View from Venus

#7 - Setting Boundaries and Avoiding Academic Burnout with Leslie Wang

Episode Summary

In this week's episode, guest expert Leslie Wang, Associate Professor of Sociology at University of Massachusetts Boston, joins us to talk about setting boundaries, removing internal barriers to success, and finding joy in your work. We wrap up with our best tips and advice for avoiding academic burnout and at the end we'll have an assignment for our listeners- we'll ask you to try some of our tips and let us know how it goes by sharing your story on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook and tag us @university_of_venus on IG and @UVenus on Twitter or post it on our Facebook page at and we will share, retweet, and amplify! Find University of Venus on Instagram @university_of_venus , Twitter @UVenus , and Facebook

Episode Notes

Topics Discussed in this Episode:

Resources Discussed in this Episode:

Music Credits: Magic by Six Umbrellas

Sound Engineer: Ernesto Valencia

Episode Transcription

View from Venus Episode 7

Mary Churchill: [00:00:00] Leslie Wang, Associate Professor of Sociology at University of Massachusetts, Boston. In today's episode, we'll be talking with Leslie about the importance of defining values when setting boundaries, how she helps women remove internal barriers to success and ways to find joy in your work. You will walk away with our best tips and advice for avoiding burnout, and at the end we'll have an assignment for you.

[00:00:46] Leslie Wang is an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, award winning author and certified life coach and we asked her to join us on View from Venus because we wanted to hear her story about becoming a life coach and get some advice on how to set boundaries and prevent burnout.

[00:01:05] Hi, Leslie, welcome to View from Venus, and thanks for joining us.

[00:01:09] Leslie Wang: [00:01:09] Thanks so much for having me. I'm really excited.

[00:01:11] Meg Palladino: [00:01:11] We like to start each episode with a lightning round question to get us laughing and so we don't take ourselves too seriously. So today's question is, if you left your current professional life behind and ran away to follow your dreams, what would you be doing?

[00:01:26] I think I would be like a Bob Ross.

[00:01:29] Lee Skallerup Bessette: [00:01:29] Nice.

[00:01:29] Meg Palladino: [00:01:29] Paint watercolors and talk about the happy little clouds or sit in a field and paint the poppies or something like that.

[00:01:38] Lee Skallerup Bessette: [00:01:38] My daughter actually asked this exact question the other day. She's like, if you could have your dream job, mom, what would it be? I already write, but I would just do it full time. I would move to a place by the water: ocean or lake, ocean preferable and just be able to sit by the water and, write. I would be a full time author like that would, that would be what I would do. I would just write full-time.

[00:02:02] Mary Churchill: [00:02:02] That's my answer. I'm right there with you and down to the ocean. I would love to just spend my time writing and maybe taking photos, but I love writing and so I love writing for impact and I would want to still write for impact, but I wouldn't want, I would love not having to feel like I had to do something to make a living. And so that link to what I do versus what I do for a job, I think that that would be really nice to not have that pressure and just write, just write and have the ocean. So, yeah.

[00:02:38] Leslie Wang: [00:02:38] For me, I mean it's so similar to, I mean, I already am a coach on the side. I'd probably become a coach full time, but have that be really flexible and probably be working with groups and organizations and departments, and also writing for the public and really wanting to engage like larger audiences in some of these conversations that I think are so important to be having right now.

[00:03:06] Mary Churchill: [00:03:06] I guess we're in the right profession.

[00:03:07] Leslie Wang: [00:03:07] Yeah. And of course, you know, not needing an income. I mean, what freedom would that bring?

[00:03:14] Lee Skallerup Bessette: [00:03:14] So actually that leads really well into my first question for you. So you're a traditional academic and a tenured position with a PhD in sociology. You have your self-authored book, all the kind of traditional humanities, social science, the academic, you know, hashtag real academic, right?

[00:03:34] But you've also started this coaching business on the side. And how did that happen for you? And, you know, how did you figure out you wanted to do this? And this was kind of a dream job for you?

