It is nearly impossible to write a letter of advice and not to sound like a card of Walmart or like a long list of do’s and don’ts, but I am going to try. Whatever I have to say should begin with a warning: this might not work to give you promotions, but you may feel deep joy once in a while. Also, you know better, listen to yourself.
General advice that I love:
Anne Lamott’s Ted Talk titled “12 truths I learned from life and writing”. Nothing like her honesty. https://www.ted.com/talks/anne_lamott_12_truths_i_learned_from_life_and_writing?language=en
Maria Popova’s “Timeless Advice on Writing: The Collected Wisdom of Great Writers” where she has put together the advice of writers like Susan Sontag and Zadie Smith (https://www.brainpickings.org/2013/05/03/advice-on-writing/). I love how these texts show that they are many ways to be brilliant.
These are my creative mantras with a micro-explanation:
Use everything. This mantra is at the center of my computer screen, I see it everyday and try to remember it. In thinking and writing, use everything that inspires you, academic works, philosophy, art, literature, experiences, emotions …the world. Nothing is waste. Do not put barriers to your creativity.
Say no. Say no so that you can say yes to what matters to you. Take time to reflect on what is it that calls you. Your desire is important for the world. Put yourself and your creative writing/reading first.
Try to become a verb and not a noun. I got this idea from the poet Mark Nepo. Forget the idea of becoming someone, a name to be remembered or put somewhere in some list or plaque of academic fame. Instead focus in the meaning and joy that is in the acts of writing, reflecting, reading, teaching…become that.
A fish is just a fish. Brian sent me a card with this sentence. It is my mantra for compassion and self-love. A human is just a human. We try our best and we fail, and fail again, and that is fine. And I love to imagine that I was a fish in a previous life, swimming in a green blue ocean.
Your mantras might be very different to these, you will notice them when you hear them. Each of us depending on our personalities and lives needs and gets moved by different things. Let what calls you be present in your academic life.
Quotes that matter to me:
“Man, sometimes it takes you a long time to sound like yourself.” Miles Davis
It takes a life to find your voice. There is consolation in this saying. We become more ourselves along the way and finding your own voice in writing may take time, and that is ok. In the beginning is very common to imitate, to sound like others, to sound ‘academic’ as we imagine what ‘academic’ is supposed to be like. When you read articles and can’t identify who has been writing them, often this is what has happened, in these cases writing does not correspond to a personal voice but to a form of ‘craft’. When you sense or feel your personal voice appearing, trust it, let it out, train it in diaries or any form of writing, it will eventually evolve to take over everything else than you do. We need ‘you’ and your subjectivity, your voice, not more of the same, there are way too many replicas already.
“Follow your curiosity!” Elisabeth Gilbert
I got inspired by the book of creativity “Big Magic” of Elisabeth Gilbert. In this book she explains how for years she believed in the idea – “follow your passion!”, and this is what she shared in her talks, until one day someone in the audience asked her – what if I do not have a passion? I think this is the truth for many of us or for many of us sometimes in our lives. A passion seems a big calling, something one will abandon family and country to pursue. Instead I love the idea of following one’s curiosity. Curiosity is there in our daily lives, more like a whisper, like when a book calls us and another does not, like when we can’t wait to know more about something. That form of vitality is deeply connected to desire and if we listen time flies and the skies seem to open.
Advice taken from wonderful friends in academia:
Stop trying to make everybody happy. You are not tequila. This Instagramable quote made me laugh out loud. It was from my friend Adriana, and it is perfect for anyone that feels the urge to become ‘the helper’, to be likeable or to people please (something which unfortunately is quite common among women because of the way many of us were socialized).
When things feel like falling apart take a breath and just look … wait… there’s a summer waiting somewhere. From Adam. Relinquishing our need to control can be the very best thing to do even when we are feeling distress or anxiety.
Slow. From Kellee. She selected this word as her ‘word of the year’ in 2019. I copied this. It is the wisest word. I still have to remind myself every single day of the power of doing anything slow, paying attention, being present.
If I had to summarize all this in one single advice it will be this:
Do not lie to yourself, not for social reasons, not for professional reasons. Love plenty. Just be.
Ana María Munar
Copenhagen Business School, Denmark