When a good friend of mine invited me to take part in Run in the Dark Manchester 10k run, I initially through “No way!”. The thought of running outdoors, in the dark, in the middle of November was not appealing. All sorts of excuses immediately surfaced:
“It’s in the middle of the semester! There’s no way I’ll have the time to do this!”
“I’ll have so much to do the next day.”
“We’ll be running outdoors in November. In Manchester. Seriously?!”
What’s funny was that these thoughts came to me in early August, when I was initially invited. Looking back, I find it’s was a ridiculous way of thinking! Expecting to be so busy that I wouldn’t be able to do anything else but work?! The semester was several weeks away and I was already stressing myself out.
In academia it is so easy to get into this mindset of “busyness”, having so much to do that participating in anything else seems like just another thing to add on the “to do list”. As a PhD student I cultivated this mindset for years, feeling guilty that I wasn’t working in the evenings, and believing that it was normal to work every weekend. What’s worse, I began to think that if I wasn’t working everyday then I must be lazy. A bad student. A terrible academic. Academics work all the time, so I should be working too. Right?
I’ve come to realise that this was not the way I wanted to live my life. If you asked me what I’ve done these past four years, the first thought that comes to mind is “work”. I’ve obviously done other things other than work, but I found it hard to separate work from activities / events that I’ve done. Everything became something that I “had to do” and this mindset was just wrong. I feel like I’ve missed out on truly enjoying the moment because I was preoccupied with feeling guilty/annoyed/anxious for not working.
It’s tiring to feel that your whole life has been consumed by work, and since I’ve submitted my thesis, I’ve begun to address my attitude towards work. There’s all this talk of a “work / life” balance in academia, but there is very little effort in the industry to develop this notion into reality. I suppose it’s up to individuals to find this kind of balance, and for the sake of my own mental health, I’ve begun the process of addressing this mindset. One way was to say yes to invitations to events that seem inconvenient, then actually go out and really enjoy the moment.
And so I ran with my friends under a beautiful clear evening sky, and, for the first time in a long while, I didn’t feel guilty.