[00:03:50] Leslie Wang: [00:03:50] I had thought about becoming a life coach for many years before I decided to get certified. But I also, you know, the security oriented part of myself really wanted to ensure that I had all of my ducks in a row for tenure before I dedicated myself to a coaching program that took, you know, a lot of time and nearly a year. And so I became a life coach to provide women academics, the kind of support I wish that I had had as a grad student, as a post doc and then as a faculty member. I think there's a lot of tools out there too help you increase your productivity, help you to finish projects and meet your deadlines, but not as much discussion of how to increase our level of satisfaction and even joy in our work. And so, you know, work is very emotional and I think that academics tend to have a, there's a tendency to neglect our emotional needs. And I really was attracted to coaching because it's focused on moving people forward, like towards their dreams, towards their goals and things that are really in line with their values. And so in terms of like how being a coach and being an academic complement each other. I mean from my own experience and then conversations with others like I found that getting tenure is often a time when people experience an identity crisis. And you know, it's a time when you can start to question your purpose more deeply. When that external reward that you've been working for, for so long is finally attained. And that can be really surprising when the assumption can be that you'll just be feeling relief and freedom. And so times like this, I think really provokes a lot of deep reflection. And it's also this amazing time for reinvention. And so for me, I think becoming a coach has helped me gain this like new kind of professional meaning that makes use of all of my previous experiences as well. And so I think, you know, coaching has really like reconnected me with that desire that I had from the beginning to have a more direct impact and to bring about positive change which I found through helping women academics do things like overcome negative thinking patterns, challenge limiting beliefs and find like more ease and flow in different areas of their life, you know, beyond work. And so I think also going the other direction. I think that coaching has made me a better teacher as I bring some of those skills of deep listening, like back into the classroom, into my mentorship with my students. And I also think that like, you know, my experience as like a researcher. Like I'm a qualitative researcher who has typically, you know, I've done these in depth interviews and it's also come in really handy as a coach. So I think they're, they've been very complimentary.

[00:06:44] Lee Skallerup Bessette: [00:06:44] Oh, that's great. Yeah. I can see how, especially with the teaching and the deep listening, that that's a really important, a really great skill to bring back into the classroom.

[00:06:54] Meg Palladino: [00:06:54] So, Leslie, in helping women deal with burnout, you begin the work from a value based perspective. So what is this and why is it important?

[00:07:03] Leslie Wang: [00:07:03] So there's been a ton of research on burnout, for a lot of good reasons. And so the basic idea is that if you're feeling burnt out, like this can be defined as like, you know, feeling emotional and physical exhaustion, feeling kind of cynical or detached from your work, well then something is really not very aligned in terms of the work responsibilities that you have and then your own needs and values. And so the clients who come to me, who are some suffering from extreme burnout, they often have like one key thing in common, which is that they don't have particularly strong boundaries with their work. So they tend to work all the time., they tend to feel guilty when they're not working and they have a really hard time giving themselves permission to rest, to relax, and to like completely unplug from all the other stuff that's going on in their workplace. And so, you know, it's interesting, but for many clients, like one of the very first assignments that I give them, or even like a challenge for a lot of them, is to start taking naps because there's so much sleep deprivation going on, people are exhausted. One way to kind of set and maintain boundaries is to get back in touch with your core values. And so with my clients, like we do exercises that identify the values that they hold dear, and also the things that inspired them to become an academic in the first place. And so, you know, once we get in touch with these core values, then we try to use them as like an internal compass through which to like make your decisions and figure out like, what do you actually want to say yes to? What can you say no to? So it's more meaningful and satisfying.

[00:08:53] Meg Palladino: [00:08:53] I love that. Especially the naps part.

[00:08:56] Leslie Wang: [00:08:56] Yeah. You should take more naps.

[00:08:58] Meg Palladino: [00:08:58] I'm gonna try it.

[00:09:00] Mary Churchill: [00:09:00] I've started taking naps. We had a guest on earlier in the season who recommended naps, and I've been taking naps. So, it's so interesting, Leslie. So. I was part of a mastermind group this year and the very first thing we did was map our values, right? And tried to kind of figure out how to frame the side hustle work we were doing through our value system.

