Advice for the end of the decade

I originally envisioned this as a Twitter thread (and it still will be one), but I wanted to also share this on my much-neglected wellness blog.

Yoga is the most important thing that I do.

I realized it was magical for my back in 2009, but the past decade has taught me that it’s the most important thing for my overall well-being. Don’t ask me when the last time was that I actually did yoga.

I need a firm mattress. Firmer than that.

This has been a slow burn to figure out. I’ve always known that I generally like to have a firmer mattress, but I didn’t think that it actually mattered, but then over time I was realizing that my firm mattress wasn’t firm enough. I finally got one that would be considered very firm. It’s not what you’d consider a comforting bed, but my back needs it.

One thing can derail the whole process.

I’m in the midst of this now, but I’ve been in the midst of it multiple times. Various injuries have sidelined me. I’ve gotten sick and had that sideline me for months as that led to new problems. Basically, I know that one bad thing can begat another and getting back on track takes time so I don’t restart the recovery process again.

Just do what works for you.

Everyone has this advice, but it’s been something I’ve had to keep reacquainting myself with over time. I don’t like to run, so people tell me not to, but it was also something I could do quickly and get a lot of bang for my buck. I enjoy yoga, but a class costs me 2 hours between commuting, class, and showering after (and trust me, showering is not optional).

Success will not make you happy.

No matter what you achieve, you’ll always have this feeling of want. Tom Brady has too many Super Bowl rings, a wife who is more successful than he is, kids, and a cameo on Family Guy, and yet he still shows all the indicators of someone who wants more. Success will not make you happy, so find something else that does. Or more importantly, find something that gives you meaning.

Recapping the past 12 months

It’s been a rough year. A ROUGH year.

By and large, injuries haven’t been the problem they can be (though they still loom like a specter every time I work out), but my body has been staging revolutions. It’s been a grind to try to get things right.

The starting point is a general summary: Over the past 12 months, I’ve lost about 10 pounds. The problem is since November, I’ve lost about 30 pounds.

For those of you that don’t math well, that means I put on 20 pounds between July and November last year. I had to buy new pants before the fall started because I outgrew my britches.

But 30 pounds dropped sounds like a triumph. And it was, but only kind of. A lot of that weight was initially lost in a bad way. I got really sick in November, and then was on an antibiotic that made me feel like garbage and not want to eat.

So what was going on? Truthfully, I don’t fully know. Some of it looks like stress acting out. Some of it looks like I was just making bad decisions.

Like I said, there is still some triumph in this story, but we have to start with the low points.

My body hates me sometimes, especially as it relates to food. As I’ve gotten older, I’m much less tolerant of certain foods than I was when I was younger. I’ve been playing a whack-a-mole game of trying to figure out what I can and can’t eat, including different rules for different situations.

It’s been a struggle. I got really sick in November, but it wasn’t the first time I’d gotten sick. It was just the worst time that led to me being in a doctor’s office.

But sometimes bottoming out is the kick in the ass you need. I started being a lot more careful about what I eat.

I cut back on sodas, occasionally cutting them out entirely for a few weeks at a time. I cut back on beer, which just makes me sad, but sacrifices are necessary. And I’ve gotten a lot better about watching what I was eating.

I’m still not great about my eating habits (in honor of Freedom Day, I bought a pizza and fried chicken to bask in my gluttonous American heritage), but I’m getting a lot better. I’ve started buying bigger pizzas so that I could only eat half of them as opposed to inhaling all of a slightly smaller pizza (and then the second half becomes another meal). I try to stick to oatmeal for breakfast, but when I do eat out, I have the ham, egg, and cheese sandwich at Panera instead of combo meals from Chick-fil-A or Sonic.

And I’ve been MUCH better about counting calories. I still go overboard on food, but I’m at least more aware than I had been.

But that still wasn’t wholly fixing my issue. This is where we’re about to hit TMI land. On a doctor’s recommendation, I started taking a fiber supplement. Yep. I’m on Metamucil now. And know what? It’s really helped a lot. It’s not a panacea, but it’s made my days a little more predictable, so even when my GI tract goes rogue, it’s in a more subdued fashion.

