I’m stressed out. I’ve been stressed out for a long time now. I can’t even recall last time I was laid back. Everybody is overworked, everybody complains, but this post is about me deciding to do something about it. Or, at least, trying to decide.
The last time I was relaxed dates back to the summer of 2002. Life was good: I was starting a new job as a researcher at the National Research Council of Canada, leaving a professorship at Acadia University, and I had just won the best paper award at CASCON. It wasn’t the summer of my dreams, but I recall being relaxed and laid back.
Then things went to hell. I got a job as the team leader of a research group, got into the funding application madness. Switch job, switch job again. All along my career is doing fine, I’m getting great jobs, teaching great courses, publishing fantastic papers at good places, meeting great people, establishing valuable collaborations. But the stress levels are not coming down.
Some things have been good. Lohan was my little 2004 miracle, my wife is still around and we still love each other very much. However, I realize that my job has been taking a toll on my well-being. I’ve not been particularly sick and I’m not going crazy. However, I woke up this morning feeling a lot of pressure on my shoulders. Not just symbolically speaking. My shoulders are tense and have been tense for a long time now. For the first time in a long while, I took the week-end off to be with my family. Actually, the cold hard truth is that I simply could not find the energy in me to work more. In short, I’m burning out, or it feels like it.
I feel like I’ve been sprinting for 2 years now. I achieved a hell of a lot in 2 years. I think I’ve met every single objective I had set for myself 2 years ago. And now what?
Where do I go from there?
Some things that are tough:
- being actively involved at work, chairing committees, being a member of several committees;
- being actively involved in several research projects;
- being actively involved in several teaching programs (undegraduate, graduate);
- travelling: I don’t do much of it, but it is taking its toll nonetheless.
I think I need to refocus. I need to settle on fewer research projects for a short while and start saying no to new projects since I’ve got more than enough underway. I need to start saying no to committee work (I did my share). I need to be less ambitious with respect to teaching: focus on one course, one program at a time and don’t try to push everything at once. Travelling: I need to consider boycotting any conference which requires airfare for some time.
Notice that almost every single decision in the paragraph above has a possibly negative impact on my career. The question I need to ask myself is whether I’m doing enough, not enough, or too much. I think I’m doing too much, but what would my peers think? What if my peers think I’m doing barely enough as it is? What then? Do I drop out of academia and find an easier job?
It seems that whenever you get a peer review, there are always hints that you could have done so much more. Fair enough. We can always do more. But when is it enough? How do we define “enough”?