Health, Well-being and Whānau

The PhD journey as with any academic endeavour is long and at many times arduous. Accumulatively I’ve been in the University environment as a student, a staff member or both for ten years, and during that time I’ve experienced and witnessed students and staff in all kinds of states of being. This blog discusses good health, well-being, and a supportive wide-reaching whanau as a way to make it through the journey with class and dignity. There have been many times during the past 10 years where the class and dignity had to bow to survival and humility.


Most students arrive on the first day full of energy, possibility, and hope for a better future, although everyone’s journey is different. Some thrive in the academy and find their place in the sun, their passions, and their purpose which lead them into the career of their dreams. However, some peoples’ journeys are more challenging. Some even end up physically exhausted, emotionally bankrupt, intellectually challenged and spiritually bereft, or any combinations of these challenging experiences. I’ve seen many of our Māori and Pacific people manage family crises, financial difficulties, health issues, and still get to the other side and graduate. Despite all of the ups and downs that these states bring on, surviving tertiary education is definitely a triumphant and jubilant occasion worth celebrating. For everyone reading this that has one degree, two degrees, three degrees or more take a quick second to high-five yourself! It is a wonderful accomplishment and one that you may not even have had time to acknowledge.


So how do we make the journey better, smoother and easier? Looking around at the Indigenous scholars’ space it seems like we are doing well under the pressure although there are ebbs and flows. The realisation is, that those that are doing best as far as I can see, have a few tools in their kete. From the outset there is a health and well-being plan integrated into a manageable lifestyle. These scholars have less financial stress either through gaining scholarships or paid employment. Managing finances is one of the most important parts of the wellbeing plan. Healthy food and exercise feature highly in the weekly routines as do drinking around 2 litres of water a day, and getting enough sleep. Exercise could be as simple as a quick walk every day particularly in nature, or stretching and purposeful breathing. Some of the daily stress can be managed by a decent time management plan and building skills around managing energy rather than time. The students that seem to glide through smoothly are the ones that have regular well-being habits such as gratitude journaling, and time-out for themselves. They also have a wealth of support from their supervisory team, from whanau and friends. This is topped by a passion for their research and conviction to an outcome that will make a difference for their people. The key is maintaining a balance between work and study, family and friends, social and community responsibilities, rest and relaxation. These may all sound like common-sense ideas, but common-sense is not always common practice.


No doubt you have heard people say, and seen it written that we must maintain a work-life balance. The idea of work–life balance is concerning because instead of work being part of life, it has been promoted to have its own category which is held as equally as important as ‘life’ itself.  That sure is problematic. There are not just two components; ‘life and work’ to live life by. It certainly is not the way our ancestors lived. Interestingly, work was seen as fun back in the day. Growing and catching food were part of the fun activities. Cooking and cleaning on the marae for our manuhiri was fun and important work. It was honourable work to look after your guests and provide them with the best food, drink and hospitality available. Exercise was integrated into daily life through the physical work being done. It was called mahi and everyone partook in the activities of it. Each person’s role was considered significant right from the youngest to the oldest. Therefore the structure and the system considered everyone’s age, status and capability appropriately and everyone was assigned a role. Each member’s work was a valued contribution. These ideas are quickly being washed away in a society where age matters and segregates people into boxes, a society where youth and beauty are ranked highest. In these times, life balance is limited to making the most of your youth, and your work life is limited because your life loses value as life goes on.


At the moment, we are lucky enough to study business with a whanau of 10 Indigenous scholars and working together makes a difference. Some of us are either coming up through the ranks to do a PhD or currently studying towards it already. One of the whanau has recently submitted. We have chosen to move from a collegial status to being friends and part of each other’s extended whanau. From this position we understand that helping each other through the stages of study, gives us back rewards, and when one succeeds we all succeed. We spend a lot of time with each other and without a doubt we can’t help but be interested in each other’s holistic growth. At any given time with so many role models around, we can look to each other to develop a good time management system, a good health and well-being regime, and notices about scholarships or part time jobs to help our financial status. Moreover, having a space to ask those dumb questions, that we dare not take to any other forum – that’s when it matters. Our whanau empowered itself to formalise, the network of support and K.I.N. (Knowledge in Indigenous Networks) was born. It has made doing a PhD a much easier decision than it would have otherwise been without K.I.N. Luckily we have each other to keep ourselves on top of our game, especially when we might be facing challenges in our life, that could easily snowball and cripple our journeying. Without K.I.N and the holistic approach, we may all have been a lot more physically exhausted, emotionally bankrupt, intellectually challenged and spiritually bereft. Instead we have a whanau that is thriving. We are keen to widen our networks and collaborations in business scholarship and would enjoy your feedback about your own journeys, and ideas on managing time, energy and resources to maintain health and well-being.


One Comment

  1. Amber Nicholson

    I really like your whakaaro on work-life balance Abi. Somewhere along the line we have been presented with a dichotomy and told we must balance these components equally. And yet, as you say, work is part of life, not a stand-alone category. Pai rawa tena!


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