I don’t know what the next year has in store. Honestly, I could stand to lose another 15-20 pounds, and I could definitely stand to be in much better shape, but I’m optimistic that maybe I’ve got a workable path forward.

But until the next general life update, enjoy your Freedom Day (unless you’re somewhere else in the world, in which case enjoy your Thursday).

Social Anxiety & The Spoon Theory

That sounds like the name of an experimental indie band.

Mental health is something I’ve talked about before, but I wanted to come back around to it because I haven’t really talked about social anxiety before, and it’s a pervasive part of my life.

Social anxiety is exactly what it sounds like: anxiety related to being social.

I often think of it as clinical shyness.

Everyone has moments where they feel like they’re being judged or they’re afraid to interact with others. Where it becomes full-blown social anxiety is where it starts to interfere with the quality of your life. This could be avoiding things or it could just be ruining your ability to enjoy moments as you’re in them.

I’m going to speak more specifically about what social anxiety looks like for me, but I also want to talk about the spoon theory.

There’s a lengthier version of the story here, but here’s the cliffnotes version:

  • For a variety of reasons, some people only have a limited amount of energy throughout the day. They get depleted more easily than others.
  • Imagine your total energy as spoons. Everything you do requires a certain number of spoons. Going to work is a spoon. Exercising is a spoon. Going on a date is three spoons. And so on.
  • For someone who’s well, the spoons replenish more easily than someone who deals with chronic illness, pain, mental health issues. But if you’re not well, the spoons don’t come back that easily. And sometimes it can take days to fully replenish them.
  • As a result, you have to ration your energy. Have a big event to go through? You need to conserve your spoons. Unexpected bad thing happens? It might cost you the spoon you needed to get through the day.

The point of the metaphor is to help others understand something they can’t see on the surface. If I had a broken leg, you could easily see what’s wrong, but if you have something happening that’s not visible, then it’s hard for people to understand your situation, even when they want to. Even when you explain it to them multiple times. So much fun. All the fun.

I talked about idea of energy drains last year related to chronic pain and how that affects my mental health. Today, I want to delve more the social anxiety aspect and how that affects my day-to-day life.

Getting back to the start: I have social anxiety. Every social interaction causes me stress.

Now social stress isn’t inherently bad, but if it goes too far, it’s bad. It’s like sugar. You need sugar. Too little and your body is unhappy. But too much and you get diabetes.

I have too much social stress.

If you see me interacting with people in person, I’m stressed. If you see me interacting with people online, I’m stressed. If you see me interacting with strangers, I’m stressed. If you see me interacting with family members I’ve known literally my entire life, I’m stressed.

Not all of these situations are equal. One-on-one situations aren’t as bad as groups. People I’m closer to aren’t as bad as strangers.

But they all cost me spoons. And because of my new Fitbit, I can show you what losing spoons looks like.

This is my heart rate the night we did the grad school commencement ceremony in May. Starting at 3, we had a departmental hooding event, followed by needing to go to commencement a bit early for some odds and ends because I had a dope grad student get an award, and then the commencement ceremony that evening.

All that yellow is me in the fat burn zone. Roughly, that’s where I’m at if I’m walking around on a normal day. Except I wasn’t walking around. I spent the bulk of six hours with the heart rate of someone moving around while I was mostly sitting down.

That’s not good.

I exhausted my spoons that day. But this is where it gets fun: The next day, I had to go to another commencement ceremony.

This time it was undergraduate commencement. There was a pre-graduation event for the college (where the yellow starts after nine), followed by commencement. Again, I was sitting during commencement.

Knowing I had to do commencement on back-to-back days, I was having to conserve energy because I wasn’t going to have time to replenish it.

When I run out of spoons, bad things happen.

If you look back at my last post, you’ll see the time a girl asked me if she was the reason I was in a bad mood, and I said, “I don’t know.”

I was out of spoons.

