When I first started my blog and looked into the various articles about what makes a successful blog, one of the common threads amongst the various pieces I read was an oh-so-encouraging ‘most blogs fail within in a year’. Nice.
‘Not mine!’ I said with a determined glare—what did these people know!
Well, apparently quite a lot because almost like clockwork, nine months into my blogging experiment, my voice disappeared. The small but loyal readership I’d built up dissipated along with my thoughts and reflections on teaching, learning and social justice.
Now the weird thing to me, as I engage in a post-mortem, is that I was able to keep the blog running with fairly regular posts during the semesters—when I was busy with a full teaching load and helping with the start-up of a new first year program here at UBC. It was in the summer months, when I had ‘all the time in the world’ that I stopped paying attention to my blog. At a time when I should have been pumping these out, the blog fell by the wayside.
This isn’t because of a lack of interest in teaching, or a lack of ideas to write about, but more about me taking on far too much over the summer (something we all do of course). I had set myself unachievable goals. A blog post every other week, get three already written articles ready for publication, finish my co-edited book on crime, write a new text-book proposal, apply for three funding calls and most importantly rework my classes for the upcoming academic year. Somewhere in between I figured I should also take a holiday, and oh yeah, finish planning my wedding and get hitched.
Now of course being on the ‘teaching tenure track’ I prioritized getting my courses in tip top shape for the upcoming year—which took twice as long as I had allotted. I then began to panic, yes panic, about my edited collection (I couldn’t stand the idea of letting my co-editor and authors down!). A small rough draft of the textbook I want to co-write also got sketched out, but not in a form I was happy with. I managed to get a small teaching and learning grant. Nothing else got a look in—oh, except I did get round to the small issue of a wedding!
I ended the summer and began my September in a rut. Feeling terribly disappointed in what I had (not) achieved. My blog, my articles did not get touched, I did only minimal work on my textbook proposal and only one small grant was applied for/won.
It is only now, that I’ve pulled my head out of the sand and actually written down what I have achieved that I realized I have not had a failed summer. A completed book manuscript, my first teaching and learning grant, my next big project sketched out, two courses renewed and organized, with an exciting community based learning initiative for the third also mapped out. If anyone else told me that this was ‘all’ they had achieved over the summer I’d be damn impressed. But no, in our profession when we look at our own achievements we tend to think that we are never good enough, that we have never done enough for our students, never enough for our CVs, there is always one more article to write, one more book, one more conference presentation. So, my advice to myself—a list for me when I next feel like a failure for not achieving, my often ridiculous, high standards and self-imposed deadlines (I hope others who are too terribly hard on themselves also take note):
- Give yourself a break. You are not superwo/man. You know how you are constantly counselling your students to relax and not see every missed deadline or missed opportunity as some kind of professional Armageddon? Take that advice on board for you too.
- You don’t have to achieve everything you want to do before tenure/promotion; there is always next year, and the next, and the next. Have a conversation (before the dreaded annual review) with your mentor or your department head to put things in perspective. Make sure you are doing enough (or ideally slightly more) to get where you need to be professionally, but let go of the need to be like that superstar in your discipline who publishes a book and four articles every year, whose students love everything about them, and who is also a super-nice person (you know who you are!). You might get there someday, once you’ve had time to figure out the profession and your place in it—but for now focus on being excellent at YOUR career stage.
- Make time for your family, your friends and your health. I’m not even going to go into more detail on this one. Just do it.