Lessons learned – 4 weeks away from Academia

So, I did it. I was away. I was out. I packed my stuff and took a plane to Mexico and stayed there for 22 days. Not just like that, it was actually a vacation with my husband (okay, honeymoon, but people are always so weird, they are all so excited about this word…).  I was on vacation. I had a lot of leave days still hanging around and with a soon-ending contract at Bamberg University (by the end of March) altogether with a lot of options and job offers and invitations to job talks, constant overworking, sleep deprivation, isolation and health issues (I was basically ill every second week from November to the middle of January) – do I have to say more? I needed a break.

I was done. I had no perspectives… or, in fact, too many to think about because I really worked very hard for that – always be proud of your success, dear readers, but it can be frightening as hell. I thought about this post a lot and I have now finished it. Took me a couple of weeks to sort everything out.
So here are the lessons learned from staying away from Academia for four straight weeks.

Lesson Nr. 1: People will be shocked
I told most of my colleagues, my supervisors, my peers, people I owe manuscripts, people I owe grading and other administrative stuff about my vacation. Including the phrase: You know, this is another continent, I will have no phone service (which actually was the case most days while driving through Quintana Roo and Yucatàn) and no laptop with me, the WiFi might be bad or not existent – do not try to call or message me. I won’t answer. I need a break, I will be away. In any urgent cases, please, ask the student assistants or our secretary.
Most of them just answered me that I looked a lot like needing this time off, wished me well and off they went. Some, however, did not. They were shocked. A MONTH AWAY?! Well, 22 days, when counting the weekend, yes, 24 days. Nearly 4 weeks. How could I? Who does that? A POSTDOC?
I actually got asked that – how luxurious my postdoc life must be that I had that huge amount of time. When I answered that this would be an experience once in a lifetime – I mean, I intend to stay together with my love forever – and that I would not do this every other year, they were still shocked and speechless.

Lesson Nr. 2: People will not believe you saying you won’t look at your mails
This lesson evolves directly from Lesson Nr. 1. Same shocked people would actually not believe me when I said that I would not check my emails.
I had about 15 messages in my inbox with requests that I could pretty please do occasionally while on vacation. Even with a deadline. And then, with the days going by, the messengers got nervous, one even wrote that obviously, I had been serious about not reading my emails and not answering, so he tried to call me in the mornings, but nothing happened. This is funny because if you call me in the morning in Germany, my phone will ring in the middle of the night in Mexico. If I had phone service, that is. Which was definitely not the case and I switched off any messages about missed calls. I did this because I told everybody whom it might have concerned that I could not be reached.

Lesson Nr. 3: Academia will be there when you come back
I am back again and everything is really just in the same place I left it. I had a full inbox, so what. I worked through it in about 8 hours, split into 2 working days, mostly during my jetlag phases when I was struggling against sleep. I filtered out the important messages and answered them when I was in a good mood and wide awake. Also, I let my note of absence say one day longer than my actual vacation, so people will not wait too long for me to answer their emails.
I thought sometimes during my time in Mexico that I would miss a lot, that work would overflow me when coming back – definitely the fear of missing out paired with anxiousness about not knowing what will await me. But here I am and nothing was too bad, too scary or too chaotic to manage. I am giving myself time – at least, I try. I came back on February, 25th and had a deadline on March, 1st. 3 days of working like a mad(wo)man, but okay. I have my power restored. I knew this was coming, at least. 😉 And I was prepared for that.

Lesson Nr. 4: In times near a mental health breakdown – sit on the beach, stare at the waves, count flying pelicans (or: just get out, far away and be with your own soul to calm down)
It took me 3 weeks to get back on track. One week I spent in total excitement, not knowing what to do with myself, all the impressions, the room to think, the room to talk with someone I love about my future and my options and all the big scary decisions (writing a second book aka habilitation, putting myself out there for being a professor or else, writing brilliant articles, teaching good classes etc.). In week 2 I suddenly got hit by calmness. Okay, maybe the excellent (and authentic) Mexican food and being in a wonderful nature reserve helped a lot with that.
In week 3 I suddenly worked out a plan for what I wanted to do – when I grew up. 😛 Academia-like growing up.
I will write that second book. Now that I believe in it. Well, actually, now that I believe in myself again. I want a creative balance in my work, so I enrolled in a photo design class. I want to push my DH knowledge (ask Sarah, she is delighted and so proud of her positive influence on me :)), so I enrolled on some DH workshops in the next weeks. The best thing is that all my classes and workshops are online, some of them totally on a remote basis, so I can fit them easily into my schedule. And I started to work out again. Healthy body, healthy mind.

Lesson Nr. 5: Time away helps reset your priorities and your view on your own life
I give the speed and the pace. Of course, there are deadlines and I was overwhelmed by them. But now, they are just a long road and I will take one step at a time. Even small progress is worth a lot. The secret is consistency, I guess. But to embrace this you have to reset your priorities. And resetting them can be done while being away from stuff that frightens or overwhelms you. Not that easy to do this every time, but I need to be more careful about myself. I got stuck in an endless spiral, dragging me down and pushing all the vital energy for the rough sea in Academia out of my mind. I could not get out of a cage of negative thoughts and fears about my future. I am still a little bit frightened, but no one can do my life better than I myself. And my life needs to make sense only to me. I am sick and tired of the “This or That”-mentality out there, meaning how an Academic should be, how they should work on their career, what they should not do etc. I will keep my hobbies and I will have time for doing them – and basically, no one needs to know about what I am doing in my free time. I am working on a 35h contract the next month, but even if it is a 20h or 40h contract… Just do a little math on how much time I have for myself, sleeping, relaxing, learning, working out, reading, etc. You see what I mean, right?

New me after a vacation?
Nope, still the same. Only well-rested. 🙂 I learned once again how vitally important breaks are. And I am confused about how I could forget about that and be so unkind to my mind and my body. Well, we all fail sometimes, right? But I have learned my lessons and I will try to not forget all these things.

Have you experienced something similar? What helps you best when overwhelmed and confused? Write to us, and tell us your story in the comments!
If you are currently struggling, we see you! <3 We believe in you!




OpenEdition suggests that you cite this post as follows:
Astrid Schmölzer (April 17, 2023). Lessons learned – 4 weeks away from Academia. Epigrammetry. Retrieved July 17, 2024 from https://doi.org/10.58079/og89

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