That doesn’t absolve me of being an a-hole, but it’s what happened. This girl who thought I was pretty damned charming at one point got brought to tears because I didn’t have the energy to play nice and gave an offhand reply.

You’ll get a different version of me depending on how many spoons I’ve got. There are times I can’t make myself say a word to the people around me. There are times I straight up bailed on parties. And there are also times I’ve been the downright charismatic and the center of attention.

It all depends on how many spoons I have. My peopling skills are a lot better when I’ve got all my spoons.

Problem is I can’t walk around with a sign saying how many spoons I’ve got available. But I’ve at least learned to recognize when I’m more likely to have spoons available:

  • If it’s the morning or night, not the afternoon or evening.
  • If I’m getting enough sleep consistently.
  • If I’ve got a little caffeine or alcohol in my system (and we’re not even going to go into how problematic that could be).
  • If I’ve been exercising regularly but not if I just got done exercising.
  • If there’s music playing.

And I’ve had to learn to recognize things that are going leave me with fewer spoons:

  • Traveling.
  • Meeting new people.
  • Meeting large groups of people, especially new groups.
  • If I’m upset about something.
  • If I’ve got big life events going on, even if they’re good things like a new job.

So as I’ve gotten older and more reflective, I’ve gotten better at putting myself in positions to succeed. But I haven’t been magically cured. Just because you drive a more fuel-efficient car, doesn’t mean you can’t still run out of gas.

And here’s the thing: Last few months, I was routinely running low on spoons. If I hadn’t had the past 5 years of working on this issue, I would have run out of spoons more often than I did and caused myself more problems than I could have dealt with. Stress has caused me multiple illnesses and injuries over the years.

All that said, I want to end on a good note: These are things that are still in my control, at least somewhat. Social interactions are harder for me, but they aren’t impossible. For a long time, they felt impossible. But through a combination of good and bad situations, I was forced to improve my situation.

I had friends who acted as a support system. I had access to mental health resources. And I finally took the big, scary leap to confronting these things head on.

It’s still scary and difficult at times, but I’m doing a lot better now than I was a few years ago. If nothing else, I’m a lot more aware of how to monitor myself and realize when I’m about to run out of spoons before something bad happens.

The Golden Rule is Bull

Treat others the way you want to be treated.

Seems simple and straightforward. What could be wrong with that?

Let me tell you a story:

A few years ago, I was going to dinner with friends, and the girl I was seeing was going to be meeting them for the first time. So she was nervous.

We were heading there in 5 o’clock traffic on a Friday, my back was hurting, work was stressful, etc. I was in a bad mood. A very bad mood.

As we were walking from the car to the restaurant after a very irritable drive across town, she asked me why I was in a bad mood. She then asked “Is it me?”

I said, “I don’t know.”

Some of you just gasped. How do I know? Because I’ve told that story before and people gasped.

Why on earth did I say that? 1) Because it was the truth. I honestly didn’t know why I was in a bad mood, and it might have had something to do with her. 2) If you ask me a question, I’m going to answer it honestly because that’s what I would want others to do for me. If I ask a question, I want an honest answer even if I don’t like the answer.

And this is when I learned the golden rule is bull.

I treated someone the way I wanted to be treated and it blew up in my face. Why? Because we’re wildly different people. She was looking for reassurance, especially because she was about to meet about 10-15 people she’s never met before. And then I tossed a grenade at her emotions.

A better option is to treat people the way they want to be treated. I figured this out in the coming weeks with a lot of reflection on that night. A couple of years after that, I’d learn it was called the platinum rule.

So let’s all engage in the platinum rule as much as possible. Treat others the way they want to be treated. In my case, I should have lied and just blamed it on my back, which was at least partially true. For her, she shouldn’t have asked me a question she didn’t really want the answer to.

So. Many. Stairs.

The goal of May was 10 flights of stairs per day. Workdays went great. I didn’t hit every time, but I got pretty close. When I was out of the office, not so much.

So going to the office would have been the easy answer, right? Well, yes, but I was also working on this whole work/life balance thing, so I tried to stay away from the office. I couldn’t just go for stairs. I’d inevitably try to do some work.

