Thursday, January 21, 2016

New Year, New Outlook?

Three weeks in. Though we've had almost three weeks to get used to writing "2016," I'll admit that I still have one foot in my 2015 mindset - the one that served me well as a trainee, but now shows diminishing returns. Namely, a mindset that pushes me to take on as much as humanly possible in order to squeeze out as much useful information as I can. There's just so much to be learned about the topics that I care about. But so far this year, I'm paying attention to the costs.

For example, I know that it's perfectly acceptable (and possibly desirable) to attend a conference without submitting to present at it. But when conference season rolls around, I don't even consider this option. Partly because I'm in the habit of gearing my projects toward conference deadlines, but partly because.... why the hell not? Conferences are such a great way to get the word out about my work! 

Me, presenting at a
conference last year.
But it's always the same. I start with one or two main submissions; as I prep abstracts, I get ideas for other submissions; I want students to present, of course, so there's a few more. Before you know it, I'm presenting a talk and five posters, plus three posters that I'll co-author (across two conferences). And just for fun, these conferences are within two weeks of each other this year! That's a lot of conference prep. On top of teaching, supervising honors theses, service, and running a four-month intervention study. (At least two of these activities also could go in the "probably not necessary" bin.)

WHY?? This product-focused mindset was not born merely of ambition, CV building, or the desire for tenure. I love what I do, and I want to discuss it with my clever peers (some of whom I only see at conferences). But this mindset has drawbacks: I spend little time on leisure activities,* I don't read for pleasure very often anymore, I don't travel much,** my house could be a lot cleaner. And I could be healthier. Healthy is the one that gets me these days.

As a clinical health psychologist, I'm well aware of the benefits of a healthy lifestyle, and I do pretty well. I practice a lot of what I preach; I run, I watch what I eat,. But I don't always attend to problems in a timely fashion, which can make the problems worse. Case in point: I've had a chronic, low-grade health problem for years, and in August, I finally went to have it checked out. After a five-month whirlwind of doctors and tests, I recently underwent a (minor) surgical procedure to fix the problem. My first surgery, in fact, so I wasn't sure what to expect. The short version is TIRED. VERY TIRED, NEED TO LIE DOWN, CAN'T GO FAST (physically or mentally). I've had to admit to myself that I cannot, and should not, push myself like I usually do.

What am I doing instead? I leave work by 4:00 and I nap a lot, which still is difficult to believe. I walk on the treadmill, rather than run. And I read. How glorious it is to have time for reading again! Honestly, I forgot how much I love to read. And I joined a reading group - my first one! For the group, which is meeting next week, I already tore through Roxane Gay's Bad Feminist and started Rebecca Solnit's Men Explain Things to Me. Gay's set of essays was particularly familiar, as it articulated something I've long felt but couldn't put words to (a subject for another post). I'm also doing preparatory reading for courses, including texts on gender and illness, neuroscience, and psychotherapy supervision. 

This is your life moment of the new year: Forced relaxation serves as a great reminder to make time for LIFE during the semester.*** One of these days, that message will stick. Let's hope it's in 2016!



*Other than watching Netflix, of course.
**By "much" I mean "at all," unless you count overnights to Philly for work (2 hours away).
***To be fair, all of this (including the surgery) is possible because spring semester hasn't started yet.

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