In my class for women professors, The Feminar, I give an assignment about halfway through the course. It’s a seemingly simply thing: take one article you’ve been meaning to submit for publication, do what you can to get it done, and send it out.
It’s so interesting to watch what happens. I hear a combination of these responses:
I can’t do that!
This doesn’t work for me!
I’m different and can’t meet this deadline!
I’m so worried!
Do you find yourself freaking out at deadlines like this? If so, I have two presents for you today: an Aha and a solution.
And by presents, I mean presence…
On the week that the article is due for submission, we reflect upon the mindfulness principle on Non-striving. I do this because it’s an opportunity for us to watch our patterns about deadlines and see how we create the conditions for our own freak-outs.
I begin by sharing this about Non-striving from Shalini Bahl:
"Non-striving is one of the basic principles in mindfulness. Many people struggle with that idea because they take it to mean that you don’t have to work or put in your best effort. On the contrary, non-striving allows you to put in your best effort because working with a non-striving outlook means that you are fully engaged in what ever you are doing without the struggle to get any where other than where you are. You work with a new kind of alertness that is in touch with what is happening in the present moment. You are fully attending to the present moment and therefore more open to new possibilities emerging in the moment."
Jon Kabat-Zinn says:
“Mindfulness is never about doing something perfectly, because it is not about doing or accomplishing at all. It is about allowing things to be as they are, resting in awareness, and then, taking appropriate action when called for. Silence, deep listening, and non-doing are often very appropriate responses in particularly trying moments — not a turning away at all, but an opening toward things with clarity and good will, even toward ourselves. Out of that awareness, trustworthy skillful responses and actions can arise naturally, and surprise us with their creativity and clarity.”
As you read this, ask yourself these questions:
When I am faced with a deadline, do I strive? Try? Push? (I call it the “bang your head against a wall syndrome.”) Do I make this a painful process because of how I treat myself during it?
Am I always thinking about the outcome (publication, a raise, tenure, a promotion?) when I write so that I’m not really enjoying what I’m doing and fearful about what might happen if the outcome I desire doesn’t happen?
Do I take breaks? Have lunch? Stay up all night? Forget about self-care in the name of the Goal?
Sit in silence for one minute. Turn within and let the answers to these questions arise in you.
And then here’s the solution…
Make your own deadline.
It’s really that simple.
Make the deadline earlier. Make it when you want it to be. Decide exactly how you want to work and work that way. Take the power back by locating the source of authority (author! author!) within your being rather than an external source.
Spend slow, mindful time deciding what you want to write. When you want your dissertation to be due. What journals you’d like to submit to. When you want to have completed your end-of-the year report. When you think you should submit your tenure file.
As academics (and humans!) we have the ability to put the power over our lives back into our own hands.
It begins with knowing that the work we do is meant to be a service to the world. It’s not really about ego. It’s not really about what we can get out of it. It’s a gift we give – a present and a presence.
Let yourself give yourself the gift of a deadline that you meet by not striving but by taking tender care of yourself in the process.
If you’d like to work with me individually to break through your writing blocks and find joy in your life and work again – plus get the support and accountability you need to meet your career goals – please join me for The Feminar that starts in January.
The Feminar is a unique 3-month online program for women educators to inspire their writing, research and teaching.
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a writing coach with 20 years of experience teaching at the graduate and undergraduate levels in universities, as well as in diverse community settings. She specializes in working with women in academe.