Process & Patience: 5 Early Lessons from the Tenure Grind

Well, for months now I had been using the hashtag #tenuregrind to explain how my life, my brain and my spirit was feeling. I felt as if my life was becoming (for the first time) focused on those things I was supposed to be doing in the way I was supposed to be doing it to make it this academic game. But, something else happened along the way. I realized a little too late that I went about it all wrong, because, I became extremely stressed out. My digestion was off, every time I ate my stomach reacted violently, I was in pain, I was angry and disorganized, I felt swollen all over, my sleep was erratic, my frustration with my children escalated, and my quality time with my husband suffered.  It was all natural – right? A part of the #tenuregrind.  This is the culture of “not taking care of yourself in the pursuit of taking your career to the next level.” However, if you are not healthy, how can you enjoy the fruits of your labor?

So, I have jotted down 5 of my first few lessons learned and I want to share them.

Lesson #1: Look inward, figure out what is going on and what it is that you do. This lesson has helped me in trying to craft my narrative and to pull together the resources that exemplify my career. It has made me reflect on my work and the contributions I am making to the discipline. And in the process, helped me to begin to figure out why food was hurting me.

Lesson #2: Go to the doctor! I have seen my GP, my OB/GYN, and a few specialists along the way. I have been to more doctors in the last 6 months than I have for the past 3 years (other than doctors related to my having 2 children recently). This was an important lesson, you body tells you things you try to ignore and one of those things for me was that I need to pay attention to what I put in my body, but also how I react to the pressures of life.

Lesson #3: Drink more chamomile tea. Yes, this seems simple. But it is also a metaphor for take it all in with a bit more calm, worry won’t change things. Think about how it feels to sit down and do nothing. Speak with kindness to everyone (well most) folks you encounter, it works to not walk with anger as well, even when some folks make you mad. It makes you process the distractors with a little more ease. One of the most important things I have started to do is to just listen to my children’s laughter and laugh with them. Its ok to smile, laugh and be silly, being serious about tenure is not going to make it go faster.

Lesson #4: Find something that makes you happy, makes you think about good and peaceful thoughts. I found gardening. I discovered that as an archaeologist, its really a natural thing to want to play in the dirt on another level. It brings me peace, it provides some much needed vitamin D, and I always get a sense of accomplishment when I have done my therapeutic session outside. Recently, for Mother’s Day, my husband replanted our vegetable garden from a few years back and it brought such joy to my soul – especially the fact that there was something so simple that could bring me joy – I had rediscovered what a hobby is (and I didn’t even have to include it in my CV).


Trevor and Ololara planting our new veggie garden.

Lesson #5: Tenure is a process, let it happen and be patient. It takes time to build a career, it takes time to write a book or an article or dig a site, so therefore it takes time to craft a narrative that not only talks about the great scholar you are, but gives the right people the roadmap to making sure that promotion is yours. Don’t take things for granted, but learn that self-praise is ok. Learn to write about yourself and learn to do it well, so that there is no question just how fly you really are. Find a mantra to get you through it and just keep at it and then let other people read your stuff – it is worth it! It took effort to do all of those things, it will take effort to wait and let the tenure process unfold naturally.

So, those are my first in a series of lessons learned entries. I plan on making this blog work for me  through this upcoming year. I am looking forward to the challenges, because as my godsister Yaba Blay reminded me, we have to calm down and find healthy ways to do this job. We need to check in with each other, make sure we do not loose our souls in the process, (shout out to Kerry Ann Rockquemore and the National Center for Faculty Development & Diversity!) and remember that we are human beings.

So, my new routine is to write everyday, but I also garden, I garden often, especially before I settle down to write. I get out of the house most days and change my writing venue, because as a productive academic, I’ve got a lot more going on then just tenure right now. My new hashtag these days is #healthtenurepraxis. I breathe more, I eat less, but with quality in mind and I understand that this is only the beginning!


Me after brief remarks to then Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and audience at the “Telling the Whole Story: Women & the Making of the US,” National Park Service and the National Collaborative for Women’s History Sites, State Capital, Washington, DC.

blog out…

6 thoughts on “Process & Patience: 5 Early Lessons from the Tenure Grind

  1. Thank you for your post! I particularly like your mentioning that we need to recognize how fly we are :). I thought you might be interested in a conference/organization that I recently learned about called the College and University Work Family Association –

  2. You have a lot going on and I can only presume that the #tenuregrind is tremendously stressful. Here is a link to an awesome eBook called the Little Book of Contentment that I recently read. It has helped me refocus my orientation toward what is truly important in life.

    Also, look into acupuncture and Ayurvedic medicine as a non-intrusive means of lowering your stress level. It has helped me greatly in the past.

    As a PhD archaeology student that plans on going for tenure, your writing just helped me remember to keep things in perspective. Thank you.

    1. Thank you Bill! Really appreciate the feedback, I will check out the book and think seriously about acupuncture! I used it when I was pregnant with my last child, so it is a method I know works. Keep things in perspective! Each one, teach one (what not to do). Take care!

  3. Awesome Whitney. I actually put something similar into practice after this recent round of comps. Foregoing the de facto bad behavior is long ago accepted as part of the journalist’s deadline practice, I ate well, got enough sleep, stretched and meditated. The difference at the end was remarkable. I was less tired, cranky, in less pain and just generally nicer to be around. It’s an important message. Thank you for sharing.

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