I write this as students are busy studying and stressing over exams. Stress is a common thing on a university campus. Learning should not be easy. Good learning should be challenging; requiring students to dig deep, reflect on positions they may never have considered before, adjust their outlook on the world. We commonly get into discussions that require students to move from position A to position B or at least deeply contemplate such a move. No question, that is stressful.
Professors are not immune although I don’t expect students to feel any sympathy since in their eyes we are usually the reason for their stress. Fair enough. Professors’ lives include a job that can be all consuming, especially if you love your research and enjoy working with students. Add in a dearth of strong leadership, a shortage of people to spread the work, plenty of opportunities to try new things – and the academic life can quickly become a rat race. Without a doubt that is why I started yoga, golf, and classical music. The decisions to start those (all independent) were not driven consciously by stress but I now see in hindsight that the outcome from all three is VERY positive. I have to give a huge shout out to the instructors and yogis at Kelowna Moksha – since March 2011 I’ve been a devotee and seriously notice a mental difference when I get to yoga and when I don’t. Thank you Kylie et al!!
Today I was reading a post from Inside Higher Ed, a great source of everything academic, when I came across the following piece of advice:
If you give your life to the institution, don’t expect the institution to reward you with a life. Fight hard for what really matters to your happiness. Sleep, eat well, and exercise. Consider not eating at your desk at least once a week; schedule in exercise. If you’re depleted or ill, you will not teach well or write well.
That is SO true. I’ve been an professor for over ten years and especially since coming to UBC Okanagan in 2007, I have given much to the institution. I’ve enjoyed it for sure. Lots of challenges and opportunities but really it is not worth burying myself for this institution. Literally and figuratively. I don’t blame UBC, UBC Okanagan, or my Faculty – I suspect that every large institution and corporation out there can find itself encouraging people to devote themselves to the organization without truly appreciating what that means from the individual perspective. The institution is like a large black hole of energy sucking in small stars. It may feel good to be a part of something but rarely does that black hole spit you out with more energy than you began. (That’s probably a really bad analogy and I suspect my physics and astronomy colleagues will correct me!)
The Inside Higher Ed post finished with a quick reminder of Mary Oliver’s poem, The Summer Day. I first ran into that at an excellent Parker Palmer retreat back in the spring – it truly is a wonderful poem but particularly the last portion,
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
That’s an excellent wake up call. Each of us only has one life, one body, one mind. We’d better take care of it and do the best we can. This is a one shot deal.