Last week, I received the letter that officially announced my promotion to “associate” professor as of the next academic year. While not the last hurdle on the road to tenure (a Board of Trustees review of said recommendations follows), this was certainly billed as a celebratory moment. However, I admit it felt to me like a non-event: I toasted and congratulated others from my cohort who’d been awaiting their decision, then headed off to the rest of my day of meetings. The change in my work status already happened: it happened while I wasn’t paying attention.
Over the past year, my schedule has changed. Instead of spending a day or two reliably each week on writing, I call any week that has a day without on-campus meetings a small victory. Instead of waiting for emails on the latest concerns for the program, scheduling, etc., I’m frequently the one writing them. Much of this came with stepping into a very minor admin-adjacent role coordinating my program over the last year, but some of it also feels tied to something else: that murky move to becoming a so-called “mid-career” scholar in the year of waiting that sits between submitting tenure materials and the actual decision.
For me, this shift was one of increments. It’s the number of book proposal and journal review requests that arrive in my inbox — as many in a month as once might have come in a year. It’s the ladder of service obligations, moving up slowly to where the most interesting and rewarding work is, but also the most meeting-intensive and demanding. It’s more and more co-authored work as my focus moves from my own past research questions to questions that require continual collaboration.
It’s also the first year where I’ve stopped actually running almost at all. I was far better at protecting my time as a tenure-track faculty than most: it was easy to justify the hour or two each day for long walks and runs to clear my head and step away from the glow of the computer monitor. For me, putting the tenure track grind in the rear view mirror has brought less balance, which I admit I wasn’t expecting — although given the academic genre of post–tenure let down pieces, perhaps I should have been more watchful. There’s a similar type of let down that accompanies any concluding event: I’ve noticed it after every marathon I’ve stumbled my way through, when the abrupt end to training leaves a sudden void on the calendar.
However, my problem isn’t so much the let down as the sense of being out of balance. Adam Szetela just wrote a great commentary piece on our academic culture of productive anxiety:
…faculty and students should defend their leisure time as rigorously as they defend their periods of work. For example, one of my former colleagues joined a competitive fast-pitch softball team when he was in graduate school because it forced him to have downtime each week. He could not bail on these events, since his team depended on him. He said that this structured commitment to leisure during a demanding period of his life prepared him to have a healthier work and life balance when he became a tenure-track professor and later a tenured professor.
This emphasis on structural thinking about time for work *and* life seems to be an essential part of a successful mid-career transition. For me, that’s meant pre-paying for a group class membership where cancellations are charged, forcing me to honor those time commitments to myself. It’s meant joining more organizing quilting swaps (with deadlines and a partner awaiting a package) to ensure I spend at least some time each month making things. But I can already tell it’s going to take much more recalibration over the summer to shift my work in a way that resembles balance.