In the second stage of an academic career, which we call the Warrior Phase, the main task is to establish yourself in the world. Training is over; combat and struggle begin. In school, you relate mostly with people your own age. But in the real world you must deal with people of every age, level of experience, or variety of character. Doors open on situations of breathtaking complexity or slam shut without warning on simple, sincere expectations. Challenges lurk and opportunities abound.
Erik Erikson calls this phase “Young Adulthood” and defines its tasks as intimacy and belonging vs. isolation, to which we bring the strengths of affiliation and love. It is enacted in the realm of community, where one learns how to make a living, and in the realm of personal relationships where one finds a mate, establishes a home, and starts a family. Erikson locates this phase between ages 18 and 35, but in academic life, with its extended adolescence, it more commonly occurs between 26 and 40 – or, in the standard model, between grad school and tenure.
The image of a warrior suggests fighting and aggression, but we like to think of it more in terms of engagement. This phase often feels like a wrestling match with life. To prevail, you must bring to all the skills of a warrior, primarily strength, flexibility, and centeredness.
Yoga embodies these virtues in classic Warrior Poses, where core strength holds the body in position as energy radiates down through the legs to ground you firmly in the earth, and outward through the arms to engage with the world. In order to maintain a firm horizontal and vertical alignment, your core muscles have to engage resolutely and consistently. Without centeredness, your arms flag or droop, your knees wobble, and you can fall out of the pose. Without flexibility, you can’t enter or exit the pose, nor move from one pose to another, without hurting yourself.
For academic people, staying alive through the Warrior Phase means practicing strength, flexibility, and centeredness in all three dimensions of life: the personal, the professional, and the institutional. Stay tuned.