Rekindle. Definition: To excite, stir up, or arouse anew. The term “rekindle” is often used to describe ways of sparking with romance or passion in a marriage or personal relationship. People often describe how important it is to never stop dating your spouse, or to find ways to re-invigorate your relationship by doing new things together. While I without a doubt echo those statements for personal relationships, over the past year I have thought about how important it is to also practice this within academia.
Why you should rekindle your academic flame
Over time, relationships can grow tired and stale. Relationships can often become routine. You wake up, eat breakfast with your family, and you’re out the door. You work all day, come home and make dinner, relax for a minute and head to bed. You wake up the next day and do the same thing all over again, day after day. If you don’t find ways to break outside this routine, you might begin to question: What is the point of all of this? The same can become true within academia. You go to work every day, attend the same meetings, work on the same projects or reports, and interact in very routine ways. That project that once excited you suddenly becomes just another thing on your never-ending to do list.
If we don’t put intentional efforts to maintain relationships, they can gradually fade over time. I imagine most people have had the experience where they failed to routinely check in with a loved one. You become busy with other things and you forget to call on Sundays or you miss the birthday gathering. Perhaps you moved away or you just stopped making the time for them. While this is a natural experience with relationships, the same is true for our academic interests. We can get so caught up in the coursework, the projects, the deadlines and we can forget to read those articles that excite us. We stop doing the things we enjoy because we feel we are too busy. We wonder who has the time or luxury to do the things we love when there is so much work that has to be done?
If any of this sounds familiar or relevant, then perhaps you need to rekindle your academic flame. You deserve it to yourself to be so brilliantly passionate about your work that you cannot wait to get back to it. As community-engaged scholars, often our work is driven by a desire to positively impact a social issue. Our ability to get things done is often fueled by a pure passion for our work and the change we hope to make. To maintain this focus, you need to recognize the small changes your work is making. You need to reconnect with your passion. You need to re-ignite the fire within your soul that made you want to do this work in the first place. Remember all those romantic ideas you had about the impact you wanted to make? Remember the vision you had when you were first getting started? This is the type of mindset that you need to channel when the work becomes overwhelming. You need that kindle burning inside of you to keep you warm when the going gets tough. You need to rekindle the flame.
How you can rekindle your academic flame
To keep the metaphor going, here I’ve provided some suggestions on ways that I have found to rekindle and keep my academic flame consistently burning. These are by no means a prescriptive approach, but rather suggestions for what has helped me throughout my time in graduate school thus far.
Keep dating your interests. I try to find new and exciting ways to keep in touch with my academic interests. Try to find different communities of scholars, activists, practitioners, teachers, or people that share your same passions and keep up to date on the conversation. Sign up for ListServs and follow organizations on social media that are doing similar work and sharing good content. You definitely don’t have to attend all the events or read all the articles, but make time here and there to do something just because it sounds interesting. Attend a webinar from a scholar you admire. Read a book about your interests. Go to a training or a talk just because it sounds fun. I never regret taking time to explore my interest in new ways.
Make time for your interests. This suggestion goes hand in hand with my last one, but I think is so important that it bears stating in another way. Seriously, you need to make time for your brain to think about things in new ways. Make time for yourself to read, attend events, explore online, whatever you need to do, and then DON’T feel guilty about it. Don’t get caught up thinking that this is time wasted because you don’t have a tangible product from it. (This is that academia mindset creeping in to your life to think that you are what you produce. Ignore it!!) Even if I don’t come away with something that is immediately relevant, often these are the types of things that plant seeds in my brain that I can’t always see. These are opportunities for you to grow in exciting new ways and you must make time for them, or they won’t happen.
Rest when it’s needed. If all of this sounds overwhelming, then perhaps your best strategy for rekindling your flame may be to just rest. Take a day, a week, or whatever you need to rest your brain and reconnect when it feels right. We often trick ourselves that if we just keep working harder or power through our personal needs that the work can still get done. But your body normally knows when it needs a break and the best thing to do is to listen to it. Graduate school or careers in general are a marathon, not a race. The work will continue and it needs you to last the test of time. Rest when you need it, and come back fully alive with that spark that drives you.
Rekindle your academic flame and keep it burning. The world needs your spark to make a difference.