But it was still a good month overall. I hit my goal on 20 days. I averaged 9.35 flights of stairs per day. My median was 10 flights of stairs. I maxed at 18 (twice) and bottomed out at 0 (4 times).

And what did we learn from this month? I petered out as I went along, which is common for this kind of thing.

I also learned to pick my energy up with some walking. I’ve been largely without caffeine the past 3 weeks, so I needed non-Coke pick-me-ups. So walking outside got me some extra steps and got me an extra 4 flights of stairs.

Unfortunately, still no six-pack. I think it’s all the chicken nuggets. But that’s ok. We’re 5/12 through the Super Awesome Year of Me and trucking right along.

Reviewing the Fitbit Inspire HR

I’m ready to break another Fibit. I don’t want to, but I know I will eventually. And why? Because I’ve broken three before (and one Withings tracker too). This post will have a fair amount going on, so I’m going to make this a little easier for you to click through:

My history with fitness trackers

Why I chose the Fitbit Inspire HR

How it compares to other fitness trackers I’ve had

My history with fitness trackers

I’ve got a rich history with slacker trackers. When the Nike Fuel Band came out, it had my attention because it gave you points for being active, and I was a Nike junky. I still kind of am, but I reformed enough to know their products are not always the best, so I go with what I can afford that I like. And I didn’t buy my first fitness tracker; it was a present.

Enter the Fitbit Force. This thing was amazing. I loved it. It tracked steps, stairs, and sleep. It was comfortable to wear. It functioned as a watch. And it was a nice, gentle alarm.

And then it started giving people rashes and chemical burns.

The company did the right thing and recalled all of them with a full refund. The only problem was a replacement didn’t exist yet. So I kept mine. I loved it enough to risk a chemical burn instead of giving it back and settling for the inferior Fitbit Flex. The Flex just didn’t do enough for me to be happy.

I had it for about a year, and then I cracked the back and got my own burn. We can’t say we’re surprised by this.

So my affectionately named slacker tracker had to go bye-bye.

By this time, Fitbit had the replacement out for the Force, the Fitbit Charge, which was basically the Force with a new name. Really, there wasn’t much difference aside from the materials feeling just a little different. In the name of sleek design, some things seemed a touch flimsier/cumbersome, but it was fine. The Charge HR existed by then, but I didn’t feel like the heart rate monitor was necessary, and you had to wear the band tighter for it to work, which I wasn’t fond of (not to mention, the HR monitor was good except when you were working out, which seemed like a bit of a bummer).

So I got a Charge, I was happy, and then the button broke 3 months later. I got a replacement, and then the actual tracker started coming apart from the band a few months after that. So I quit Fitbit.

I’d researched alternatives before (when the Force was recalled and when the Force actually harmed me), but now I was moving on. Jawbone had a well-reviewed product but no watch face aspect. Garmin had some options but they just seemed too pricey (you’ll get to laugh at me soon enough). And the Apple Watch was WAY too expensive and at the time had to be charged every day.

The winner was the Withings Activité. It looked like a watch, but it would track my steps. I decided to try to treat it well and not run with it. Eventually I bought a Garmin 225 (this is where you get to laugh at me), which can basically function as a fitness tracker, but I only wanted it for running (I’ll talk more about it later, but it’s bulky as all get-out).

The Withings felt flimsy, but it did what I needed: It counted steps, tracked sleep, and functioned as an alarm clock. It just didn’t do any of those things as well as the Fitbit did, and the band felt cheap. Then the band ripped in half. The band was replaceable, but that would mean another $30 for a device I didn’t love, so I moved on to a regular watch.

The watch was great except when the battery finally gave after two and a half years, it turned out to be a weird size that I couldn’t find at Walmart. And when I went looking for a replacement watch, I couldn’t find something I liked.

If you’re noticing a trend, it’s probably that I’m really lazy and don’t like being inconvenienced. This got me back to another fitness tracker.

