I have a love/hate relationship with academia. Or more like a love/obsess/cuddle/hate/cry/curse relationship with academia. It’s what I love, but I had a hard time not losing myself in it. When I stopped teaching last semester, it felt like a crushing break-up with someone I began dating my freshmen year of college. Sure, I did my fair share of wallowing and soul searching, but I wish there were other things I would have done than sit on the couch and think (and cry) about my post-academic life. Here there are.
Do something real.
Theoreticians, mathematicians, word magicians, we’re a pretty cerebral bunch. We spend a lot of time pondering the “what-if’s” and “how come’s” of life. We love to drive ourselves mad, no? We also spend a lot of time sitting, reading, and typing. Now’s the time to get your head out of your book and do something real. Something tangible. Something that requires action and you would be proud to have written on your tombstone. Now’s the time to start living your life instead of reading and living vicariously through the adventures of Peter Pan, Captain Ahab, and the ilk.
Do something challenging.
And no, I’m not talking about the New York Times crosswords puzzle. I’m talking out-of-your-comfort-zone-OMG-I-can’t-do-this challenging. For me, it’s always something physical. I like to bend and push my wiry frame into physical challenges that I’ve always thought I couldn’t do. Like run five miles in under an hour or lift the 15-pound weights instead of the 10s. In time, your sexiest body part won’t just be your brain and your post-thesis committee confidence will rise. Exercise your body as much as your mind, and you’ll be amazed at what you can do.
Do something freeing.
Those who toil in “the real world” often get a bad rap of becoming wage slaves in cubicle prisons. On the other hand, academia is viewed as the promised land of lax work hours and leisurely summer vacations. Still, many forget the ivory tower has its own set of rules and schedules. Without the obligations of teaching, I was able to go on a beach vacation in September, a time I would when normally I would be ensconced in the campus library. And believe me, the sands and ocean water were ever more lovely with less school children, tourists, and high heat.
Do something out of your control.
Oh boy, do academics love control. This is my thesis. This is my classroom. It’s hard to give it up when every day, every action, every word seemed to have this great significance hinged to it. Will my professor approve of this? Will that help my paper get accepted? Will this class get me into a doctoral program? Controlling your own academic destiny leaves little time for play, mistakes, and happenstance. Now, you should compromise and give in. Surrender to someone. Even if it just for one night of your life, or the rest of it. Throw away your plans. Shrug off the pressure. Let go of who you should be to become who you are.
It all comes down to one thing. Do something. Anything.
I’ll admit for the first few months I spent a lot of my time frozen in fear. I was in shock and adjusting to my new life sans papers; writing them, grading them, or otherwise. It was a lot to take in. Still, I wish I would have begun moving faster. And I don’t mean logging more miles on a treadmill. That’s just a distraction. It made me think I was moving on. But just because you’re moving doesn’t mean you’re processing your feelings and letting go. So do something of substance and self-love. Anything will do. Just make sure you actually do it.