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Ten Ways to Grow a Backbone
"Oh, good," I said to myself, "Here are some of the books I ordered. I hope these are the ones about dealing with back pain." The first book on the pile in the box was How to Grow a Backbone, by Susan Marshall. I did a double take, and then I realized it was a book I had ordered based on Meggin McIntosh's suggestion during her presentation "Antioxidants for Toxic Academic Work Environments" (recording still available).
In How to Grow a Backbone, Susan Marshall tells us why we need a strong backbone to thrive in the work world and what steps we need to take in order to develop one. Although her book is tailored to the business world, it easily translates into the academic environment.
What follows is some of what I liked best from this book, organized and summarized in a way that I hope is helpful to graduate students, post docs and professors. I highly recommend that you read it for yourself. I started reading it to help my readers, but I ended up benefiting from it in surprising ways. (Believe me, you need a backbone to be able to keep your head up in the world of Internet business.)
What is Backbone?
Marshall defines backbone as "firm and resolute character" (p.10). In action, she says, it might look and feel like courage. The word "integrity" also describes someone with strong backbone. My belief is that everyone can grow a backbone, and that academia is a perfect place for you to learn how.
How Much of a Backbone Do You Have?
This might sound like a harsh question, but it's an important one. Here are some questions that I've come up with that you can ask yourself in order to find out if you are backbone-deficient.
What Are the Advantages of Growing More Backbone?
People who act with integrity feel more in control of their environment. Feeling this way is an important component of a sense of well-being. When what you do is in line with what you believe, your self-esteem is higher. Although you are taking more risks, you will paradoxically feel less fear and anxiety in the long run. When you feel in control of your environment, you will be less likely to experience a sense of hopelessness, helplessness and depression. This in turn will make it easier for you to take on challenges.
The Three Components of Backbone
According to Marshall there are three components of backbone: competence, the ability to take purposeful risks, and confidence. Each component interacts with the other.
How Do You Grow More Backbone? Ten Steps You Can Take
© Gina Hiatt, PhD.
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*From a quote on p. 110 of the Nov. 3, 2008 issue of the New Yorker, in a book review by Dan Chiasson, of Words in Air: The Complete Correspondence Between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell, by Thomas Travisan with Saskia Hamilton (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)