How do I tell you about rest without telling you about academic workaholism?

I have finally made my way to the beach. I’m mesmerised by the reflection of the sunlight on the water, and have no idea where time went today. I hope that my colleagues will eventually – when I’m back at work with a sunburn – understand that this out-of-the-blue vacation during Greek Orthodox Easter is special to me (even though, for me, this vacation has nothing to do with religious celebrations). 

I can hear my emails arriving non-stop, and I take solace in my out-of-office automatic reply. Still, I feel the urge to take a sneak peek at my inbox here and there, to make sure that I didn’t forget to submit a grade, I didn’t miss an important deadline, or there isn’t a crisis that needs my attention. I’m tempted to respond quickly to a couple of emails, only to avoid the mounting anxiety of the pile that will no doubt be waiting for me upon my return to work. I resist. 

I wonder if I’m identifying with my work to such a degree that I cannot disconnect completely. As I look out into the sea, I decide that I cannot handle an identity crisis at this point in my life, so I let the thought slip away quickly.

There’s nothing admirable about working non-stop, about bragging about how busy we are while over-publishing at the same time

My eye catches a couple of reminders for ‘urgent’ tasks. The nagging thought that one of them might be really urgent makes me forget the sea momentarily, and I find myself scrolling through them quickly. I’m relieved when I can finally assure myself that none of them seems as urgent right now as my swim. 

It has taken me four days to get to this state of mind. I take pride in the fact that it has only taken me four days and not my entire vacation. It feels good not to be in a single meeting for a week, to slow down, to run longer distances, to sleep in, to watch bad TV, to start mixing up the days and to just ‘waste’ time. I realise that this makes me less competitive and less successful by neoliberal academic standards. But I hope that, despite this purported failure, there’s something important in modelling rest and self-care for my junior colleagues and students. 

Academia might never stop being a place where making free time feels like an attempt to redefine the holy grail, but academics need to stop taking pride in their workaholism. There’s nothing admirable about working non-stop, about bragging about how busy we are while over-publishing at the same time, and about not proactively defending a better work-life balance.  

Full disclosure: I didn’t write this while on the beach, and really hope that nobody is reading it while on vacation.

LUCY AVRAAMIDOU

Engels

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