Getting out of a hole

Last year sucked for me in an epic way. Health problems and personal losses, compounded by a long-distance spouse, made me realize just how tenuous pre-tenure life is. When your everyday status is “barely treading water,” there’s no leeway for life to throw curve balls*. I was already overcommitted and doing too much service. Then I hurt myself. My dad got cancer. I had a string of demoralizing events. I ended a couple of long-term close friendships that had become toxic over the years.

I got behind. A lot. And I felt like I didn’t have much of a safety net yet in my new job, so I didn’t ask for help. I avoided the things that were stressing me out. I stopped taking care of myself, partly because of my injury, but partly because I just couldn’t muster up the energy. I dropped balls. A proposal never got submitted. A paper was late, and another one stalled. I didn’t make progress on a workshop commitment. I missed a couple of reviews.

I felt like a failure, and this just exacerbated my anxiety and depression. Lack of progress on my health goals meant pushing back trying for a baby by another year. I regretted not having gotten my reproductive act together sooner, before I lost my dad. I felt like I had no one I could talk to about any of this. I didn’t want my mentors to think I wasn’t worth the time they’d put into me. My family was already suffering and didn’t need me to worry about. I didn’t want to lean too much on my friends or my partner. I felt so self-conscious about not being invincible.

I made a lot of mistakes in the lead-up to my Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Year that set me up to have a harder time than I needed to. And then I made poor choices in how I handled (or didn’t handle) what life threw at me. Once you’re in a hole, it’s hard to get out. Much harder, I think, than avoiding the hole in the first place. So what should I have done differently? Continue reading

Flailing

I am failing.

OK, it’s probably not that dire, but that’s how I feel many, many days this semester. I thought it was all going so well, and in so many ways, it is.  I have a ‘lab’ now, with people in it ranging from undergrad to postdocs. I have settled into my job, and the class I’m teaching this semester is going fairly well.  Two papers will be submitted by the end of the month, and I continue to love my job. Most of the time.

However, I’m totally flailing with all of the extra parts of work, and I’m not sure how to fix it. For the first time since I started in academia, I feel like I’m dropping balls.  Nope, I AM dropping balls. And my own personal giveaway for pent-up stress has returned (for me, episodes of TMJ). Luckily, I have a very physical reminder that I need to take care of myself, and am good about heeding those reminders.  But these small things—stress, bad habits, unhealthy ways of coping—have a tendency to build up and become canalized, so I need to address the root of the problem.

A TSW reader recently suggested a post on what the day-to-day job of a professor looks like, and this post can partly address that, at least for a public research university. So what do I have on my plate that is causing me to feel like a failure? Continue reading