Why I chose the Fitbit Inspire HR

The first thing that led me back to Fitbit in general was being happy with the actual product, aside from the breaking part. I’ve had 3 years to come back down from the rage, so I thought I’d try it again.

In looking at the current line of products, the Charge HR seemed like the best bet for me initially. At this point with as my body being a jerk and being stressed, the HR monitor seemed like a good idea.

But there was a new product to consider. I thought I might look at the Fitbit Alta, but it was no longer available online; its replacement was. The Fitbit Inspire was the Alta successor, and it seemed to do what I would need, aside from one thing: counting flights of stairs. Stairs are an easy enough thing to count, though, and my phone does that also, so I opted for the Inspire HR, which was $50 cheaper than the Charge 3 HR.

The one real complaint I’d seen online was that the band wasn’t the easiest thing to use, and considering bands had been my issue on others, that left me a little worried. That said, this band is also replaceable, so if I’m not pissy like I was with the Withings, I might actually replace the band if it breaks.

Long story short, it did almost everything I wanted and it’s price point was the same as I’d get for an actual watch that doesn’t do everything the slacker tracker does.

How it compares to other fitness trackers I’ve had

So I’ve gone through my history with fitness trackers, but just to make this a little bit more thorough, I thought I’d make a full comparison of all the devices I’ve had of the years: Fitbit Force, Fitbit Charge, Withings Activité, iPhones (I’ve been through 4), Garmin 225, and Fitbit Inspire HR.

Functioning as a Daily fitness tracker

In terms of just day-to-day fitness tracker, the Fitbits have really been the best. Each iteration gets a little fancier, but they just do the trick. The Inspire HR is the only one I’ve had that doesn’t do stairs, but the heart rate component has been fantastic to have alongside it.

In terms of counting steps, the Fitbit is probably the most generous. I’ve worn the Activité and a Fitbit at the same time, and for a 10,000-step day on a Fitbit, the Withings device had me around 8,000 to 8,500. Same for the phone.

The phone is probably the most accurate step counter because I keep it in my pocket, but I don’t always have the phone on me, and it does seem to require full steps, and doesn’t pick up smaller movements. Because I’ve only used the Garmin sparingly as a fitness tracker, I don’t know how its step counter really compares. Not as sensitive as the Fitbits, though.

The Inspire HR and the Garmin also give alerts for sitting still too long. The Fitbit line tracks by hour whereas the Garmin does it by general time. In other words, you can game the Fitbit more than the Garmin as a result, which kind of defeats the point.

The Inspire HR, Garmin, and phones all have the ability to do heart rate monitoring, but only the HR does it continuously. The Garmin, outside of workout mode, only does it when you turn manually go to it, and even then, it’s a one-off reading. The phone has an app that lets you do it through the camera and flashlight, and that’s not exactly convenient.

The Fitbit is king as far as being an all-day fitness tracker.

Functioning for workouts

The Fitbits are still good in this area, but they aren’t as good as the Garmin. The Garmin has GPS, which the types of Fitbits I’ve gotten don’t do. You can sync them to your phone, but since I don’t take my phone on runs, it wouldn’t do any good (and I don’t need another company with my GPS data).

The Garmin also has the benefit of being tested against an EKG treadmill test. Like I said, stress and my body hates me. But since I had to do it, I decided to wear my new toy. The 225 stayed within a beat or two of what the EKG was tracking, so that made me comfortable with my buy.

I haven’t seen a review of the newer Fitbits, but their HR monitors have not been as accurate by comparison in the past, especially during workouts. Garmin doesn’t even keep pace with Garmin at all times. They started doing their own HR monitor after the 225, which uses MIO HR technology. I had looked at the 235, which looked nicer but was more expensive and had a less trustworthy HR system. I went with the older, bulkier model because it’s been deemed more accurate (and I have an EKG treadmill test saying the same thing now).

I didn’t run in the Withings because I didn’t trust it for that, and it didn’t seem as comfortable for that use. The phone is fine, but I don’t have an arm band, so I can’t run with it, so it’s basically out of the question now, including the Zombies, Run! app I used to use.

