And other hard to follow academic advice
How is everyone’s September going? Can you believe it is almost halfway OVER? Let’s blast through this!
A reminder! Kelly Clancy and I are hosting writing retreats and we would love for you to join us! In January, please join us in Texas Hill Country. Beautiful views in a big house! All of us writing together! Get your shit together for the 2024 spring semester! Drink wine! Eat treats! Start off by kicking ass! Information here; application here (please excuse the broken link last time).
I’m fresh off the very bizarre APSA meeting! It was lovely lovely to meet many of you there. Maybe this is weird, but here are some places that I’ll be over the next few months - I’d love to meet people if you will also be at these places! Gender & Party Politics Conference, UT Austin, Sept 28-29; EGEN - Cornell - Oct 12-14; Justice & Injustice conference - Rutgers - Oct 26-27; Nuffield College - Oxford - Nov 6-10; SPSA - New Orleans - Jan 11-13; University of Cologne - Jan 29-Feb 2. (is this weird? this is weird. ignore my weirdness unless you want to hang out at one of these things)
This is a spicy MHAWS. Not sorry.
One of the conversations that I’ve had with many of y’all in my position as an unwellness influencer recently is about navigating a delicate balance in our professional lives. A balance between:
carefully protecting ourselves
being engaged in our institution and profession and knowing everything and being RIGHT all the time.
I’m here to tell you this truth: protecting yourself is more important than all the rest of that shit.
What? But Mirya, I want to be an active member of the profession! I want my colleagues to like me! I NEED TO KNOW what is going on! I MUST PROVE THAT PERSON WRONG.
You cannot do any of that shit if you don’t protect yourself.
And you can’t protect yourself if you are constantly sitting in dumb ass committee meetings because you were the person who offered suggestions to a hypothetical “any questions” at the end of a different meeting or if you point out how a particular form is hard to fill out or you sent an email to someone telling them how they were doing something wrong.
Even harder: you can’t protect yourself and change anything if you spend all your time teaching when you will be assessed on your research at tenure. You can’t continue to advocate for students or junior faculty if you burn out and can’t do any of your work. You can’t change shit if you constantly run head first at windmills that will never be dragons. Wait for the actual fucking dragons.
I don’t want you to be quiet because that’s what good girls do and that’s how you rise without pissing anyone off. I want you to mind your own business so you can put your power into your goals and the things that actually fucking matter and not into the distractions that are meant to drain you of your energy and time and will. Remember what Toni Morrison told us:
The function, the very serious function of racism is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being… None of this is necessary. There will always be one more thing
But how do we protect ourselves from the distractions?
Mind your business
The first way that you protect yourself is by minding your own fucking business.
To start, I want to reassure you that there are 1000 things in academia that might seem like your fucking business and they are actually NOT your fucking business. Not only that, there’s a ton of stuff that you have NO CONTROL OVER at all. Who is going to be the new provost of your university? Who knows? Who cares? (Seriously) When will the university change the common curriculum requirements? Who knows? Who cares? (Seriously)
Instead, I want you to consider: what are the things that are actually within my control? And what are the things that I can move the needle? And what are the things that actually matter? That’s your fucking business.
Minding your own business also means spending a hell of a lot less time thinking about the fates and fortunes of other academics. Who cares who is moving institutions? Oh goddess, someone is in a relationship with another academic! That’s so important. NO. IT IS NOT. Not to you! Mind your own fucking business. Care for your friends and leave everyone else alone.
Practice the Joy Of Missing Out
Often, we academics are curious little creatures that simply musssst knowwww what is happpeeenninggg all the time! This can mean that we waste our time gossiping and trying to figure out who is doing what and why and when even when none of that has any impact on our lives or is completely out of our control. The Fear Of Missing Out is strong! But FOMO is associated with anxiety (have enough of that, thanks a lot), comparisons, and a negative outlook on life. If you know everything, then you also know about the absolute worst things.
So – let’s think about how we transform Fear into Joy. The Joy Of Missing Out is an intentional practice where we celebrate that we do not know things or aren’t in the middle of some drama. This might include:
taking breaks from social media (daily, weekly, monthly, forever?), and letting yourself relax from being IN THE MIDDLE OF THINGS.
practicing a JOMO mantra. My friend Emily’s mantra is “Not my circus, not my monkeys.” I’m currently working with “That’s above my pay grade.” Others might be like “I focus on my business.” Or “Eyes forward.” Tressie’s great reminder is “Mind the business that pays you.” Pick something and use it to help you focus on how staying out of everyone else’s business is good, actually.
filtering your email so you know less about your university and the discipline. Automatically mark as read and filter those “Today at FANCY PLACE” emails that your uni sends to a hidden folder. Same with emails from your president, provost, the HR department, the IT department, all of it. Listserves, same. Put a giant do not disturb up on your life.
reducing time poverty. Y’all KNOW that I’m a big advocate for keeping a time diary of what we actually do in a day (here’s an example of two of my days (a summer and a teaching day) if that is useful for you to see). This lets you make an assessment of how you are actually spending your time and whether that aligns with your values and goals. As I’ve said before: your time is your value commitment. What you spend time on is what you value.
saying no more often. You know you should say no to shit you hate! But you should also say no to shit that you are just saying yes to so that you can know what is going on in some dusty little corner of academia. Don’t do that.
We (okay, me) often give up our attention and space to other people because they are WRONG and we are RIGHT and we must correct them THIS MINUTE. Put everything down. Fuck that writing. Throw the plans out the window. There’s a ‘person wrong on the internet’ emergency!! Some people build entire research careers out of this (lame). And others just waste a ton of time.
But it isn’t just on the internet (although holy hell it is all over the internet): we also see colleagues be wrong in meetings! The administration is wrong all the time! No one understandings how wrong they are! We must tell them right away!!!
Instead, can we just let people be wrong sometimes? That way, we can save our “rights” for things that actually fucking matter.
Let’s let our millennial legend Keanu Reeve’s help us here:
Again, Emily comes to the rescue with a mantra: “The option to stay quiet is always there.” We can always just… ignore people. We can always just shut the fuck up.
On social media: we can mute and block people who annoy us or are consistently wrong and need correcting. We can log off. We can employ the 30-second rule (wait 30 seconds between writing and posting). We can DM our friends screenshots of annoying shit. We can mind our own fucking business.
In meetings: We can build sandcastles in our minds during faculty meetings. We can strategically miss parts of or all of the meetings that will bring out our most angry self-righteous selves. We can write grocery lists, to-do lists, holiday lists, lists of people we want to punch, lists of the ways someone is wrong that we will never use. We can save our coins for when it actually matters. We can shut the fuck up and mind our own business.