By BRiDGE Committee Member Eleni A. Kapoulea
We are often sent the message that work-life balance is a juggling act. However, in Dr. Sa-Kiera Hudson’s BRiDGE2Impacts talk, Balancing Work and Life in Spaces Not Built For You, she recommends us to instead view work-life balance as cooking – a process in which all the ingredients of our life are mixed when and as appropriate – as opposed to continuously being thrown up in the air for us to catch. As she extends this cooking metaphor, Dr. Hudson provides insight on how to approach your career and personal goals, imposter syndrome, and finding (or making) your own space.
- Work-Life Balance as Cooking
As any chef knows, cooking requires you to maintain focus. However, you can cook your meal in separate steps, including prepping your ingredients the night before the big day. You can also set a timer and forget about your meal while it’s cooking. This is all to say that if you were to take a snapshot of your stove as you prepare your meal, none of your dishes will get equal amounts of your attention all of the time. Thus, unlike the metaphor of juggling all your tasks – which suggests that all of your balls require your equal attention continuously – you can “cook” your tasks in a series of steps that may or may not require all of your attention, making for a more digestible approach to work-life balance.
- Cooking Meals – Like Research – is a Communal Act
To this end, Dr. Hudson asks academics to consider: (1) What kind of cook do I want to be? (2) What will be my specialty (both in my academic and personal life)? In other words, it can be helpful to ask yourself: (1) Why am I an academic? (2) What are my goals beyond graduating and/or getting tenure? To answer these questions, one would need to engage in adequate self-reflection to find their mission – the intrinsic values underlying their pursuit of academia in the first place. When one determines their mission, they can start asking themselves, “What are the dishes only I can make? If I were to bring a dish to a potluck or a social gathering, what is my unique contribution?”
- Cooking Requires Practice and New Techniques
The beauty of cooking is that if you were to make a mistake or ruin a recipe, you can always start fresh the next day. You are constantly creating. Work-life balance is the same in that you are constantly creating balance; it is a constant process. Further, practice allows you to judge what does and doesn’t require your attention. When one starts cooking, they might be hovering over the recipe book, anxiously anticipating the next step. However, with time and experience, less time needs to be spent on the minute details.
- Dishes don’t become “unsalvageable” immediately
Whereas the juggling metaphor implies that once you drop a ball all balance is lost, the cooking metaphor reminds us that even when we add an extra, unwanted ingredient or boil the water for too long, the dish can still be recovered and served. We may go down one path initially when writing our introduction to a paper and find a better path down the line, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that our paper should be scrapped entirely – just reworked. Further, food can be tasty and yet ugly to plate. Our work may not be our “best” work, but it may still serve its purpose in the time being. Maybe your master’s thesis or dissertation isn’t the most aesthetically pleasing or includes all the ingredients you would like it to, but when you serve it to your committee it tastes great all the same.
- Overcome What Stands in the Way of Us Creating Michelin Star Food
While trying to “cook” their work, it can be helpful for academics to understand and address what prevents us from creating all of our best dishes. Dr. Hudson highlighted the three most prevalent issues preventing us from making our Michelin Star meal as: (1) imposter syndrome, (2) self-doubt, and (3) lack of community.
There are two types of imposter syndrome. The first one is when one feels that they are wearing a mask and they will soon be found out that they are the imposter who doesn’t fit into an academic space. The second type of imposter syndrome is when one doesn’t feel like they fit in given their research interests and one may start wondering if they belong to a different label other than ‘academic.’ Ultimately, you can start feeling like you’re a yellow umbrella in a sea of black umbrellas. For example, Dr. Hudson was interested in studying intersectionality whereas others in her department did not share the same interests. This made Dr. Hudson wonder if she would reach her goals more effectively in a different role (e.g., as a lawyer or as a community activist) rather than a social psychologist. This may be the type of imposter syndrome that minoritized individuals experience due in part to a lack of spaces not being available to them.
Academics can conquer self-doubt with rational self-talk or the rational clap back. For example, instead of saying, “My ideas are terrible and I’m a terrible writer,” we can respond to ourselves with, “Clearly, you can write enough to get this paper published and/or this grant funded. There must be something else going on!” If you’re having difficulty coming up with clap backs, it’s important to draw upon others that you trust to help you conquer your self-doubt.
As noted previously, academia is always communal. By finding our people, we can find the space to share our ideas and to receive support from others. Find your own hype-person to support you when self-doubt and imposter syndrome are taking up space in your mind. Many scholars of color have difficulty finding their community and have to create it for themselves to find a home for them and their research. Finding one’s space may require you to search outside of your lab and even outside of your own department. However, by finding your space and community, you can nurture yourself so that you have the energy to finish your meal and fight for your goals.