On today’s episode we are going to talk about a topic that is somewhat taboo in academia, and that’s money.
Specifically, I’m going to give you some ideas for how to get writing coaching and other kinds of professional development funded by your institution.
But more broadly, I’m going to talk about the concept of money mindsets and why we need to view spending money on ourselves as good and necessary investments.
But before I get into this juicy set of topics, I wanted to ask you to do a quick check-in with yourself.
How are you feeling in this exact moment?
I bet you’re listening to this while you’re driving, exercising, putting away the dishes or doing any other number of tasks on your to-do list.
You might be feeling stressed, anxious, tense, and tight.
Please stop what you’re doing for a second (unless you’re driving, of course!)
Let’s do a quick breathing exercise with me that will instantly bring more calm and centeredness to your life.
If you can, close your eyes and inhale slowly, filling your chest and your belly, and exhale for a count of three. Breathe in again, and out again, even more slowly this time.
And as you continue breathing deeply, I’m going to recite some words from Zen master Thich Nhat Han:
Breathing in, I notice I am breathing in,
Breathing out, I notice I am breathing out.
Breathing in, I cherish myself,
Breathing out, I cherish the world.
Breathing in brings calm to body and mind,
Breathing out, I smile in joy.
Breathing in brings ease,
Breathing out, I release.
I breathe in this precious moment,
There is only this moment.
Okay, now open your eyes and come back to the space you’re in.
Hopefully you are feeling a bit more grounded and aware of what’s going on in your body. You’ve replenished some oxygen and slowed things down.
I like to do these short breathing practices whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed or like I’m rushing through things.
Remember that meditation is just mindful breathing.
You don’t need to sit on a pillow for half an hour in total silence. You can just bring some awareness to your breath for a minute a two throughout the day and still get major benefits.
Okay, so now that we’re feeling calmer, let’s talk about money!
The Scarcity Mindset
So the first thing I think is really important to address is the topic of money mindset.
What is a money mindset?
Essentially, it’s just your deep-seated beliefs about money, which influence how you handle it and your decisions around saving, spending, and debt.
Academics in general, as well as the whole field of higher education, I would argue, have a really tense and fraught relationship with money.
We treat it as a very scarce resource, leading to what’s referred to as a “scarcity mindset” around money.
And we do this for a couple of reasons.
First, money can truly be scarce.
In graduate school, many of us survive on tiny stipends that are doled out at the beginning of the semester and then you have to find a way to stretch out for months on end.
And this is not even to mention the three months of summer that go unpaid, right?
When I started grad school in 2002, the stipend was $14,000. By the time I graduated eight years later, the stipend had only gone up to $16,000. And this was in the San Francisco Bay Area, one of the highest cost-of-living areas in the U.S.!
In another example, I just interviewed someone for my book who just got her PhD a few months ago from a school with a multi-billion dollar endowment, and her stipend was only $20,000/year.
(And just FYI, she decided to leave academia to become a researcher at a large company, and her starting pay is $110,000.)
Tenure-track faculty are also largely underpaid for their level of education. For my first job in the Midwest that I began in 2012, my starting pay was $54,000.
And I know that these types of starting salaries are still common in 2022 for humanities and social science faculty members.
Salaries have not kept up with cost of living or inflation. I know of assistant professors who drive Ubers on the weekend to make ends meet.
When I was a junior faculty member, I rented out my apartment in Boston when I was out of town to make more income.
And of course, for adjunct lecturers who are paid by the course and don’t receive any kind of benefits, things can get much more dire.
I recently interviewed a long-time lecturer who told me that a local, well-funded university had offered her $2000 to teach a highly technical class that very few other people could teach.
But when she added up the commuting time, prep time, grading time, office hours, and class time, it worked out to less than $9 per hour.
Furthermore, in academia, to get funding—whether it’s in the form of a scholarship, fellowship, grant, or a tenure-track job—means taking part in competitive systems where there are a very small number of winners and many more losers.
Long story short, our views of money are very much influenced by the low salaries and hefty competition over resources in academia.
But I believe that there is a second main reason academics often have a scarcity mindset.
And that is because many people believe that the work of teaching and research is, or at least should be, separate from money and financial profit.
In other words, there is a prevailing sentiment that wanting to help students and make the world better through education are goals that are somehow at odds with making money.
The problem with this line of thinking is that those who pursue the academic path are often willing to accept less payment in exchange for being able to do work they care about.
I’ve been reading a new book by sociologist Erin Cech called The Trouble with Passion: How Searching for Fulfillment at Work Fosters Inequality.
She looks at middle-class, highly educated American workers to argue that our pursuit of “passion” in our work can lead us to sacrifice things like adequate financial compensation.
I absolutely think that the passion principle, as she calls it, applies to the realm of higher education.
Whether anyone says it aloud or not, the presumption in academia is that the work itself should be the reward.
