How to take the weekend off
Plus wisdom from pop hits separated by almost three decades and a shout out to beautiful Saskatchewan, land of the living skies.
Hello and welcome to Academia Made Easier. I am so glad that you are here.
As the 2021-22 academic year limps unceremoniously towards its conclusion, Camilla Cabello’s song “Bam Bam” is stuck in my head. In particular, it is the verse Ed Sheeran sings:
“It's been a hell of a year, thank God we made it out
Yeah, we were riding a wave and trying not to drown
And on the surface I held it together but underneath I sorta came unwound.”
You and me both, Ed. You and me both.
Between world events too horrible for me to comprehend, the ongoing challenges of Covid and its wake, and the personal demands of moving firmly into the “sandwich generation” life stage, I have found this past academic year to be … a lot.
While I think in terms of academic years, I realize this is not an “academic” thing or even a “me” thing. The New York Times writes: “We’re headed into the third year of pandemic life, and one thing is clear: We’re all exhausted from Covid.” Vox discusses the cumulative effects of “burnout on top of burnout on top of burnout.”
From my own network to perfect strangers on Twitter, I see people - highly accomplished people, impressive as hell people - checking out, stepping back, and in some cases actually stepping down from work that they found highly meaningful. For myself, I see it in my noticeable decrease in ambition. I have always been a brass-ring, high achiever person. This goal-oriented approach to life involves a strong future mindset that I simply don’t connect with at the moment.
My current thinking is much more about the present. As Bjork sang almost three decades ago, “I don’t know my future after this weekend, and I don’t want to.” Unlike my past self, I don’t have a five-year plan. I don’t even have a five-week plan. I am just committed to doing my work to the best of my ability and taking pleasure in that.
This is a big mental shift for me, but I am doing my best to just go with it. (Bjork again: “It takes courage to enjoy it.”) I trust there will be time in my future for ambition and big goals when I want them again. Until then, I am doing my best to sit comfortably in the present and take care of myself and those I love in a difficult world.
If this resonates with you, then perhaps this week’s small thing will be one you want to try.
One Small Thing to Try Immediately: Take the Damn Weekend Off
“Seriously, Loleen,” you may be thinking, “that’s your big idea? Take the damn weekend off?”
I mean a true weekend off. No “catching up” for a few minutes, well, maybe an hour that turns into two. No “just getting ahead” on your work for next week. No (please no) email, Teams, or Slack messages.
Instead, try this:
Read an engaging novel. Go for a bike ride. Make cookies. Visit the library and the used book store. Play disc golf. Teach your cat how to walk on a leash. (Good luck with that one.)
Plant some garden boxes. Clean your car. Go through your closet and find some items that you can donate to a worthy cause (my choice: Dress for Success). Visit the garden centre and buy a plant. Listen to a fun podcast while watching your kid’s soccer practice.
Meet a friend for a walk. Go for ice cream. Get a pedicure. Sleep in as late as your household will allow. Go to bed as early as your body will allow. Call your mom. Call your sibling. Sit in the sun or the bathtub and allow yourself to just … be.
My bet is that there is something among those ideas that appeals to you. And if not, your mind is likely coming up with its own ideas of pleasing ideas. Just notice my list does not substitute hyper-achiever non-work activities for work activities, and I encourage you to avoid this temptation. The big garage clean-up can wait.
“But Loleen,” you may be thinking, “I can read the novel and make the cookies and call my mom and still squeeze in a bit of work.”
Of course you can. But why not just … don’t?
How do you not work on the weekend? The trick is to pre-plan to not work over the weekend, and then keep your word to yourself. When the voice in your head says you should be working, tell it “thanks for the idea, and no.” When you open the email app on your phone out of habit, shut it and open Libby (or whatever app you use to read ebooks). When you find yourself about to sit down with your laptop, put it away and pull your cat onto your lap instead. Continue interrupting the patterns, and congratulate yourself each time you do.
I realize that taking a true weekend off might not be possible for you this weekend. Fine. How about next weekend? And then, if that works out for you, also the one after that?
If you are someone who deliberately works fewer hours during the traditional workweek with planned work time on the weekend and you feel like you are making the flexibility of academic careers work for you, this small idea is likely not for you. But if you have found that the flexibility of academic work has resulted in work encroaching on your evenings and weekends, I encourage you to give this small thing a try.
What are your plans for a rejuvenating weekend? You can post it on Twitter and tag me (@loleen_berdahl), or hit the comment button and share it below. I would love to hear from you!
Chipping Away: What I Have Been Up To
A quick update on some of my own activities since my last newsletter, since I have your attention:
While known primarily for its cold winters, agriculture, and vast prairie landscapes, Saskatchewan is secretly a stunningly beautiful place, and each season brings new joys. In the spring, a particular delight is the return of the American white pelicans. These gorgeous birds are always impressive and make me smile.
I have completed teaching the first two parts of a free three-part CERIC webinar series for career development professionals. Speaking to a very different audience about a topic I am so familiar with has been a lot of fun.
My daughter enjoys poking around at garage sales and while I rarely find items of interest for myself, this past weekend I scored: a 1979 issue of Good Housekeeping, for the excellent price of 25 cents! I love women’s magazines from decades past and this one did not disappoint. Highlights included recipes for cooking with SPAM(!), patterns for 103(!) different potholder designs, and abundant Diet Culture messaging (no surprise there). My favourite bit is an ad that reads, “My husband says I’m looking younger lately. It must be my new makeup - MoistureWear. MoistureWear makes a difference because it’s moisture and makeup in one. Just what I need now that I’m over 25.” We’ve come a long way, baby.
Until next time…
In addition to considering your own level of pandemic/2020s fatigue, I encourage you to consider that of your students, staff, and colleagues. I think there can be a sense that we all need to keep up a brave face (“on the surface I held it together”). All the brave faces leave individuals feeling that they are the only ones feeling “unwound.” Normalizing discussions of wellbeing, the value of time away from work, and the simple acknowledgement that things have been, well, a lot can make a big difference. Please consider if there is anyone you should reach out to or check-in with.
Finally, a reminder: in June I am co-facilitating the Centre for Higher Education Research and Development (CHERD) program, Heads and Chairs: Leading Academic Departments. This program prioritizes wellbeing for academic unit leaders. There is still time to register, so if you are (or are soon to be) a department head or chair, or an associate or assistant dean, please take a look and see if the program might be of interest to you.
Stay well, my colleagues.
P.S. If you want to check out another Camila Cabello song, I really like psychofreak, in which she sings about the challenges of living with anxiety. I first heard both Cabello songs on Saturday Night Live in early April and they have been happy additions to my running playlist ever since.
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If you are interested in having me lead faculty success and/or graduate student success workshops at your campus, please ask your university to contact me!
Loleen Berdahl, Ph.D.: I am a twin mother, wife, runner, cat lover, and chocolate enthusiast. I spend far too much time on Twitter and binge-watching television, and my house could be a lot cleaner. During the work hours, I am the Executive Director of the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy. I am the author of the University Affairs Skills Agenda column and my most recent books are Work Your Career: Get What You Want from Your Social Sciences or Humanities PhD and Explorations: Conducting Empirical Research in Canadian Political Science.