“Quiet desperation” was Thoreau’s term for the malaise he observed in his home town of Concord. He attributed it to people’s habit of focusing on the wrong things, on the superficial cares and duties of daily work instead of the true necessities of life. He retired to Walden to find out what really mattered, so that, when he came to die, he would not be mortified to discover that he had not lived.
Indeed, it is always much easier to keep on working than to practice living, for work always has an element of routine, but living requires growth, change, creativity, and personal transformation. Work is a part of living, but only one part, and how easily we confuse the two. A minister friend, whose wife was coming up for tenure, confessed that they had gone into counseling. “It’s tough,” he said. “The counselor tells us to cut back, relax, devote less time to work, but the college tells you that you must be a workaholic to keep your job.”
We regard living a healthy, balanced life as the fundamental challenge for any person trying to navigate an academic career. To us it seems far more important than surviving grad school, achieving tenure, gaining promotion, or making it to retirement. These may be worthy goals, but what does it profit to gain the whole world if you have to pay for it with your soul? We have seen lots of books, blogs, and syndicated columns about playing the game; they abound in strategies and tactics for achieving success. But they don’t deal very much with staying alive.
Scott Peck wrote, “Life consists of problems. Do we want to moan about them or solve them? Do we want to teach our children to solve them?” We offer this blog as a forum for exchanging ideas and stories about staying alive, in the academy and beyond. Please join in.