Home » Feminism » Continuing the Conversation about Guilt: Academics on Academia

Continuing the Conversation about Guilt: Academics on Academia

I’ve enjoyed my conversations with Liana Silva. Her last post really touched me and troubled me. I was not frustrated with Liana, but with the truths she spoke about the ways in which academics allow the constant blurring of our work and personal lives. She made me look into the mirror and think about my work and the infamous to do lists that I keep. I spent all last week thinking about guilt. The guilty way I feel when I think about my day and the constant struggle to get all the tasks completed.

There is always a paper to write, assignments to grade, lectures to work on and other work. Then, add to that projects, publications, and service in the department, faculty and wider campus. The reality is that most academics do not work a 40 hour work week. No, we work easily work 50-60 and during the crunch periods more than this. And, this doesn’t include all the time responding to emails or thinking about the job. Alas, we do not get to bill by the fifteen minute increments!

The night before I read Liana’s post I had some tea and was thinking about what I had accomplished that weekend, since I had worked some on both Saturday and Sunday. I admit that I did check off what I did not accomplish and did feel disappointed. I thought about the next day and wondered how I would get everything done. My email keeps on hovering more than 100 unread emails and there is something about that third digit that disturbs me. Granted I scan through the emails and categorize them based on need–what needs an immediate response?

I read her post and felt guilty for feeling guilty. How funny is that? I then looked at my “done” list and realized that in my additional day of work I had finished or put some small dents in several projects. Plus, I had taken the time to respond to countless emails from past, current, and even prospective students. More importantly I had also spent quality time with both children and my partner. I had also enjoyed a movie with my teen and two of my favorite television shows–so it was not all work and no play. I made it to the gym a few times, as well. But, some of the projects are ongoing and will not complete themselves daily. I needed to remind myself.

All week Liana’s post was at the back of my mind and I was trying hard to think about all that I had completed. I also tried to not apologize to my students in seminar for not finishing the grading of their blog posts. They had submitted them on Monday and Tuesday and normally they get their grades by Thursday.  I explained to them that I was in the midst of grading almost 200 first year paper proposals and would get to their blogs. No one slammed her/his hand on the table and said–this is unacceptable. Instead, I got polite emails asking about other stuff–office hours and other assignments. When I read the blog posts on Saturday and Sunday, I realized that the seminar discussion went well and the review of the posts would have marginally helped me tease out more comments from them.

The funny thing is that my latest blog post that I wrote (it will run later) for the University of Venus is about time management. This post and continued conversation with Liana is really about the need for self-compassion. This also extends to the ways in which we treat our peers. Compassion can go a long way. But, do we remember compassion for ourselves?

This week of thinking about compassion toward myself and others was important. When a student sits down in my office this time of year, two words flash in my mind: patience and compassion. I need to do this when I think about my day. I was in bed most nights thinking about what I did, what I completed. It took work to think this way, as I’ve been extra busy than usual with administrative work, the book project, the department is hiring and this means extra commitments, as well as a women’s conference that I am planning with others. Like most Type A’s it takes work to not stare at the to do list and count the pending tasks. I’m still working on framing the done list as the priority. Thank you, Liana for reminding me.

12 thoughts on “Continuing the Conversation about Guilt: Academics on Academia

  1. It’s also possible to feel guilty for not feeling guilty. It’s a terrible cycle to be in, really, because then we start to second guess every thing we do, every decision we make, which isn’t helpful. I’m sure most academics in your situation go through this, and somehow the work gets done with or without the guilt. You are doing the best you can! There is no need to feel guilty for that. 🙂

    • Thanks, Stacey. It’s just really common this time of year. And, maybe I’m being more sensitive with the lists, as I feel inordinately busy. Had a job interview, surgery, and all the regular stuff–it’s been a crazy busy term.

      But, I seriously am thinking about not feeling guilty for not conquering the world every damn day!

  2. Great post! As I get older I realize I tend to continue to take on more than I can chew and then ultimately feel guilty about not completing tasks week by week. It’s a habit Andrew has noticed and warns me about repeatedly. I too love to-do lists but find myself overwhelmed when they are not completed at the end of the day. One thing I have started to do when I feel overwhelmed is write down all the tasks I am happy I have completed rather than focusing on the things I didn’t. I write these in a journal. Like you said in this post, focusing on the positive parts of the day is key to not feeling guilty. The art of feeling content is harder than it seems!

  3. This is a point that needs to be made more often. You have made it beautifully.
    Also, you need to recognize that some of those things on your list are recurring. You can deal with e-mail but more will arrive. That isn’t because you are doing something wrong. It’s because that’s how it is. Focusing on how much you did accomplish, having a system for prioritizing what really needs immediate attention, and making sure the long term projects get regular attention so that they progress (albeit slowly) is a very good approach. Things don’t get done. They progress.

    • Thanks, Jo. Yes, the email and phone calls are relentless and when I hover near 100 I feel a bit flummoxed. However, I have had to get over that! I think I might make a new email folder that is something like–not pressing. It’s important, but not a must do.

  4. I have a to-do list that separates items by importance. I don’t look at it terribly often, usually only when I’m adding or removing something.

    More importantly, I have a ‘what I accomplished today’ list. Every day I take a few minutes to note all of the things that I accomplished that day, including work, home chores, in-depth talks with people, and so forth. It’s not a calendar – I don’t track the time spent on A, B, or C, just that I was involved in A, B, and C. This prevents the list from turning into yet another calendaring tool (and I really don’t need another one!).

    When I only had a to-do list it was easy to feel guilty that I wasn’t ‘doing things’, but this was only possible because I wasn’t systematically taking time to write out what things I was actually doing. My accomplishment’s list helps keep at bay a guilty feeling by visually showing to myself that I’m making incremental progress on a series of tasks. The issue I’ve always had with to-do lists is they either didn’t reveal incremental progress (and so big project items just sat there for weeks, months, or years) or I spent so much time micro-managing/identifying ‘waypoints’ that they turned into an elaborate waste of time.

    I’d highly suggest keeping an ‘accomplishment list’ if you’re not already; they’re great for keeping the guilt away!

    • Great points, Chris! Thanks for commenting. I do keep an accomplishments list, but I think I need to note more of the intricate “done” things. For instance, the 15 minutes here and there when a student is effusive about how much I helped, so that I note: today I helped 2 people decide that they want to major in Poli or resolved a transfer issue and not just–advising. The other thing is balance and I don’t think I talked about it enough in the post. But, Liana’s post did make me think of this mountain of work and the guilt that I was feeling. I do think it’s worse this time of year–busy time of year.

      And, then there is parenting and not feeling like I’m not doing enough some days. But, that is another post.

  5. I really enjoyed this post Janni. It has come at a time when I am feeling the same sort of things but am unsure about how to make sense of them. Self compassion is a fantastic concept and something I am guilty of not putting into practice enough. Without it I end up being more useless with those who deserve it least, usually my husband and friends. I am fairly new to academia having just completed my PhD and I am now nearing the end of a year as a Senior Teaching Associate. I was assuming I was alone in this feeling of never endingness and that I am convinced I am struggling to cope with. By all accounts I am actually doing fine. It is good to read someone elses thoughts on this, especially in relation to guilt. This gives me some perepective on embracing my achievements, no matter how small they may be.

    • Thank you for your thoughts! Sorry that I didn’t post it. I see that I had good comments go in “junk” file. Sorry! It’s ongoing–feelings of guilt. I think or hear that it gets better. I start my 15th year of teaching this Fall and I’m still learning.

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