Discover more from Cristina Lozano
Ditch the idea of asking for help as "bothering people"
Sharing your plans turbocharges your motivation and brings new opportunities
Photo credit: Cristina Lozano.
Choose one: invest $5000 in yourself or in your work. What would you do? I was faced with this question at the end of 2021. Did I want to use the COVID-relief funds from my college to participate in a coaching program for faculty or to pay for my research? I had a couple of voices inside me going in opposite directions. The first one was my former advisor’s voice: “take the research money, it’s a no-brainer. Research is what’s going to give you tenure.” Deep in me, the second voice was somewhat shy, “but this could be just nice to have”. My collabofriend Abril, who’s also on a tenure track position, completed the program last summer and enjoyed the support: “they don’t reveal any earth-shattering secrets, but it’s nice to have the support of a group of people who want you to do well.”
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I’m used to functioning with minimum resources. A few years ago, I was one of the three assistants in a study abroad program with 40 college students. I kept wondering, do we really need three assistants? One would be probably enough, maybe two, but three? I shared this thought while taking a walk with a non-academic friend who enjoys hearing about academic drama, and he made me stop: “Cristina, I don’t agree. We’re always barely getting there. Sometimes it’s just nice to have enough resources and be comfortable.” Indeed, I very much enjoyed being one of the assistants in that program. We could rest and have peace of mind when two students needed to go to the hospital, there were enough hands to take care of them.
You probably guessed by now that I chose the coaching program. As I’m writing this post, it sounds calculated, like I knew what I was doing. But I just followed my gut instinct, “this could be nice”. I’ve completed the program and, Abril was right, it's not rocket science. People into productivity hacks and stuff like that (you know, those weirdos 😬), have already read about all the concepts covered in the program. It’s no different from having a personal trainer. You could easily find everything online and do the exercises on your own. The trainer is an accountability partner who pushes you to keep going. In this program, I had a coach and three peers. We had to write for at least 30 min every weekday, we were encouraged to take the weekends off and make sure we add joy to our day-to-day.
Daily writing practice is the basis of the program. Set a timer and write for at least 30 minutes every day. As the great meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg says, “simple, but not easy”. Building up on that practice, we created a strategic plan for the summer, setting research and personal goals, and we learned how to map those term goals into our weekly schedule. In other words, what tasks do you need to complete this week to achieve those goals in the next few months? And most importantly, when are you going to complete those tasks this week? I used to fail here. Creating long-term plans was (or rather IS) hard for me. But in the absence of a long-term vision, weekly plans fall short. It’s easier for us to move things around if we don’t know why we’re doing them. For instance, you’ve set 1 hour for writing in your calendar, a seemingly urgent email arrives in your inbox and, boom, bye-bye to your writing time. Having both the long-term and short-term plans in front of me provides clarity about how pushing writing for later endangers my goals. And this made me feel more protective of my writing time.
There were a couple of things during the program that made me uncomfortable: sharing my term plans with a mentor and the idea of “celebrating every success”. When they told us we had to share our strategic plan (that’s how they call our long-term goals) with a mentor, my immediate thought was “ugh, who do I have to bother now?” The training video anticipated I would think this way (I guess I’m not that special after all) and pushed us to share the plan anyway. The good student in me followed orders, and I couldn’t be any happier I did it. Not only was my mentor not bothered by the request, she was eager to hear about my plans (btw, she doesn’t know I call her “mentor”). Talking to her made me excited about some projects, and we got ideas about possible collaborations. And guess what, a couple of weeks after we met, I found out about a grant opportunity at my university, and we submitted a proposal together. This probably wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t shared my plans with her. I’ve changed quite a bit how I understand asking for help or advice. I used to see it as a nuisance for whoever I asked. However, when I am the one being asked for help, I more often than not am happy to help. If you think about it this way, it’s about letting them be happy as well.
The second idea that I pushed against was the celebration. Don’t get me wrong, I love celebrating things, but not on command. Part of our homework was celebrating every small accomplishment. I was perfectly able to artificially produce celebrations. I finished a section of my manuscript? I’ll go for a nice sunset walk. Submitted a grant? I’ll go sailing. Wrote for 30 min today? I’ll have dinner with friends. But the truth is that I’m going to do all those things, regardless of what happens with the grant. Here is where I feel I had a cultural clash. All those “little celebrations” are part of my life, and my life happens regardless of work. I can create an artificial link between work events and life events, but that connection does not feel natural to me. Are there moments when I have to say no to some social events? Yes, I live in NY, there are too many things going on. One of my peers in the group studied abroad in Spain and immediately pointed out how we, Spaniards, live life differently from the average US worker. There are moments when I have to work overtime, but I know that if I sustain an intense schedule that prevents me from meeting friends, everything else will crumble.
In reality, I opened this post with a false dilemma. Investing in yourself can also be investing in your work. Completing this program has been another way of accepting help. Having a daily message from your coach asking about your research and writing goals is nice, weekly meetings with people who share similar goals make you move forward, access to more senior faculty brings perspective, and creating a network of support is crucial to being successful. Every task I’ve mentioned here is about connecting with other people and keeping them in the loop with a twofold purpose: bringing clarity to your goals and creating new opportunities to succeed in your job. I’m very happy I followed my gut instinct.
P.S.: The grant proposal just got rejected, who wants to hang out and celebrate that rejection? 😂
What I’m listening to
I’m bringing a new section where I’ll share some of my favorite podcasts, posts, books, and articles. Here’s an interview to Luis von Ahn, founder of Duolingo. Very interesting perspective on how people are learning languages nowadays (and which languages!) I was very excited to learn that a language learning app (Duolingo) is the most downloaded educational app.
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