So on this aspect, the Fitbits are fine, but the Garmin is still my running watch for a reason.

Overall use and feel

This is where things get all over the place. We’ll ignore the phones this round.

The reason I liked the Fitbit Force initially is because it doubled as a watch. The Charge was basically the same. The Inspire HR is actually a little disappointing here. It works, but they got too cute with some things. Its default is to show you the time when you lift up your wrist, but that means it’ll light up when you don’t want it to. You can also tap it or hit the button, but navigating the touchscreen is sometimes finicky. I liked just having the one button to press with the Force and Charge. That said, Inspire HR has the same feel to it, and it’s basically fine.

The bands are where things aren’t terribly fun. Each iteration of Fitbit seems to do a slightly worse band for some reason. The Inspire HR reminds me of the Withings Activité band, which is not a good thing.

The Withings Activité was mostly good for overall use and feel, except for the band. I liked that it looked like a watch, so it was a low-key fitness tracker. You didn’t know I was wearing one like you would with the Fitbits. But the band was a pain, and you could only take a rough guess at your steps. So as a watch it was great, but that came at the expense of the fitness tracker components.

The Garmin 225 is too clunky for daily wear. If I wanted an all-day watch, the 235 seems fine, but the 225 is so bulky that I can’t properly wear long sleeves with it. Other than that, it’s pretty good.

Heart rate monitors cause some issues here. Because they generally use a light-based system, they have to be tight enough to not allow in outside light. Tight is not fun. This is partially why I didn’t do the Charge HR a few years ago. That said, the Inspire HR hasn’t been that bad. It looks like they’ve designed it so it can be comfortable but still block light. The Charge recommends being worn on a weird spot and fairly tight for proper HR results.

So Fitbits win in this area, but the Force and Charge were better than the Inspire HR.

The little extras

This is where things get fun.

The main one is sleep tracking. They all do sleep tracking, and only the Fitbits seem to do it well.

The Force and Charge allowed you to manually set when you were going to sleep, which I loved, but they could also detect it automatically. If something was off, you could also adjust the time window in the app, which would then use the data it had to still assess quality of sleep. The Inspire HR only seems to do the automatic version, but it does a more nuanced version of sleep analysis than the Force and Charge did. It’s going to be downhill for the other brands.

The Withings Activité didn’t have any buttons, so of course it had to be an automatic process. It was fine, but it didn’t seem to be as accurate as the Fitbit line was. It also wasn’t as comfortable to wear to sleep because it was more like a regular watch, so its body was less comfortable. You also couldn’t check the time at night like you could with the Fitbits, unless the hands glowed in the dark and I don’t remember it.

The Garmin will also track sleep, but I’ve never worn it to sleep because it’s so big.

And the worst of them all: The iPhones. When I stopped using fitness trackers, I liked when Apple added the Bedtime function, but it does a miserable job of tracking sleep. You set when you’re going to sleep, but if you check your phone in the middle of the night, it then uses that as when you went to sleep, which meant I had bad data. And I only had bad data for weeknights. If you don’t set the alarm, it doesn’t track sleep at all. I actively despise Apple’s sleep tracking on the phone.

Related to sleep is the alarm function. I forgot about the nudging awake the Fitbits would do. I hate alarm clocks and being jolted awake, so having something gently nudging me was fantastic. The Withings was ok, but without the button, it was hard to tell it I was awake. The phones got better with the Bedtime function because you could pick sounds that would slowly escalate. I use bird song. The only downside is when real birds are outside my window, I think it’s my alarm.

Inspire HR also throws in some specialized exercise tracking and breathing exercises. These seems less useful than they are gimmicky, but I’m sure some people find them handy.

Fitbits win this are EASILY. It’s too early to see if the extra Inspire HR gimmicks make it better than the other Fitbits, but it’s certainly better than any other brand’s product that I’ve used.

Overall thoughts

I keep returning to Fitbit for a reason. Between data provided and what it’s like to use, they win handily for the products I’ve used. The Withings was fine as long as you didn’t want it to do too much. The Garmin was just too clunky to be useful as a daily product. And the phones just didn’t do anything very well.

