Tamara is a recovering academic who coaches and mentors folks through radical paradigm shifts so they can live an unapologetic life in soul alignment with self, nature, and community. Her vision is to create trauma-informed community, co-learning, collaboration, and care that weaves feminism, mindfulness, mind-body (somatic) work, nature-based activities, and community impact.
At the time Tamara left academia in summer 2021, she was a tenured full professor who had advised and mentored faculty, student affairs professionals, and graduate students for almost 15 years. She served in administrative roles at various levels including department chair of leadership and policy. She has published and presented research worldwide, and bounced back from rejections, revisions, and reinventions. Now Tamara focuses her expertise on integrative wellbeing, embodied climate work, and individual to community healing.
To depart or not to depart higher ed: that is the question that everyone seems to be grappling with right now.
But as a former tenured faculty member who made the transition and is now a coach, I know that underneath the departure decision, whether forced or chosen or somewhere in between, is a value alignment question.
I served the whole of my 15 year faculty career at former teacher’s colleges turned regional universities because I valued an experiential and collaborative learning approach to education. I valued the relational networking to support student’s applied learning across campus. My other top value is knowledge so I wanted my research and pubs to have an impact and improve lives.
So by the time I left academia this past summer, I knew I was walking toward my best life.
Even though I was leaving behind a career as a full professor and department chair. Truth be told, I had daydreamed of quitting even before the pandemic hit. Because underneath all of that – our values weren’t in alignment anymore.
Screech. Back up. There’s lots that went into all my departure decision, including workplace toxicity, increased over-workload, institutional budget cuts, heavy mental health load, burnout and depression – mine and others. I had to create a new career to support my life as a single parent. Departing is a big decision with ripple effects. Staying is also a big decision.
Now I’m a recovering academic. I don’t use that phrase lightly. There were many addictions and trauma behaviors during that time that lead me here. I share because I think that’s true for many of us. In reflecting, I see how when I was most out of value alignment, trauma responses came into play in unhealthy ways, such as numbing, overworking, over-caring, people pleasing, food, over exercising, too many socials.
When I saw how out of alignment my values were with the institution’s, it became easier to separate. For awhile I would find ways to get enough in alignment as to not be out of personal integrity. Then with how higher ed handled all the things above and the ongoing pandemic, we were so far out of alignment that there was no righting it for me.
You may be sitting there reading this and one of these scenarios resonates:
- Your values have shifted, as they do because we age and grow;
- The veil has come off and you realize values were never aligned;
- Your institution/college/department/program’s values shifted; or
- Higher Ed’s true nature has been revealed.
Likely, it’s some combination of the above with your own flavoring added.
Whatever your context, take an honest look at your values now; not what you think they should be or what someone else thinks or how you might be judged if they aren’t the ‘right’ ones.
If you have the space, time, and desire, I believe folks can disentangle in an empowering manner and come out in greater soul and self alignment on the other side.
What makes your list of top 5 values?
Get real honest with yourself about it though; I know there was a time in my life when some values were performative. There is a lot of social conditioning and professionalization influences that shape our thoughts and beliefs so it’s easy to think those sometimes are what we individually value.
And when reflecting on that, don’t just accept and trust your brain. Feel into your body because the body never lies; yet higher ed trains body wisdom out of most of us.
How does each value feel in your body?
Here’s something I like to do with clients that you can do for yourself. Once you have your list of values. Sit with each one; perhaps eyes closed and in quiet reflective space.
- Breathe. Breathe in each value.
- How does this value feel in my body? What are the sensations I notice in my body, when I think about this value?
- How do I define this value for me? How does it show up in day-to-day life and work?
- Do my behaviors line up with this value?
- Answer the prompt: To be in [this value], I feel/I am …
How do you values show up, or not, in your workplace?
When I talk to folks about their dilemma, I ask if they think they can realistically work through all the bullshitery and change the system from within? At the core of this is are you in a culture that values what you value and where you can find some way to work together rather than against. Because, if yours and your workplace values are in such opposition that you not only can’t thrive, but that you also can’t even do your work, then what are you left with?
In this question is the age old wisdom, follow the money to find the true values enacted. Plenty of leaders know the right rhetoric and may even believe what they say.
- Where has your institution placed money and value over the last years?
- What have been the actions and decisions over the last years that demonstrate their values?
- Can you hold your values and protect their boundaries healthily in this environment?
Where do you need to give yourself permission?
Lastly, something I don’t hear acknowledged in public enough or at all is that is it OKAY if your values and what you want shift. As we age or go through our careers, we change because that’s the nature of this human journey we are all on collectively and individually.
By the time I earned full professor, I didn’t want to write peer-reviewed journal articles anymore. I wanted to write this. I wanted to write to help folks live the life they can love again. So for me, trying to do both wasn’t in alignment with where I wanted to spend my time and creative efforts.
And when my teaching focused institution wanted grant writing and higher level research publications, I knew I couldn’t stay. My heart wasn’t in that hustle. It was, at one point. But I’m mid 40s, raising an amazing neurodivergent daughter in this pandemic world, and called to do impact work for people and planet. My values shifted and I gave myself permission to grow out of that old vision and dream a new one.
A big part of unraveling my academic entanglement – of shifting my identity as a professor to now a recovering academic – was getting crystal clear on what my values are and accepting that they’ve shifted as did my institution’s. And that’s more than okay.
Where do you need to give yourself permission and shift into greater value alignment?
- So You Want To Come to the Dark Side: Starting the #Postac Journey – Polizzi 1
- Academia Is the Grift, Part II: Reader Voices
- A Black Woman’s Story from Despair to Joy (Part I) – #BLM Guest Post
- Careering Toward Authenticity – #Postac Post by Karen Cardozo
- Letting Myself Leave Academia as an Act of Self-Love – Prof Is /Out/ Guest Post