[00:09:25] Lee Skallerup Bessette: [00:09:25] Active listening for me was revelatory when I was moving into my faculty development position and did a sort of an orientation, a week long orientation. And one of them was this at different points we were invited to do active listening, and it was, I was just like, man, I really wish I had gotten this in grad school, right? We're really good at talking. We're really good at, you know, going through the hoops, but we're not so good at listening to each other.

[00:09:51] Leslie Wang: [00:09:51] And these are skills. Yeah. You know, they're all learnable skills.

[00:09:55] Mary Churchill: [00:09:55] So I am really interested in the internal blocks that women face in setting and achieving realistic and meaningful goals. I think it's, historically and currently a very masculine space around goal setting and goal achievement. I'm interested in what you see as internal blocks that women face and trying to set these goals that are meaningful for them. And you spoke to this earlier, right? You are separated from what brings meaning to your life. The goals are externally set. You're trying to follow them, and you are disconnected from the meaning for you personally. So how do you, how do you help people deal with that? I mean, you mentioned an identity crisis, and I think that's true.

[00:10:37] Leslie Wang: [00:10:37] Yeah. I think the first thing is to make people aware that that's what's going on. I think in terms of internal blocks that I see in women academics, and I mentioned this already, but it's worth talking more about, it's really about guilt. So I think that women in particular seem to struggle with and to normalize guilt and also a sense of hyper responsibility to others. So whether it's to their students, to committee work, to, you know, their collaborators and then to their families, right? So it kind of extends out. And so I think in practice, this means that many women often kind of unconsciously sacrifice a lot of their time and energy to helping others in ways that can conflict with their own needs to accomplish their own work. So the, you know, the thing you were talking about, like women being at odds, I think it's often at that point. So this comes up a lot in like the area of service work, where women and faculty of color are often overburdened with this caring labor that unfortunately in our current system is not counted as productive labor. Another limiting belief that I've noticed in my clients is that it's like a, it's this idea that work has to feel really hard to be worth it and that success comes only after a long period of struggle and striving. And this perspective is one that I used to carry so I really deeply identify with that and it also made every part of my job exhausting and it sucked the enjoyment, like right out of it. I feel like the current culture of academia though, is the thing that kind of contributes to this mindset, right? So I think that, you know, we are encouraged to, I don't know, to really like prize stress and overwork and I think the idea that like research and teaching and service could feel easy or it could be really enjoyable can even seem a little bit threatening to folks who've like built, like they've used stress as like their main source of motivation and as the only thing that they can rely upon to get things done. What else is possible if we start to kind of expand your horizons? And there's a lot more out there. There's so much more out there.

[00:13:01] Lee Skallerup Bessette: [00:13:01] And I think that that's something that as you're talking, that I've been really thinking about is that, the various ways that we are, that we think of ourselves that we've been told, and this is very gendered, but to be small, right? And to fit into somebody else's ideal of what we should be, right? And I'm thinking as well as ambition, right? Like you can't express too much ambition as a woman to a certain extent, because then it's like, you know, who does she think she is? Right. You know? But it's also an, I mean, it comes to the flip side of you know, also even talking about our successes, right? And it is important to celebrate them. And then why is it then that we fail to do that?

[00:13:48] Leslie Wang: [00:13:48] I think it's so important to celebrate our successes as academics, partly because they tend to be the result of many years of hard work, right? So, you know, whether it's like publishing an article or a book, getting an award of some kind and getting tenure or something else. Like these only occur after a huge investment of time and energy and so it does seem a little odd that people don't, I don't know, draw more attention to them, right? And so I think that academics and women in particular, I may have a hard time you know, drawing that kind of attention to their accomplishments because they fear that it sounds like they're bragging or promoting themselves, which in any other sphere, I think is okay. You know, it's really okay to promote yourself but for some reason within academic culture, it's seen as like poor form. Yeah.

