One of my favourite parts of immersing in Swedish culture is the sauna. Sweating in hot cedar and then dipping in the cold North Sea with the old dames of malmö has become somewhat of a mid-week ritual. One I’m loath to miss. Wednesday afternoons have become a flurry of finishing writings, jotting to-do-lists for tomorrow, sending brisk replies to emails and duking out the back door. Once home it’s a scramble for towel, thongs, water, sweater, keys and a victorious sally out into the street. Volume on full I hightail past the station, through the park, along the beach and arrive puffed, pink and ready to relax. Only to find I have not bought my wallet.
This is not so uncommon, last week some of my colleagues were gently ribbing another who bolted a sandwhich in two minutes flat so they could make it to their massage. Skynder sig för att lugna sig.
Speeding through tasks to have time to relax, to become speedier at tasks. Productivity, efficiencies, streamlining, just-in-time, lean manufacturing. Or in Annie Lennox’s words:
For me that animation would look like: research a lot, teach a lot, learn Swedish, write lots of grants, publish, publish, publish or perish, become a post-doc, research more, teach more, get more grants, publish more, get tenure, become a professor, do professor stuff, reproduce the overworked academic caricature. This is actually kind of my plan at the moment (minus the last bit). It would be nice to be a young professor. But why do I think that?
Maybe because everyone I know thinks that being a professor would be kind of cool. The privilege of sharpening ones own intellect and increasing reflexivity in students and investigating a subject you care passionately about becomes overshadowed by the social construct. It’s easy to go with the majority.
But what if the majority is wrong? Academia is saturated with urban legends of burnout. But who actually cares if you are 35, 40 or 60 when you get tenured? Would I rather be a stressed out, grey-haired young professor, or an older one with more travels, dances, books and friends tucked into the folds of my life experiences? But as a student, sometimes I feel too immersed in the humdrum rush, too busy perpetuating my own ambitious demised to stop and reflect on whether the ends or means are more important.
I read a beautiful piece of writing last weekend by David Graeber making a convincing argument that being alive is the ends, and therefor taking joy in ones abilities is the means. Perhaps that is why it is resonantly beautiful to listen to some of the professors in my department presenting ideas, or watch Beyoncé videos. These people are really good at what they are doing.
For now doing things that I am good at is the best reason to be alive. When I enjoy what I do, when I slow down, when I focus on what is in-front of me, I feel more alive. I can see deeper currents and produce more resonant research. And am probably a lot less likely to forget my wallet.
‘Life is the moments in between’ – 242,000,000 google hits