The #kindnessbombs Movement

I decided recently to start approaching my life by giving back to others…

…and I CAN. NOT. STOP.

It started on my birthday. Now folks may have seen my post on giving people fun things via YouTube (if you don’t what WTF I’m talking about, feel free to check it out here, and if you are still waiting on something I will get to it soon I promise!) but it didn’t end there.

I didn’t post my first act of kindness on social media because I didn’t want to be showboaty about doing nice things, but I did tell some colleagues in person soon afterward and it looks like I was slightly “outed” on Facebook:

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No worries Lindsay, I’m not mad (hehe), but I think this opened something up that I want to explain.

On my birthday, I had a quick lunch at a restaurant by VCU before having to go to the meeting where my colleague Lindsay was present. Because it wasn’t very busy for lunch (things pick up at happy hour and dinnertime), I decided to pay it forward and pay for everyone’s lunch who was present. The server was shocked, and asked if he could let everyone know. I said yes. When the people sitting with me at the bar area asked why (“We should be buying you something, it’s your birthday!”), I told them that when I was having dinner with friends last year a random stranger paid for our dinner – he said it was his birthday, and that every year he pays it forward. And that I liked that idea.

So, it appears Lindsay has done as such, and as you see in my Facebook comment I said “Let’s start a movement!”

Well, after today I think I have an idea of what this movement could be.

In a similar anecdote of random kindness, my friend Bonnie bought someone a cup of coffee who looked like he needed it:

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Again, I was humbled and inspired.

Fast forward to later this afternoon. I went to get my eyebrows waxed and there was a homeless woman right outside the door. She asked for money and I asked her if she needed something to eat, and she said she’d like a cup of coffee. I told her I’d get her something after I’m done at the salon.

While getting my eyebrows did, I had an idea. After I paid for the service, I flagged the woman down and gave her the Starbucks gift card that my sister gave me for my birthday last week (sorry Atey, but I feel like you would approve!). I told her that there should be about $20 on that gift card and that she could get coffee and some food too, if she’d like. She asked me if the card was for a particular Starbucks and I told her she can go to any one she wanted – she then broke out into a huge smile and said thank you.

It was in this moment where I came up with the idea for a movement.

I am calling it #kindnessbombs.

And I am calling them this for two major reasons:

  1. Bombs can drop on us unexpectedly. As evidenced by my friend’s experiences and the two I shared on this post, sometimes opportunities come up unexpectedly where you can drop a little kindness and it can completely transform someone’s day. It is a matter of being aware of those opportunities, and also realizing that it doesn’t take much to drop a little kindness on someone’s life.
  2. We are inundated with messages of hate and fear and to be quite frank I am sick and tired of it. I have decided that I am RE APPROPRIATING the negativity that comes with bombs, and turning it on his head – instead of the fear mongering and hatred associated with dropping bombs, let’s show the world that LOVE > FEAR with our kindness bombs. Always.

So what do you think – is this worth a go? Do you think we can drop some #kindnessbombs this week, this month, this year, this century? Can we work together to create a movement that focuses on kindness instead of opposition or worse – indifference?

I don’t know about y’all, but I’m ready.

So let’s do this.

My 30th Birthday Gifts To You

It is now 12:30 a.m. on March 16th.

30 years ago I was born at Albert Einstein Medical Center in Philly.

Today is my birthday.

I’ve decided to do something a little different today. After watching the movie Happy (which was recommended to me by one of my students, thanks John!), I realized that it is in the act of giving that we derive much happiness. So, in the spirit of today, I decided to do some giving of my own on a more interesting scale:

 

For those of you who weren’t able to follow my verbage, the first 30 people who reach out to me (via email, text message, FB message, tweet, commenting here, etc.) will be given a YouTube video gift from me in the format of their choice. Those of you who know me well know that I love to sing, but I am also open to reading your favorite poem, acting out your favorite scene from a play or a movie, writing a spoken word on your favorite topic – your choice! I can’t guarantee that I can get them all done in the most timely fashion (especially while wedding planning, whoops haha) but it will get done I promise!

The final products will all be compiled here. I will make sure to let y’all know via social media when things get uploaded, and we’ll see how this goes!

Yay birthday! 🙂

 

Hiding Behind the Rockstar Glasses: Confessions of an Overwhelmed, Overachieving Academic

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Hello everyone. My name is Rowena. I am a junior faculty member. And I am a non-stop workaholic. And an achievement whore. And a people pleaser.

…what happens when you come across a non-stop working, people pleasing, achievement whore, you may ask? Well, let me tell you…

You end up with an overwhelmed, over committed, anxiety-and-depression-driven young academic who is getting BURNT OUT to the max.

No, I am not writing this to evoke sympathy. I am writing this to shed light on an issue that based on many informal conversations with colleagues and friends, seems to be taking hold of so many bright, motivated, capable academics, which to me may lead to folks not reaching their full potential. And that’s just plain sad.

With that said, I can’t speak for those colleagues and friends. You will need to ask them for their stories. Here, I finally found the time (and the courage, to be perfectly honest) to share mine. So here goes:

I have had the basic gist of this blog post in the back of my mind for months now, and it remained there until winter break, when I finally had enough time and energy to write what has been on my mind and heart for a while. The bottom line is this: the fact that I couldn’t carve an hour of my day to write this post is nobody’s fault but my own. Again, I am not here to make a sob story out of my extremely busy life, which in 9 times out of 10, is a very fun, exciting life.

No, the goal of this post is to share how I’ve felt and what I’ve learned/am learning about stress management and balancing it all within the confines of the academy, and to “come out of the closet” by explicitly stating that it has truly been a struggle.

