from 100 to 0 in less than a day – on life transitions

having worked a solid 40-60 hour week for the past three years, my phd was resting in a state of suspended animation. since monday, however, i am faced with the pleasure and challenge to return to academia full time in order to finish what i started several years ago.

returning to academia from a life filled with emails, meetings and constantly growing to-do lists, i have to admit, feels a bit like a car crash – from 100 to 0 in too short a time for the mind to catch on. in the case of a car crash it’s several seconds. in the case of ending an employment it takes approximately two weeks – one week in which you really feel the crash coming; then there is the ominous d-day (which you have been impatiently waiting for and dreading at the same time for the past months already); and last but not least it’s the first week of your new life which is, let’s be honest, the minimum amount of time your brain, soul and mind need to catch on to the new reality.

having experienced this ‘crash’ before (i also worked full time for two years during my bachelor’s degree and then switched to full time academia for my master’s), i knew what i had gotten myself into. so, this time, i came prepared: i made a plan and decided that the easiest way to re-enter academia – and arguably a smart one at that since it constitutes one of the core elements of academic life – was to read. read, read, read. to ease the access, i would not even limit myself as to what i should read in particular (obviously, my household is by my very nature predominantly filled with academic works of my field in any case), but i would rather leave it up to chance and daily interest to guide me through the first week. there was only one requirement for me to do: read for 4 hours every day.

coming from an 8-10 hour long work day, 4 hours seem easily doable. and they are, once you find the rhythm which works for you. in my case, i tried the ‘hammer’-method the first day: read 4 hours straight. as it turned out, i am not made for this type of reading. to the contrary, waiting for the alarm to ring (which i had set in a four hour distance to my starting point) actually demotivated me in reading even this simple book with big letter printing and easy content that i had picked out for the first day. instead, the next day, i switched from the alarm clock to a timer and simply pressed play and pause every time i started or stopped reading that day. and suddenly the 4 hours just flew by! the only hurdle that was left in my way now was the frustrating experience of some deeply unsatisfying books – but more on this in my next post.

to conclude the first week of #mynewlife, i have to stress the obvious challenge of transition phases, particularly if the difference is so stark as it is between a full time business schedule and the seeming emptiness of a self-responsible phd student’s day. however, contrary to a car crash -in which one can only hope for airbag and seatbelt to save oneself from the worst-, there are tricks and methods for life transitions to make the change feel less like a crushing halt but rather like a smooth sailing towards new horizons. reading flexibly for 4 hours every day and using the rest of the day to cook, clean and exercise certainly made my transition much smoother.

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