Cultivating Happiness by Building Resilience in the Academic Workplace: Part One

 Erin Burns   July 10, 2019  Career Advice

You’ve worked hard to reach your current position, but achievement in academia doesn’t always equate to happiness. Given that a career in academia is probably a major part of your life, it is vitally important to cultivate happiness in your work. The key to realizing career success and happiness faster (and for the long-term) is to build your resiliency skills. Until you define for yourself a life and career that serves your individual wants and needs, you may fumble with creating boundaries and expectations, crafting your desired work/life balance, and incorporating re-energizing celebration and appreciation methods that provide the success and happiness you want.

Resiliency doesn’t just enable people to bounce back quicker. The most resilient people can avoid major setbacks altogether, and they can function at their best in almost any situation. Resiliency can help you work at your peak state, not take things personally, be aware of when you’re starting to flounder, and better communicate your ideas, wants, and needs.

Resiliency skills are rarely focused on or taught in our society. The five personal resiliency skills are: 1) being present, 2) self-acceptance, 3) boundaries and expectations, 4) balance, and 5) celebration and appreciation. Mastering these skills at a personal level will spill over and improve your professional, interpersonal relationships as well.

1. Being Present

Being present is the foundation for all the other resiliency skills. Are you the person who is on your phone, or perhaps on your laptop, “multi-tasking” while someone else is trying to tell you about her day, or asking you a question? It can be very frustrating when a colleague doesn’t appear to be aware of you or care about connecting with you. To be fully present in a situation such as this would mean that you’re in the moment with the other person: aware, engaged, and listening.

Now, imagine that this same scenario is what you are doing to yourself. You never take time to just be with yourself. You are always busy on your phone, on your computer, or otherwise.  Spending time alone while fully engaged, aware, and listening to yourself is the only way to get to know yourself. If you can’t be with yourself, create more awareness of yourself, and give yourself time to be present and in the moment, the other resiliency skills will be extremely difficult for you to master.

Habitually thinking about the future or past is not being present. When you constantly think about the past, you feel stuck and like you have no control or can’t do anything. When you constantly think about the future, you are rushing through life, anxious about what’s next. Both scenarios are examples of not being present.

Here are some stories or beliefs that might deter someone from being present:

-I need to be doing something to be of value.

-Nothing can be as great as the past was.

-If I stay busy and work hard, things will be better when I’m successful, promoted, or have a new job.

Here are some stories or beliefs that might promote being present:

-You never know when a life-changing moment will arise, so be present.

-Tomorrow isn’t guaranteed.

-I will be aware of more opportunities and possibilities if I am more present.

Present people are aware of why they are doing things the way they are doing them. They’re conscious of when feelings and thoughts change inside of them, and they’re more attuned to, and curious about, others they interact with.

How can you start to improve your skill of being present?

(1) Set aside time to just be present with yourself. This can be even for a few minutes each day. Put it on your calendar – and protect it! I love what my friend Daron Larson says: “The key is to start with more than never.”

(2) Go for a walk and focus on the sensations you are experiencing in real time.

(3) Practice listening to your gut or intuition for guidance.

Only by practicing the skill of being present can you then move on to understanding your unique worth and mastering the skill of self-acceptance.

2. Self-Acceptance

People who have self-acceptance embrace their individual worth and thoughts as valuable. They are confident in their original ideas which, when collaborating with colleagues, can help create synergy between the other team members. They can add to solutions and ask questions because they’re thinking for themselves. People who have self-acceptance are more likely to realize that others will have a different unique value and a different perspective to add. This will help with them acknowledging and considering multiple perspectives, including perspectives they don’t personally hold.

People lacking in self-acceptance won’t feel comfortable being the way they are or seeing the value in their unique views. They may get jealous of others easily, imitate others, or switch back-and-forth between opinions. They may never stand up for something or want to answer, because they’re afraid that they don’t have the right answer. Sometimes, people lacking self-acceptance keep themselves busy, so they never have to spend time figuring out who they are or what they really want or value. They may not want others to succeed and may envy others who know their worth and are confident. This can cause them to hold others back if they are in a management position or in a team environment. They might also have a hard time understanding other people’s perspectives. They might be known for going along with the crowd.

Here are some stories or beliefs that might deter someone from having self-acceptance:

-I would love me if I was worth being loved.

-Blending in is very important.

-Everybody’s happiness is the same.

Here are some stories or beliefs that might promote self-acceptance:

-Who is being me if I’m not?

-My relationship with knowing myself is just as important as, or more important, than my task/goals and other relationships.

-Life is boring if everything/everybody tries to be the same.

How can you start practicing self-acceptance?

(1) Focus on your strengths and your idea of happiness. Give permission for it not to conform to anyone else’s definition.

(2) Embrace life as it is, focus on what you control (your actions and reactions), and make choices that serve you.

(3) Spend time celebrating yourself, and spend time alone.

(4) Expand your comfort zone with more perspectives.

Check out the second part of this article to learn how you can better proceed with creating boundaries and expectations, crafting your desired work/life balance, and incorporating re-energizing celebration and appreciation methods once you have improved your self-acceptance skills. These resiliency skills can help deliver happiness in your career, and can transfer to all your future pursuits.

About the author: Christina Unrein is a Leadership and Happiness Coach, Resiliency Trainer, and the owner of Possibility Lab LLC. Christina energizes and prepares achievement-driven leaders, engineers, and teams moving from good to great to be more effective, courageous, intentional, and collaborative. She designs and delivers comprehensive, integrated, immersive leadership and diversity and inclusion experiences featuring training, coaching, and mentoring elements. She’s passionate about energizing frustrated and exhausted individuals and organizations struggling with motivation, expectations, balance, resiliency, engagement, and satisfaction. Christina is the author of The Happiness Workbook: Rise Up, Happiness Soldiers. She sees life as a game that is won by being authentic and curious and loves playing with her nieces and nephews!

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