We’ll see how long it takes me to destroy the Inspire HR, but a few days in, and I’m doing ok.

Work/Life Balance & Avoiding Burnout

In academia, there’s the old adage “publish or perish.” That more specifically means “publish in a peer-reviewed journal or perish.” Some things, though, don’t really have a good place in peer-reviewed journals.

The goal is to make sure conference presentations can become full-blown papers, but my favorite presentations don’t always lend themselves to true papers. And this is the second in that series: Work/Life Balance & Avoiding Burnout.

So why do we care about burnout? It’s everywhere. You can find the Buzzfeed article from the beginning of the year talking about Millennial burnout (and the internet is teeming with more). And as with all things generational, you can find articles that get competitive about Millennials not having a monopoly on burnout.

As someone working in higher education, we see burnout everywhere. A common thread is faculty members suffering from burnout, but our students, especially grad students, are suffering from burnout too.

And why do I care about burnout? Because I’ve been on the wrong end of it a few times. The first time was high school after trying to do every sport and extra curricular I could. Doing the whole grad school/faculty thing created a perfect breeding ground for burnout when I wasn’t being careful.

So I’m making the case for being selfish. You need to take care of yourself otherwise you can’t take care of others.

But how do we avoid burnout? First, we have to acknowledge the traps.

The Traps

We get rewarded for unhealthy behavior

No one’s given a raise for using their vacation days. No one gets the promotion because their family life is going well. But we’ve all seen people be successful who were putting in extra hours, not taking sick days, etc.

It’s easy to see someone engaging in unhealthy behavior but being successful and think you should emulate it. But we don’t always see the cost. Those extra hours are paid for one way or another.

Well-intentioned advice

People love to give advice. Stand still long enough around me, and I’ll try to be your life coach.

But well-intentioned advice isn’t always helpful advice. In academia, you’ll find gobs and gobs of advice on how to navigate tenure, and you can’t possibly do all the things people say (and that doesn’t even get to conflicting pieces of advice).

I’m not saying ignore advice, but I am saying it’s not gospel. Ultimately, you make your own choices. If you get fired, the people giving you advice don’t usually get fired with you. They’re involved in your career, but you’re committed.

I have to do this for a raise/promotion/tenure

If the only reason you’re doing something is to get to that next step, then you’re doing it for the wrong reason. If you aren’t doing it because you believe it’s a part of your job, something you need to be doing, etc., then why are you doing it?

Odds are you have enough to do for your job without throwing in extra things that aren’t your job.

I will acknowledge my privilege here. If I get fired, I’ll be able to get a job in my field, and I’m ok enough in savings that I could get by for a while without a paycheck. Basically, I know there are people who losing their job means more than it does for me, so you do you.

I’ll have more time after _________

No you won’t. You won’t have more time after you get your promotion. You won’t have more time after the project finishes.

What you’ll do instead is take on something else. Doing too many things is addictive, so when one thing ends, you’ll think you’re supposed to be that busy after a while.

It’s a pie-eating contest where the prize is more pie.

People who take time without giving back

People matter, and we all know the wrong people. Those people who will ask things of you without being there for you in return.

Think of the buddy you helped move, but they were always too busy to help you move. They told you who they were. It’s time to find a new buddy.

Same for work. The right team is amazing, but the wrong team is worse than doing your work alone. Stay away from takers.

“In my day, we walked to school uphill in the snow both ways”

There’s a tendency for senior folks to remind junior folks how much worse it was back in there day, whether it was actually worse or not.

Be careful when you hear it and be damned careful about doing it yourself. Just because something used to done, doesn’t mean it was right.

So like smoking and riding without a seatbelt, there are some things we’re better off letting go away.

Action Items

But it’s not enough to know where the traps are. You also have to figure out steps you can take. These are some of the things I do, and I hope they help you out.

