“Academic life is indeed a life. It’s a calling, an essential part of you. You’ll live it for much of your waking (and, sometimes, sleeping) hours. That’s the good and bad of it. It’s not drudgery and meaninglessness. But it can eat you up. And academics are often not the kind of people who would admit that,” says Drexel University associate professor Scott Warnock in a February 10 Chronicle of Higher Ed piece.
If it’s culturally unacceptable to publicly admit that academic life can eat you up, privately it is often one of the first things to come up in coaching conversations with academic leaders. As much as 30 years ago, psychologists identified Power Stressors that impact leaders:
- the need to exert influence over others
- the responsibility for people, resources and organizations
- the need to constantly exert self-control because they are always “on.”
Since then, societal changes have added the demands of portable and virtual technology, social media, two career families, and unprecedented pressures on the educational industry.
It is no wonder academic leaders are begging, at least privately, for mercy.
In a recent coaching session, a senior level leader expressed this frustration. While continuing to lead effectively in public, in our conversation he fought to maintain composure recounting the perfect storm of a difficult lay off, an unexpected increase in responsibilities with a colleague on medical leave, and an acutely ailing parent. He entered the coaching concerned his work-life balance strategies were inadequate. Ultimately, he realized he needed more ways to recover on a regular basis. The stressors will keep coming, the “balance” is often impossible, but simple tools for renewal were imperative.
Fortunately, research shows that even 15 minutes per day of moderate exercise or experiences that evoke hope, mindfulness, compassion or playfulness can help mitigate the strain of continual stress.
Here are a few practices clients have developed:
- Build a 20 minute walk into the day – whether it’s to run an errand or get across campus to a meeting
- Focus on breathing for 5 minutes before or after a meeting
- Meet a colleague for lunch with a “light agenda” of gathering input on something specific
- Start every work day with a short meditation or prayer at your desk
- Attend a lecture, cultural, art or social event on campus
- Attend a yoga or exercise class offered on campus; meet a colleague at class
What practices will help you step aside the pace and pressure, and renew?
Let us know if we can be of assistance.