Open Access Tenure: Pursuit of Self-Care

Among the challenges of obtaining tenure is finding a balance.  How many hours is right to spend at work above and beyond whatever your HR contract says? How much time at home on the weekends? What is the obligation to do x, y, and z outside of official work time?

There are different challenges facing tenure track librarians than many faculty in that we have a space obligation.  We not only need to be around for meetings and appointments, but most of us also have desks to sit on or back up, and our heavily used spaces mean that we need to make sure they are appropriately staffed. Speaking as the person who does the desk schedule for my department, this can be a challenge for a highly embedded group.

Of late, I’ve been watching a number of colleagues talk about their approaches for self-care, making sure they are feeling cared for and refreshed in order to bring their best to their students or patrons. My friend Kendra talked about work/life balance recently, pointing out that to some degree our work has to be a passion or we probably wouldn’t have gone into this much debt, moved across states, etc., etc. in pursuit of it.  Considering how often I hear people talk about needing to get back to it, I figure I’m not the only one struggling to figure out balance, what needs I have, what to do to get my head realigned some days.

I recently finished an excruciatingly slow read through David Allen’s Making it All Work. David is probably better known for his book Getting Things Done, which I have not read. He defines an approach that strikes me as slightly excessive, but still navigable. As I’ve been working on this post I’ve been working on doing a brain dump (as recommended) using the index that he provides.  I always feel better with a concrete to do list and I’m sure some of the frustration is that I need to clear out all of the things that need to be done. [I should say that David’s book is not bad, but I found that about 20 minutes of it was all I could get through on my commute and it rode back and forth with me–making me feel guilty.]

I’m not especially good at the self-care part. I know that. I want to do ALL the things and at some point I need to make priorities and decisions where I’m a higher priority in order to better be able to avoid frustration or burnout.  Also, taking care of me and my responsibilities is part of all of that obtaining tenure stuff. It’s a particular challenge to make my research and work interest come before my patrons; librarianship tends to have a “whatever the patron needs right now” focus that, at times, hinders our bigger picture abilities or lets too many little smolders burn unattended until they turn into bonfires. And despite how I look in my winter coat, I am not a marshmallow available for toasting.

I’m curious what self-care you have implemented in your life that helps you to cope? My mentor has pointed me towards exercise and massage therapy and she may chime in with some other ideas. How do you make time for an interest, your research, etc. and protect it?

5 Comments

  1. Comment by Kate:

    Living in the New York area, I see many people go from the office to the train and not miss a beat with getting work done. They leave the office and the minute they get on the 5:48 Metro North to New Haven, they’re back at work. I don’t know how they do it.

    My self-care is leaving work at work. Unless there is an absolute need for someone to reach me after hours or a task to get done, I do not do work on my AM or my PM commutes. That’s my time to decompress from the day.

  2. Comment by Rebecca:

    As we have been told emphatically that we cannot telecommute, I do as little work as possible outside of work. (I admit, however, that I answered an awful lot of email on my recent vacation!) It’s a matter of boundaries–you have to decide what yours are going to be and stick to them. Re-evaluate every so often, of course, but don’t make a habit of allowing your boundaries to be broken, especially by you.

  3. Comment by Rachel:

    This has been a hard one for me too. At least temporarily, Jen (as chair) is actually sitting down with me weekly and telling me what needs to be prioritized–and what goes in the category of “nope, too much for right now.” Parker Palmer, one of my favorite authors, says that “Self care is never selfish. It’s the way you can best provide the gift of yourself to others.” I’ve been repeating that a lot recently. Best of luck to you!

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