish in Spanish anymore – yeah, I HAD to do it because I am a professor in a Spanish-speaking country).

Focusing also means doing less of the community-building and promotion efforts that I’ve been doing. That doesn’t mean that I won’t participate in them, or that I will leave behind those that I already do (like #ScholarSunday ever weekend or the #TertuliaCIDE which I love). It means that I won’t be able to attend every movie club night, I won’t be able to take it upon myself to organize many of the social things on campus, I may not be able to come up with more initiatives to promote our degree. I may just need to take it down a notch, and FOCUS.

Focusing also means spending more time with myself. I’m a strange extroverted introvert. I need time with myself, which means also that I may decide not to socialize as much as people would want me to. Surprising to me, my social life is extraordinarily rich. I spend time with my parents, with my friends both in Aguascalientes and Leon, and with my colleagues-who-also-have-become-friends. My best friend from childhood also lives in Aguascalientes, so that means that at least I have ONE social event a week for sure, in addition to other social commitments. But I do so much personal interaction with teaching, collaborating, conferencing, that I need a lot of ME time lately. And given my schedule, it’s hard for me to give myself that time. This 2016, I’m going to focus on ME and MY energy levels and what I need. And obviously not to overwork myself and take care of my health.

Focusing also means giving specific people more of my time and presence. One thing I learned after spending time with my current and former coauthors this 2015 (Oriol Mirosa, Staci Zavattaro, Kate O’Neill, Kate Parizeau, Kathryn Harrison) is that the personal side of coauthorship is fundamental. These are people that I find not only incredibly smart and whose research impresses me and inspires me and pushes my own boundaries and limits, but these are people that I CARE ABOUT. I love spending time with Oriol, with Staci, with both of the Kates, and obviously Kathy has become a friend after being my professor and mentor. Their personalities completely mesh with mine. We have similar outlooks on life and have all faced challenges that we can talk about openly and clearly. And their success is important to me, too. They support my growth and I aim to support theirs. I plan to further strengthen these coauthorship-friendships in 2016.

Focusing also means doing very specific advocacy activities. I am happy to retweet, connect people amongst themselves, etc. But I am NOT joining another organizing committee. I am going to FOCUS on advocating for the following:


Photo credit: Mark Hunter on Flickr, photo license: CC-Attribution.

I hope you will join me for an exciting 2016 where I’ll have to focus. For someone with the personality of a hummingbird it will prove definitely a challenge. But I’m looking forward to it.

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2 Responses

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  1. Wendy Frerichs says

    Wow, I really enjoyed reading this post. It has made me think hard about my plan for 2016 (currently non existent!). Thanks. 🙂

  2. Siyang says

    Well done, Raul. Really appreciate your shared reflections. Hope you will get more FOCUSES as you wanted.

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