Since the election and inauguration of the 45th President of the United States there has been a surge of political activity. Many of my clients and the academics I follow on social media are posting more about the political situation, including about their own political activism.
I know that you were already busy and overwhelmed. You were having a hard enough time juggling the different aspects of your work (teaching, writing, service/admin), and managing that elusive work-life balance. I can only imagine what the current political climate has done to your mental health and your plans.
You need a (new) plan
The elements of a good plan are priorities, boundaries and slack. That remains the case even when everything seems to have been turned upside down.
It’s one thing to drop everything and focus on an emergency. Slack in your plans helps you minimize the impact of that on your research and teaching. But this is not like your kid coming down with the flu. This political situation is not going to resolve itself in the next couple of weeks.
Some kind of political activism may be part of your new normal. At the very least, you need to make some concrete decisions about whether that is the case and if so what form it will take.
Your priorities may have changed
If you decide that you want to be more politically active than you were before, you need to adjust your plans accordingly. You still need slack in your new plans to help you face the inevitable unplanned and unexpected events (including illness). You still need rest, sleep, good food, and exercise. I would suggest that you also need to continue to do whatever nourishes you spiritually (whatever that means to you) as well.
Fatigue impairs cognitive function. It makes it harder to regulate your emotions. It makes it harder for you to make sound decisions quickly. It makes it harder for you to remain calm and reasonable in the face of unreasonable events. You need reserves of physical and emotional strength for this. That might mean paying more attention to these foundational elements.
Adding in political activism means you need to adjust the balance of other things in your life.
- How much time are you willing and able to give to political action?
- What are you NOT going to do in order to free up that time?
Those are difficult questions. You may feel a lot of pressure to give a lot of time and energy to this. However, you must make a decision that works for you. And you can’t make more time and energy appear, so something will have to not happen, or happen to a lower standard.
If you have not really been active at all before, you might want to try starting with 15-minutes a day. I have advised this for writing and the same applies to any other habit you want to build. That may or may not suit the particular type of action you want to take but decide how much time you have.
You will also have to prioritize within this area of political activism. There are lots of things you could do. All of them are probably important. You will have to pick. Just as in all areas of your life and work, making a global decision now reduces the number of decisions you need to make later and then you have more energy for actually taking action.
Remember you are not the only person taking action. And you can adjust your plan again once you’ve fit this small amount of action into your life. Focus on things that make best use of your specific skills and knowledge.
Once you’ve decided how much time you can give, put some boundaries around it. Schedule the time into your schedule: daily, weekly, whatever.
Then take your big decision about type of action and specific issue(s) and figure out exactly what that looks like. Make a list of things you can do in the time you’ve allocated.
For example, I know people who have set up a spreadsheet with small actions that they can tick off when they’ve done them. They open it up during their political time each day, pick an action, do it, tick it off, close the spreadsheet, and carry on. This makes even 15 minutes a day effective.
There are several guides circulating in the US that will help you with this. There are also a few groups that will email you daily action steps. You could sign up for one of those.
Don’t forget to include time for learning about your issue so you can take effective action. And remember that sharing information on social media or in other ways is political action.
Your work is still important
Your teaching and your research and writing are just as important today as they were yesterday. The fact that there are concerted attempts to silence or diminish the value of the arts and humanities (in particular) or academia (in general) does not mean they have no value. In fact, it may indicate that they are so valuable they are feared in some quarters. Even if you struggle to articulate why what you do is important in ways that your neighbours understand, trust that it is important. Keep doing it.
That may mean getting better at setting priorities and boundaries so that you work more effectively. It may mean finding more emotional and practical support so you can work more effectively. Or it may mean putting a sticky note on your bathroom mirror to remind you that your work is important.
Your family and friends are also important. This is why you feel so strongly about the political situation. Make time for them.
The Academic Writing Studio supports you in establishing and maintaining a writing practice. If you would like more support for your academic work so you can be more effective and also more politically active, you are welcome to join us. There is also a recorded class for members that guides you through the process of making a (new) plan. Click the image to learn more and join.
Protecting Your Inner Life in Times of Turmoil by Marie Howe