That last point is actually what inspired the title of this post. When you graduate from a top Research 1 institution having folks tell you that you’re a “very strong job candidate,” followed by several years at your new job with everyone telling you that “you’re a rockstar, you’re going to get tenure, how do you do it all, etc. etc.” – can I just be vulnerable and frank for a second and say that there have been times when the pressure can be super overwhelming, and the expectation to be amazing all the time can be exhausting in and of itself? Throw in the fact that you’re generally a very extroverted, happy, fun person with a touch of perfectionism and the anxiety associated with being “on” at all times is even greater.

This all reminds me of when I watched the Chris Farley documentary over the summer. Here is a comedian who is loved by so many people, who made so many folks laugh with his work…however deep inside he was so self-deprecating, so lonely and sad, and was so damn hard on himself. Now I don’t do comedy (though folks have encouraged me to consider it, why I don’t know?), but in many ways what I do at work can be seen as a performance: I have to win over my students every semester, produce kick-ass research, and be a team player (hmm, like The Second City?) through service obligations. And like Farley, there have definitely been moments where I am downright not kind to myself – I get upset that I didn’t say something correctly at a meeting, my teaching didn’t go as well as planned, the part of the manuscript I wrote for my research team reads like shit, the list unfortunately can go on and on.

But here’s the catch: when you’re trying your best to parade around campus like a rockstar, when you are trying to perform like Farley did, how can you tell folks that you are in fact, really struggling, and admit to yourself that you can’t do it all, and that you need to either step away, push back, or get help?

It’s taken me a lot of self-reflection (and a ton of therapy too, I’ll admit) but here is what I’ve gathered and can share:

  1. Be transparent. I don’t know if it was a power dynamic thing, but I came to the realization that I had been more honest with my students than my colleagues when it came to my stress. When I finally “came clean” to some of my co-workers, many of them said, “Oh, I didn’t realize you were struggling, you always seemed so put together at work.” Lesson learned folks: you don’t need to look a hot mess at the workplace, but perhaps being transparent to those you trust at work can help you find the support you need to get through the day. Which brings me to #2…
  2. Find the type of social support you need. For me, I have folks at work who serve as mentors, sounding boards, mental health checkers, accountability buddies, listeners…[insert supportive role here]. And then of course, I have folks outside of work who serve the important purpose of listening to me if I need to vent about work (but who aren’t completely in the context), as well as take my mind off of work if I need to relax. I must say that my fiance does a *fantastic* job of doing this, which is one of the many reasons why I am marrying him. So find those folks, and never let them go. 🙂
  3. Learn how to say no. Yes, I understand, this is very difficult to do as an untenured, junior faculty member, but as a mentor once told me, you have to set boundaries for yourself because no one else will. Trust me, I had to learn things the hard way (namely in the form of kidney stones the summer after my second year as a faculty member) – it’s #NOTWORTHIT. As my therapist once asked me, “What’s the worst that will happen if X doesn’t get done?” This makes you wonder. Will your whole department/university crumble upon itself if you say no/ask to extend the deadline/graciously give the task to someone else? No? Then don’t feel bad about passing an opportunity to make more space for the things you actually want to do. Thus, in a related vein…
  4. Learn when to say yes. One of my wonderful colleagues Scott Sherman put it this way – when it comes to agreeing to take on tasks, ask yourself: (1) Will this be helpful for tenure purposes? If not, then (2) Is this something I’m personally super passionate about? If not, then (3) Am I going to get paid big bucks to do this? Also folks, remember that saying “Let me think about it” is a perfectly acceptable response. I know that if you are a people pleaser with social anxiety like me this may come off to you as not being a team player (or worse, you may think you’re being an asshole), but #letsbehonest to ourselves with some positive self talk. Remember: saying you’re “thinking about it” means you are being realistic and thoughtful about what you have on your plate, which is much more appreciated in the end than a half-assed product.
  5. Lastly, continue to do things outside of work that make you happy, and STAHP feeling so damn guilty about it. I am scolding myself just as much as I am scolding everyone else. Case in point: I love to dance. I used to go to salsa on the regular, take kizomba classes, and attend dance socials. At the beginning of the academic year I was dancing 2-3 times a week. Then what happened? The mid-semester beast engulfed me yet once again and instead I found myself going home every night, exhausted and feeling depressed (probably because I wasn’t dancing as much but I was too damn tired, perpetuating an awful cycle that was too difficult to break) and I found myself feeling overwhelmed and unhappy. To that I say #nothankyou – let’s break this nasty cycle! Find/embrace your most beloved hobby and run/dance/draw/sing/read/yoga away with it! I’m going to try harder in 2016 for sure, so keep me accountable. 😉

Those of you who know me know that I am a very giving person by nature (much to my detriment at times, but let’s leave that for another blog post haha) – for me, this post not only serves as my outlet/therapy, but it is my commitment to not go down this path of burn out and isolation, but to crawl out of the hole, come out of the closet, and pay it forward to future junior faculty out there by serving as a role model. A model of a faculty member who is definitely human and in no way perfect, but who strives every single day to do what is best for her body, soul, and mind first and foremost, and to do everything in her power to do her job as best as she can in a way that can help as many people as possible.

For me, I’ve decided that I’m choosing people over publications, I’m choosing relationships over results. Maybe it’s stupid. Maybe it’s unwise. Who knows, maybe it will eventually kill my chances of tenure. But for me, it’s the choice that makes sense. For me, it’s the choice that makes me feel happy and fulfilled. And at the end of the day, when I am looking back at my life, I’m the only person I need to please in the long run so that’s what I’ve ultimately decided I’m going with.