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Academic guilt, work/life balance, and chasing time.

I really love the twitter and facebook feed, “Shit Academics Say”. It’s always accurate and nearly always funny. The image above this post was brazenly stolen from the facebook feed. This week, the humor is a bit too accurate. I’m winding down yet another 6 day work week (which should be seven if you count the exam I just wrote for tomorrow’s class) and wondering how long I’ll be able to keep chugging along apace.

I went back to grad school to get a PhD after getting burned out with direct therapy work. It’s a tough gig. I had a real mission to go out in the world and build up some damned good counselors to work with kids. I’ve definitely done some of that- I’ve had a lot of very talented students over the years.

However, when I take a step back and have time to sneak in some reflective thinking (usually while I’m waiting for a big data package to load or while I’m stuck in an airport), I ask myself if the academia thing is measuring up. At my current joint, I’m being forced to teach four graduate courses a semester, along with program direction, a boatload of clinical supervision hours/week, and of course, somehow I’m supposed to be writing while I keep all of the other plates spinning- and I’m not even getting into the service requirements.

Is it worth the bother?

In monetary terms, no. I’ve never been very motivated by financial gain, but when I calculated my actual hourly wage given the average number of hours I work per week, I did throw up a little. The university doesn’t MAKE me work 60 hour weeks, but if I don’t, plates begin crashing to the floor quickly. And what plates are ok to drop? I feel a deep obligation to the students to educate them adequately for their careers as counselors, so the teaching plate must spin. It’s embarrassing to show up to committee meetings not knowing what’s going on, so that one can’t drop. Publishers get peevish if you miss your deadlines, so the books have to happen, as do the research outcomes, because no one wants to go through IRB twice for the same study.

So, what’s left on the choice chooser? 1. Work long crazy hours. 2. Disappoint self and others.

Not much of a choice. I imagine that #2 is largely a by-product of the personality types common in the academy: compulsive, high self-monitoring, success driven, altruistic overachievers. It might be interesting to parse some of that in terms of early life psychohistory, but that’s not my mission today. Today I’m wandering about trying to decide how to decide the worth of time spent (this is the kind of sentence that ends up on “Shit Academics Say” because no other person would write such a thing).

As Mary Oliver said, we only get one wild and precious life. How we allocate the small quantity of hours within it is an enormous decision, worthy of a great deal of reflection and debate. I’m still working internally on the whole repotting idea; does it make more sense to try and reinvent myself outside of the academic context completely, or to try and talk sense into the admins at my current place of work so that the gig is survivable? Many pieces and parts join together to make this a complex and ambiguous situation, one that I won’t probably have a great answer to anytime really soon. Writing about these inner dialogues can help sort the reasonable thoughts from the nutty propositions, but mostly, it’s a matter of finding time to reflect and consider. I think I’ll start that today with the rest of Mary Oliver’s poem, The Summer Day, where she equates attention to prayer.

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

One thought on “Academic guilt, work/life balance, and chasing time.

  1. You capture the struggles within academia (for women especially) oh so well! In my 22 year career I was faced with many of these crossroad moments and finally decided to take my plunge into a brave new world almost 2 years ago. It’s called phased retirement, and although I am far from retired at the age of 58, it turned out to be one way for me keep one foot in teaching (which I do love in many ways), while savoring some other dreams and passions that include running my own private practice, writing, and enjoying a more even pace in life with my family. I will honestly admit that the transition was difficult when it came to feelings of loss and grief for those things I developed and nurtured throughout my years in the university as well as some identity related moments, but overall, it’s been a good choice and one that has everything to do with your blog post, especially the part about chasing time. Thanks for reminding me, Silvia

    Liked by 1 person

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