I’m a full-time English teacher and this summer, I will enter my third year as a doctoral student. I will wrap up my coursework and take the comprehensive exams this fall. This is an exciting time – it feels that I am beginning to bear fruit after many long days and nights. While at this moment I’m encouraged in my work, a few months ago, I was inconsolable. I woke up every day, and went to sleep every night, mentally and physically exhausted. I had a lot on my plate and couldn’t seem to ever catch my breath. I was burning out. Here were the warning signs:
- I began seeing my workplace as a burden. Every day I was overwhelmed to the point of tears and I didn’t understand it. I adore my students and teammates, so the tears didn’t make any sense. Even as I received positive feedback from superiors and even secured a promotion, I felt ineffective and small.
- I began seeing my home life as a chore. I am blessed to have such a loving partner. He supports my every endeavor. When I would get home, I wasn’t interested in engaging in conversation. Let me tell you, that man loves a good discussion! I felt drained from the workday and wanted to jump right into my doctoral studies before sleeping. My home became a symbol of all the things I have to do before falling asleep instead of a safe haven.
- I began procrastinating, knowing that putting off my coursework would only cause me more stress.
- I began hiding from spaces of support and accountability. I didn’t want anyone asking about my studies. I didn’t want to tell anyone that I turned the last paper in late or that I didn’t earn the grade I hoped for on an assignment. I even stopped talking to God. I felt ashamed and embarrassed.
In hindsight, it seems that it should have been easy for me to identify that I was slipping. However, when I was in the thick of everything, surviving became the priority. This narrative is all too familiar among Black women. We tend to work until we can’t stand because that’s what survivors do, right? I’m tired of thinking that the only way to be successful is to always be exhausted, overworked, and burned out. While this pursuit of a doctoral degree isn’t for the fainthearted, it’s also not for the unhealthy. When I notice that I’m burning out, here are some ways that I work to stay LIT:
- I make sure that the people closest to me understand my limitations. In the first year of my doctoral program, my closest friends and I painfully adjusted to my new reality. Instead of ghosting those around me, I began setting boundaries and sharing what I was able to offer of myself in this season of life (yes, this is a season).
- I give myself something to look forward to. In this season, time is a gift. I don’t have tons of time to hang with my husband, family, or friends so I make the time by planning ahead. My husband and I have weekly date nights. We know that no matter how crazy the week is, we have built in time to focus on each other. This past weekend, I traveled to Philadelphia with dear friends. We had great cheesesteaks (Dalessandro’s, what’s good?) and drank our fill of whiskey (no Olivia Pope here). I soon returned to reality, but felt encouraged to keep pushing towards the end of the semester.
- I set reasonable goals for myself and work a little each day to reach them. There is absolutely nothing wrong with setting the bar high. For me, setting the bar high meant not being realistic about my workload and my mental and physical capacity. I constantly set myself up for disappointments by trying to be everywhere and everything all the time.
- I ask for accountability. My advisor and husband are my lifeline. Make sure that the people you ask to be your accountability can tell you when you need to shape up, but can also be gracious knowing what you need and how much this process demands of you.
- I spend time meditating in the morning. I wake up 30 minutes earlier each day to spend time in prayer. I ask for guidance, protection, and vision. If you don’t believe in prayer, figure out what gives you strength and do that thing before you begin your day.
Sis, you are capable. We are on this journey together. You are so powerful and have it in you to see this degree to completion. You are LIT. Nothing can take that from you.
Cheleah Googe She/her/hers
Old Dominion University