With the wrap-up of ASA this week, the sociology job market season is officially on. There’s a lot to fret about…but I want to take a moment to talk a little bit about self-care.
When I was in graduate school in the not-so-distant past, self-care basically came down to the coffee/alcohol cycle: coffee in the morning to get my brain working through whatever I had to accomplish to hit my goals, wine in the evening to blast away the stress, then rinse and repeat. I left graduate school with a wonderful taste palate for Napa Valley wines–and a pretty unhealthy relationship with drinking I would spend the next several years dealing with.
I didn’t make it to ASA this year, but I found the social media buzz about decentering alcohol in social gatherings so encouraging and hope as a discipline we can keep it up. I’m also endlessly encouraged by the very different graduate student culture around self-care and stress that’s emerged since I was in graduate school. I wish I knew then what I know now…so here are a few thoughts as we roll into the upcoming academic year.
Take a freaking break. In graduate school, I was incapable of taking a day off, let alone a weekend. Only in the last couple of years could I even contemplate not working after 5 pm on a weekday. This.Is.An.Insane.Way.To.Live. And guess what, it doesn’t even pay off with regard to the quality of and quantity of work. I still look at these studies in disbelief, but the research astoundingly shows that less work is actually more–especially in creative ventures like academia. What more time devoted to work gives us is not more output or even better-quality output; it gives our nerves something to do as we freak out about the precarity of academia, altering our sense of priorities so profoundly that we couldn’t take a break even if we tried. This is especially a problem on the job market, when feeling “refreshed” and “lucid” enough to ace an interview is sometimes the only currency that matters. Learning to take a freaking break is also something that will pay off as the pressure mounts as you move through your academic career. Don’t be like me–I didn’t take a “real” vacation until I got tenure. (And when I did, I literally threw myself to the sharks…)
Meditation. It took me years to break from the meaningless stress cycle and re-orient myself to what matters–as an academic, and as a person. The single most important change I made was to regularly meditate. Yoga, therapy, exercise, hiking, eating healthy–all of these things are awesome and may work for you, but for me, it was just plain meditation that got me to a place where I could start to value academia as a wonderful journey of the mind (you know, the kind of idealistic nonsense we are taught to disavow by the first or second year of grad school) instead of a mind-numbing, bean-counting, soul-sucking career. Meditation also got me to a place where I could see the stress-mongering baked into academia for what it was: an outlet for other people’s stress, other people’s stress that I was taking on as my own. Meditation finally helped me separate what I wanted out of this career from what others wanted out of me–and to feel a bit more trusting of my own goals.
For those who are local, it turns out that Tucson has some incredible resources for meditation and mindfulness. My favorite is the Tucson Meditation Center; they have drop-in, donation-based classes that are affordable ($3-$5 suggested donation) and, in my view, incredible. If you want a cool but more expensive option, there are floating centers all over Tucson like Levity Floatation on Speedway; if you’ve seen Stranger Things, floating is what Eleven does to hone her telekinetic skills. But it turns out it’s also amazing for dealing with anxiety and stress. And then, of course, there is yoga, which can be very meditative–I prefer Yoga Connection as it, surprise!, has a heavy meditation focus, including restorative reiki yoga. And it’s only a $10 drop-in fee.
Create community–and prioritize it. One thing that I did do right in graduate school was to create community. I am incredibly grateful for the strong bonds with my colleagues from graduate school that still carry me forward today. I don’t know what I’d do without them! It breaks my heart when I hear that graduate students feel competitively isolated from their fellow graduate students–as they are missing one of the most personally and intellectually satisfying parts of graduate school. One place to cultivate this is through reading and writing workshops–such as the Gender, Race and Power group I run at the University of Arizona. But it shouldn’t stop there; connect with your fellow graduate students regularly to keep each other accountable both in terms of academic work and–something I never did in graduate school but wish I did–self-care. You are in this together–we all are.