I have written previously about how I learned in yoga that it can be helpful to use supports in your practice. I’ve been thinking about this principle again recently in a different way. I think this might help you see the difference between useful supports and supports that help but also create other problems.
A useful support
My dad is 87 years old. He’s been slowing down over the past several years, which is perfectly normal. The last time he visited, I noticed that he walks so slowly I find it hard to keep up. Very very slowly. After their visit my mom noticed that he walks faster in the grocery store pushing the trolley. So he got a walker.
There are 2 advantages to the walker for my dad. First, he can sit down any time he likes because it has a seat. That means he doesn’t have to anticipate how far he can go and whether there is a place to rest if he gets tired. Second, the walker provides just enough support to enable him to walk faster and go farther. (“Faster” is a relative term. He is not walking “fast” in any objective sense.)
The upshot is that he is walking more and farther which will be exercising those muscles and keeping them strong. And that means he is more independent than he would be without the support.
Not everyone who uses a walker is like my dad. Sometimes you need a support temporarily while you build up the strength to walk without supports. A friend broke her ankle quite badly and was unable to use that leg for several months while it healed. She lost a lot of muscle mass and needed crutches and then a cane as she built up the strength in that leg again after the bone had healed. She now walks without support.
In both cases the cane, crutches, or walker are increasing freedom and mobility. (Side note: no one is “confined” to a wheelchair. It increases mobility.)
When a support becomes a problem
A friend of mine has knee problems that have been increasingly severe. She is active and works with a physiotherapist but she has needed to walk with a cane and use the bannister to get up stairs. Although these supports help her remain active and independent, they have also started to cause wrist problems. That creates problems for other aspects of her life that are important to her.
In this case a support that helps with one issue has ended up creating another issue. This has led her (and her health care provider) to reevaluate the supports and the underlying problem and seek other solutions. (She’s scheduled for knee surgery and receiving other appropriate medical care.)
Finding appropriate supports
What are the lessons for your writing practice and academic career?
Using a support is not a sign of weakness. It can be a way to help you do the things that make you stronger. If you are struggling with your writing, your teaching, or some other aspect of your career or your life, stop and think about what kind of support might enable you to do those things better. (And remember, better is relative to where you are now.)
You may need that support forever. Or you may need it for a while as you develop your skills and habits. There is no shame in continuing to use supports. You do not need to be in a hurry to get rid of them. Using supports does not impinge on your academic freedom, autonomy nor your true capabilities. They help you perform at your best.
However, it is important to periodically reevaluate your supports. Even if the support is helping the original problem you identified, check to make sure it isn’t causing another problem. You may not be able to just stop using your problematic support, but you can start to identify other possibilities, get a more nuanced understanding of the problems you are trying to address, and then try a different approach to see if that works better.
Not exhaustive by any means but some initial places to start. Experiment. Ask around. Figure out what works best for you.
For your writing: You can join the Academic Writing Studio and come to A Meeting With Your Writing regularly. Create or join a local writing group. Work with an editor. Investigate whether your university provides writing coaching or other support.
For your teaching: See what your Centre for Learning and Teaching (or whatever it’s called in your institution) provides. Ask a colleague to observe your teaching and give you feedback.
For your workload & career planning: I host quarterly live classes aimed at helping you to manage and plan your workload effectively while avoiding burnout. The next public class is on June 4! Sign up for Studio membership to access the additional class on June 25, as well as all the other resources, Office Hours and MWYW sessions. If you’re unable to make these classes or become a Studio member just yet, you can also browse my Library for some long-form support (in both text and audio versions), or book a free coaching consult to chat things over.