[00:14:45] Lee Skallerup Bessette: [00:14:45] Yeah. And I think that comes back to your point about the culture of overwork and stress, right? Like it's always forward looking like it really is this pressure. What are you gonna publish next? What are you going to think of next? What are you going to do next? Right? What's your next grant going to be? Right?

[00:15:01] Leslie Wang: [00:15:01] What are you working on now?

[00:15:03] Lee Skallerup Bessette: [00:15:03] Yeah. What are you working on now? You know? And so there's very little. The way, at least in traditional academia on the tenure track is set up. It really is set up to be constantly forward looking and never an opportunity to kind of, 'cause if you step back and celebrate, then you're not working hard enough, right? What do you mean you have time to do a book launch party? Like come on.

[00:15:26] Leslie Wang: [00:15:26] Yeah. Yeah,

[00:15:28] Lee Skallerup Bessette: [00:15:28] You should, you need to be working on your next article by now, right? Like, this is not,

[00:15:33] Leslie Wang: [00:15:33] Yeah. I think it's both internal and, right. I think it's, you know, it's definitely like encouraged by the external system, but I know a lot of people who, they achieve an accomplishment and they actually don't feel that gratified by it because to them, that was just one step in getting to the next thing. And I think sometimes, it's like, it's so outcome oriented and it's kind of like, well, once I achieve that, then I'll be happy. And it's like, well, you've achieved so much and you're still not happy. So what about let's try to enjoy the process more and maybe you can be happy throughout or find ways to feel more satisfied throughout. So and then you asked like how, you know, how can departments and institutions help with this? Overall, it doesn't seem like there's a systematic kind of effort to celebrate people. And I also feel like it's more about like the actual culture of the place to start with. So do people feel valued and acknowledged consistently for what they do and what they bring to their institution and to their departments is probably more important in some ways. So I think it's more about like a need for a cultural shift in academia to really make people feel seen in the workplace for everything that they do and not just for the things that will get you tenure or you can add to your CV or others, you know may rank is like you looking more productive.

[00:17:04] Mary Churchill: [00:17:04] I want to wrap up with our top tips for avoiding academic burnout. Meg, do you want to start us off?

[00:17:13] Meg Palladino: [00:17:13] Sure. I mean, I would say number one, say no to things. I'm a great no-sayer. And also I think taking a lunch break is really important. I am famous for not liking lunch meetings because I feel like it takes the break away and it's a break that I need to just take a walk around the block and take a mental break and I can come back and be better.

[00:17:36] Lee Skallerup Bessette: [00:17:36] I think moments, like you say, where we can express gratitude about those invisible things. But again, thinking of ways as you say, that we can express gratitude for the people that we work alongside.

[00:17:49] Leslie Wang: [00:17:49] Awesome.

[00:17:50] Mary Churchill: [00:17:50] Leslie, anything else you want to add about that?

[00:17:52]Leslie Wang: [00:17:52] I would just want to reiterate, you know, to take naps. I think that's really important and sleep longer. I love the idea of saying no, and I would add to that, like say no without explanation. You can, you don't have to explain yourself. And then I think also like, give yourself permission to put your own needs first. And let's invest in ourselves first so that we can then bring our whole selves to our work and to our families and to our lives and be more, you know, well-rounded and overall, like more satisfied with like everything that we're doing.

[00:18:31]Mary Churchill: [00:18:31] I like that. For me, I think that what you said earlier about really the competition of who's working the hardest, right? Just get off that hamster wheel really, because it's not helping anyone and it's the overwork culture.

[00:18:50] I want to thank you for joining us.

[00:18:52] Leslie Wang: [00:18:52] Thank you so much for having me. This was really fun.

[00:18:55] Mary Churchill: [00:18:55] Okay, listeners, here's this week's assignment. Try out one of our tips for avoiding academic burnout and let us know how it goes. Share your story with us on IG, Twitter, or Facebook, and tag us @UVenus and we'll retweet, share in our story and post on Facebook. As always, thank you for joining us and we'll be back next week with Itir Toksoz talking about how to work successfully with international partners.