I can’t believe I’ll be starting my third year in a tenure track position this coming August. It really seems like yesterday when I graduated with my Ph.D. and moved across the country to start my position. In addition to all of my summer travels I am working diligently to pull together my reappointment portfolio for my upcoming third year review. As daunting as that may sound, I am really enjoying putting together this “carefully curated collection” of materials that demonstrate my productivity and efficacy in research, teaching, service and professional development. Truth is, like many other early career academics, I am generally working so much and so hard that structured opportunities like this prove very useful : it’s a chance to reflect on what I've done and a moment where I can focus on where I want to go next in terms of my work. In the past three years, I’ve managed to cultivate some measure of personal well-being and professional success during what I imagine will be some of the most difficult years of my professional life. When I look back, I have to ask myself, what have been the choices I’ve made, risks I’ve taken and resources
I sought out that have made a difference in my success? Three things immediately come to mind:
You can’t do it by yourself: Anyone who knows me can tell you that I am a strikingly independent person by nature. I value self-reliance and resourcefulness and I have worked pretty hard to be in a position to “handle my business.” Still, the truth is that success isn’t something we create all on our own. I have had to use my bold, direct nature to cultivate meaningful relationships, both personally and professionally, in order to make it where I am today. Sure, I could have just put my head down, focused on my 5-year plan and pushed full-steam ahead but when I think of the opportunities I would have missed I can’t help but cringe. Being successful is as much about your personal sense of commitment and follow-through as it is about finding and making use of much needed assistance offered along the way. Humility is key…don’t be so “independent” that you miss out on resources and relationships that can change your career for the better.
Focus on the Positive: There are so many things in life that have come along which could have knocked me off of my game. In the last few years, I have dealt with illness, “being broke,” losing friends, spiritual crises, family upheavals, a devastating break-up and death in my family. All of that along with the day-to-day life stuff has brought me many a day where I felt sad, demoralized, alone and afraid. It is in those moments that I have had to focus on “the good.” There have been times when I have had to sit down and recite a list out loud of things that were going right in my day. What I’ve learned over time is that each time I managed to focus on what was going right, I was able to pull myself back from the brink of bad decisions, self-destructive behavior and all manner of negativity. When I couldn’t do it for myself, I called on the people in my life who I trust and they have helped me re-focus away from the negative…they helped me focus on where I was getting support as opposed to being angry about it not coming from the folks I expected to offer me a sense of reinforcement. If there is anything happening that is good, including the fact that there is air in your lungs and blood in your veins, hold on. Where there is life there is hope. That is a fact. Keep going.
Simplify, Simplify, Simplify: As life has gotten increasingly complex, I have to be ever more careful about where and how I spend my time. In order to maximize the time I spend on work and play, I have to keep other daily distractions to a minimum and manage tasks with efficiency. All that “stuff” that I used to associate with being a "grown up," like having a budget, keeping the closet clean and organized, making sure my workplace is well-stocked and tidy--these are all things that are a regular part of my life now. Why? Because simply put, I don’t have time for extraneous stuff that sucks away the time and energy I need to write, think, teach, play and enjoy the company of my loved ones. Anything that streamlines a process -- from having my organic veggies delivered to my house to managing all of my social media accounts from one app -- saves me time and energy that I need to do other things that are of critical importance both personally and professionally. I’ve also had to simplify my relationships, which has meant getting very clear very quickly about who my friends are, what a colleague is and what the values are that govern those relationships. Simplicity and clarity break me out of any tendency to procrastinate or waste time. This is critical when that tenure clock is ticking!
When I look at my career today, I am happy. I am genuinely proud of my accomplishments and I feel good about myself. Moments like these inspire me not only to reflect but to share what I’ve learned over the years with others. I believe that the "best good" is the "shared good."