When passion is supposed to compensate for the time and effort you’re putting in, it can set people up for exploitation.
When you are burning yourself out working at night and on weekends because it’s your passion, the larger system benefits but you do not.
Being that there are so few tenure-track jobs out there, we must admit that there can be real financial implications for putting work ahead of our material needs.
At the very least, academics accept scarcity of resources as normal, if not desirable. And when I’m talking about resources, I mean time as well as money.
Operating from a place of scarcity puts you in a defensive mode rather in a space of openness and possibility.
So what I’m trying to say is that there can be actual scarcity in your life and a scarcity mindset, and these things may or may not both be present at the same time.
Embracing an Abundance Mindset
Now that we’ve looked at the scarcity mindset, it’s really important to take a look at its opposite, which is an abundance mindset.
It’s the idea that there are enough, and more than enough, resources and opportunities out there for everyone. I know, it seems kind of revolutionary, doesn’t it?
A scarcity mindset sees limitations instead of opportunities, whereas an abundance mindset is an open-minded perspective that’s always on the lookout for new possibilities.
One of the main ways the scarcity mindset can show up for book authors is being worried that your research topic will be scooped by another person and then all your work would have been for nothing.
An abundance mindset belief would be, “there is more than enough room for multiple books on this topic.” Or, “my book will be a major contribution to the world because it’s written by me, and no one else has my combination of skills, talents, and experience!”
I mean, look at the sheer number of books, shows, movies that have and continue to be produced on Marilyn Monroe or Princess Diana’s lives. And somehow there’s room for all of them.
And why does this matter when it comes to getting writing coaching and professional development funded?
A scarcity mentality can keep people from asking their departments or institutions for support. They either assume that there’s no money or that they wouldn’t receive it even if they tried.
People with an abundance mindset believe that there’s pockets of funding available somewhere, and they will keep looking and applying until they get it.
Investigate Your Money Mindset
Because our relationships with money can be so complex, I think it’s really important for everyone to investigate their own money mindsets.
So let me give you a few questions to get you going.
Consider the following:
1) What messages did you learn from your family about money?
2) What messages have you learned from academia about money?
3) What are your current beliefs about money, especially regarding spending it on yourself?
4) How do these beliefs impact your actions in relation to money?
5) And finally, what might it cost you if you don’t invest in yourself?
The reason I’m including this final question is that I know many academics who will do anything to not spend money on themselves.
Some folks balk at the idea of spending several thousand dollars on editing, coaching, or productivity programs like the one offered by NCFDD.
Investing in yourself at a high level can help you gain confidence, clarity, and accountability that will allow you to meet your goals much more quickly and easily than if you keep trying to do it alone.
So for those of who you who feel resistant to spending money on your own professional development, please consider—what is more important to you: holding onto your money now or getting a book contract and have your book published with your dream press?
This can potentially get you a job, a fellowship, or tenure.
How much are these things worth to you?
Short-term investments can have very a large payback later.
The biggest example from my own life was the decision to invest in a 9-month intensive life coach training course in Los Angeles in 2018.
It cost nearly $8000 and involved five separate plane flights from Boston to LA. It was a major investment, not just of money, but also of time and energy.
When I was considering this investment, I really asked myself what I wanted to get out of the experience.
And I wanted two things: first, to gain the skills that would allow me to become a practicing coach, and second, to regain my sense of purpose that I had lost along the tenure track grind.
And not only have I gained both of these things, but I also now have a new career doing work I truly enjoy that is much more aligned with my core values and the lifestyle I want to lead.
So, using an abundance mindset, here are some suggestions for finding funds to pay for writing coaching and other kinds of professional development.
- First, check with your department. Departments often have budgets for research, training, and development that you might not know about. These funds often have to be spent by the end of the academic year, so go to your chair with a specific request. For example, one year I was able to hire a life coach with my annual departmental research funds.
- Next, check with your institution and your Dean. Your school might have annual grant competitions or funds that are earmarked for junior faculty. I’ve learned that universities also often have pockets of discretionary funds that are not publicized but can be made available if you make a good argument for them.
- Another idea is to consider adding coaching and editing to your next grant application. Some grants have specific categories for writing and research consultants, which coaching would fall under.
- And finally, you can consider paying out of pocket. This can be a tough one for many academics because, again, we view resources as scarce. It can feel challenging to spend a large sum of money on ourselves without feeling guilty, like we’re wasting our hard-earned wages. But like my example of investing in my life coach training shows, smaller investments can have much bigger payoffs later.
Also, it can help to approach your university to request funds using a formal letter. I have a funding template for writing coaching that you can tailor for your own needs.
If you want a copy, please shoot me an email at Leslie@nullYourWordsUnleashed.com.
In wrapping up today’s episode, I really encourage you to start viewing spending money on professional development as an investment in yourself, your career, and the life you want to lead.
Your ideas and your book are worthy of this type of care and investment.
Have a great week, and I’ll talk to you again soon!