Could professional women receive any more mixed messages? Lean In*. Sit tall. Work longer. Do more. Other bossy two-word tropes. Meanwhile, recline. Get out. All while being fabulously fit, tanned, well-dressed, put-together, towing along a perfect set of gender-matched children, a supportive “no dear, I LOVE to change diapers” type of partner, a Pinterest-worthy house and a gourmet 7-course meal in the oven every night.
Okay, perhaps I exaggerate a bit, but it certainly feels like we’re getting that message. Nothing is ever good enough; we have to fight not only for equal footing and equal pay at work, but also weather the mommy wars at home.# At the same time, we should ignore those telling us all this discouraging news, relax, treat ourselves to a massage, live in the moment. Oh, and do that all effortlessly.
I think the exhortations telling me to relax are, perhaps, even more exhausting than those telling me to do more, as now I feel I’m being forced to relax–which is not actually relaxing in the least.
It’s no secret (unless you’re a CareerCast writer) that life in academia is stressful. As I have tenure, at least one worry is off my shoulders, but another stress comes with the promotion: now I’m responsible for mentoring not only grad and undergrad students, but our junior faculty as well. And to be honest, I’m not always sure how to advise them, even after years of reading academic blogs during my own time as a junior faculty member. My colleagues are universally pretty awesome, but the funding climate is so shitty, our teaching load is only increasing, and there’s no great remedy for any of it in sight.
And of course, it’s not only what I say to them that makes an impression; it’s also what I do. I’m worried sometimes that I send the wrong signal to people I’m mentoring when they see me working crazy hours and being in the office with my baby. I don’t want them to think they have to sacrifice a life for the job. At the same time, if I take a morning off to work from home, I worry that I send the wrong signal by not being present in the office. I can tell junior faculty and grad students to Lean In, but sometimes that can cost them. I can tell them to relax, but someone else will inevitably Kern them and get on their case for not working longer/harder.
I don’t want to make decisions for them; this is their path to walk and their choices to make. I want them to know they can come to me to chat and ask for advice, knowing they don’t have to take it and that I don’t have all the answers.
After this semester ends, I think I’m going to work on setting up something a little bit more regular to have chats with my junior colleagues. I know I was hesitant early in my career about approaching senior faculty–perhaps if I initiate more frequently, I can help them work through problems before they become seemingly insurmountable. And whatever cheesy catch phrase they want to chase, I’ll do what I can help them with that too.
What are you looking for from your senior faculty? How can we help out?
*I know the book goes beyond the cliches, but the press has certainly focused on the “rah rah do everything” rather than the more tempered advice on choices and trade-offs.
#Yes, this is a First World Problem™/upper socioeconomic status issue