Academic resolutions and improvement as a moving target

The Contemplative Mammoth

Some of the best aspects of academic jobs can also be the most challenging: Deadlines are often self-imposed. We have to juggle a wide range of tasks each day that often involve mental gymnastics in order to switch gears (and we mix metaphors!). We’re our own bosses, and usually our own harshest critics. There’s also not much in the way of external validation; people rarely tell us we did a good job if we got the experiment to run, or wrote an especially thorough article review, or turned in our grades early, or wrote one more paper than we hoped to. Given that academia selects for high-achiever types, this can create a kind of self-perpetuating anxiety loop: we can always squeeze another hour of work in. There’s no clocking out at the end of the day. No whistle at the end of our shift that says “ENOUGH.”

There are benefits to this: an often remarkable flexibility in…

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