Naps

I’m a big fan of naps. I’ve napped in pretty much every office I’ve worked in, which includes 4 shared offices. I’ve napped on a concrete slab the summer I was building earth bricks. I’ve napped in a dorm laundry room.

I. Like. Naps.

They help me feel refreshed without the physical and financial costs of Cokes, and lying down helps my back stretch out after a few hours of sitting in a chair.

When I don’t let myself nap, I pay for it sooner than later.

Build balance into your schedule

If you don’t make time for the things that give you balance, they won’t happen. I’m lucky that my job gives me flexible hours and gym access. But I still have to make time. That means it’s on my calendar.

I also police my calendar to make sure I have time for lunch. I’ve seen way too many people skipping meals and acting like it’s a normal thing to do. Food is literally one of the foundational pieces of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Come to think of it, so’s rest. Naps just got another boost.

Using my calendar more purposefully has gone a long way to keeping me productive without blowing a fuse.

Find people to call BS

You need people to call you out on your crap. Someone who doesn’t benefit from you engaging in unhealthy behavior. I hope your boss will do that, but that’s not always the case. So find a mentor. Find a friend. Find a stranger on the street. Whatever it takes but don’t do this alone. They can’t make choices for you, but they can at least point out things you’re not seeing.

And you need people to call BS when you’re not being treated the way you should. Remember that friend in a dysfunctional relationship who thought it was normal to have screaming matches with their SO? There are some people who don’t realize when their work environments are toxic. And it could be you. Helps to have someone around to tell you the emperor’s not wearing any clothes.

Find your people

This is related to the last one, but not all of your people will call BS. Sometimes you need a cheerleader. Sometimes you need someone to grab a beer with and talk about something other than work. But you need a network.

Humans are social creatures. I hate people, and I still have friends. You need them too. Social isolation can kill you, literally.

Accept that you have to give some things up

This is the hard one, especially for competitive people.

If you want to be a well-balanced person, that means you can’t obsess over any one thing, much less all the things. It’s hard to look at someone who’s really successful and not realize they’re giving up something else in the process. I don’t know anyone who gets to have it all. And that’s ok. If you can figure out how to be ok with not being the best at everything, you might just get to be the best human you can be.

Build boundaries

This can mean a lot of things. Maybe it’s making sure your office doesn’t have a revolving door. Maybe it’s not checking email outside of work. And maybe it’s having a no work conversation rule when you’re with friends.

It’s not easy to do this, but sometimes you have to tweak people’s feelings in the short-term so you can be effective for the long-term.

I teach about 60 students a semester (and there are folks who teach a whole lot more). If I let them pop in whenever they wanted, I wouldn’t be able to get anything done. They’d be happier with me, but then I’d get fired for not doing all of the non-teaching parts of my job.

Protect your time

Building balance into your schedule is great, but it’s useless if you don’t protect that time.

So if you know you need a certain amount of time a week to think/ponder/write/etc., then put it on your schedule and don’t let people take it away.

I try to funnel all my meetings to certain days and times. It doesn’t always happen, but if I don’t protect my time to write/think, no one else will.

Cultivate hobbies

I play guitar and ukulele. I read books. I work out. I do crossword puzzles. I have things that aren’t my career that allow me to improve.

And for me, this matters. Whether I’m improving my body or my mind, I’m getting better at something, and I think that helps me in my life and my career. And if nothing else, it allows me to not think about work for a while. None of those hobbies lend themselves to idly thinking about the presentation I’m going to give next week. I have to fully engage, which means I can’t obsess over work issues.

Final Thoughts

Balance is your version of balance. What works for you won’t work for other people, and vice versa.

There’s a difference between good and bad competitiveness. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to do well, but if you look at other people’s successes as an indictment of yourself, you’re never going to win.

No one will protect your time for you. Even people who want the best for you aren’t going to be able to protect your time. If you don’t take steps to put balance into your life, no one else will either.

You are replaceable. This might seem depressing, but for me it’s freeing. If I get hit by a bus, someone else will do my job. So if I’m replaceable, so is my job. Work isn’t personal. It’s something that I do, but it’s not who I am.