As we walk into mid-semester, the flurry of activity has captured us in so many ways. The to-do list is longer – or just transferred from week to week, the unread emails are piling up, and then there is grading to do or a new grant cycle about to start. How did this happen? Again?
In some ways, the feelings of overload may be institutionally encouraged since there is always more to do and someone who will feel the need to do it. But, at the same time, that feeling that being the “Super-fill-in-the-blank” is not especially healthy and in the end, leads to the things we read about and often see in others: burn-out, disengagement, disaffection, and worse. In a great Monday Mentor piece through the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity, of which MSU is a member, it talks about thinking about our careers as a book with many chapters that will be rewritten and revised many times. But, this also requires having a sense of one’s honest priorities, reasonable goals and short-term measures of those goals, and a sense of who we want to be within the academic enterprise of MSU. From a developmental perspective this comes down to how am I (re)establishing my professional identities and how will the choices I’m making reflect these identities?
Of course, we are not always able to make all the choices at any given time that contribute to this sense of authentic self. On the other hand, if we are not actively constructing that identity, the likelihood of becoming overwhelmed, out of step, over-functioning, and suffering the health consequences of this are fairly good. Establishing and revisiting one’s professional identity and how contributions connect to and contribute to this requires opportunity for reflection. It requires establishing reasonable objectives that link to current aspirational goals and seeking the resources to accomplish them. It means taking time for your whole self and not leaving “you” off until everything else is done. It means laying claim to the expertise that brought you here, to seeing the ways in which you can and do contribute to making MSU a better place, and being sure that you are finding ways to articulate and share your story so that your quality contributions are not assumed only to be measured by outputs and metrics, as important as we know they are.
Our professional identities, thankfully, take many forms. It’s one of the great things about being at a large and diverse institution with many missions. We need multiple ways of contributing and seeing the value of ourselves in the MSU equation. That said, it all begins with being willing to identify and claim our professional identities and not letting them get swept away by that flurry of activity and pressures – like fall leaves swirling around us. This fall could be that time for some introspection and renewal for all of us!