Making my own life-work manifesto

Lately I have been feeling very disillusioned with the academic life. I mean, I’ve always intellectually known that our reach is often short, our work ignored and overlooked, and our lifestyles completely overrun by our work. But recently, I have been feeling it more, and feeling more dissatisfied about it. Then a few things happened that pushed me to become clearer about what kind of life I want to lead. Some of these things were positive: reconnecting with an aunt and uncle, achieving some work goals, having a baby, hearing Wangari Maathai and Joanna Macy interviewed for example. Some were negative: fellow blogger Rachel Held-Evans died at age 37, I became disillusioned with the reach of academic work in some recent projects, I worked instead of having full paid maternity leave. Over the last few months I have been considering what I would want to have as my legacy — either at 70 or 90 like Maathai and Macy, or in my 30s like Held-Evans.

  1. I want to be a kind, warm, caring, attentive, wise person, who makes people around me feel good about themselves and at the same time, want to be better. Recently I spent some time with people who fit this description, and every time I spoke with them, I felt like fully held and heard, accepted and important without having to do anything. There are other people in my life like this, in my beautiful people collection, but I guess I hadn’t really thought about being like this. Listening to Wangari Maathai and Joanna Macy’s interviews on On Being back to back touched me deeply. Those two woman are what I want to be like when I am old, if I get to be. They are wise, grounded, generous, sharp in the smart sense, gentle, warm. Can I be like this and be an academic? I think so, since Maathai obviously was. But I don’t know if this was their goal or an outcome of focusing on what they needed to do for their other ecological missions.
  2. I want to make a difference in the world beyond my interpersonal relationships and my academic work, as a writer. I have been thinking about this a lot while collaborating with others, both about what works and in what ways I want to do things differently. I am most passionate about ecological healing and the human change required for that to happen, and that has been the driving force of my studies since I was about 8 or 9 years old. I did my first speeches at school on turtles (and saving them); erosion (and deforestation); disposable nappies (and their horrific lifespans). Identifying an audience and the best way to do this is important to me, because I seem to have got stuck in a bubble of people who agree with me, and also, I feel quite disillusioned with whether being a writer actually influences anything at all. There are so many words written already, so why write more? And will anyone ever read them? These are questions I am still working out. How do I decide what is important to do for myself, rather than just doing everything other people are doing so I can feel included and therefore important?
  3. I want to provide a loving, safe, organised, warm home for myself and my family, as well as meaningful life shaping experiences, leading my kids into independence in their everyday life, their relationships and their spirituality. Here I think of the earning side of my job, which is important for me to provide for my family. I could not be a full time writer in New Zealand, I believe, I need to make a regular income as the earner in our family. Which does mean continuing to take my academic progression seriously. But I also think of the kind of mother I want to be, present, and connected. And my work as an academic often works against that. Even when I am home I am thinking about other things, or doing them. I am distracted so often, and although working and organising our lives is also a way of loving and providing for them, I do prefer just enjoying being connected too. So often we often end up living a kind of mundane existence and not thinking through our short term comfort and its cost on the long term goals of our family. For example, how do we teach children about the planet, life, God, other people? What small life admin steps do we need to put in place to make these goals realities? How do I continue the great rhythms and holding patterns that we have begun? (I’m enjoying the tips from the book Simplicity Parenting at the moment)
  4. I want to step up and take care of myself: body, soul, mind, spirit — because without health and wellbeing in myself, I can’t do any of the above well. This includes the cliches of setting healthy boundaries, taking responsibility for my own health even if it means not meeting someone’s immediate needs for a while, and making daily decisions that contribute to the long terms goals of being a healthy person. This actually gets easier for me the older I get, and the more children I have: there is no possible way to meet everyone’s needs before taking care of what I need to do, and there is no way anyone else is going to do it for me! However, I do easily fall into work panic patterns, where I feel so behind that even my 5 minute workouts from Sharny and Julius seem too impossible, let alone a real one hour yoga session.

That’s it. Seems pretty simple. Can I use this manifesto to help me make good decisions over the next few years and into the future? One of the steps has to been to set limits on the amount of voluntary work I do in my job (see here and here), to make space for other voluntary work in the community and for time to make our homelife nurturing for our four children. In the near future I also want to return to a regular centreing prayer/meditation practice like I had in 2017 to help with the feeling of overwhelm. Apparently it actually changes your brain!!

Thanks to Stephen Healy for suggesting I turn these thoughts into a blog post. Now everyone in the world can hold me accountable … !

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