I wrote this piece earlier this summer, but didn’t post it. I’m not sure why I held on to it, but now that summer is ending and the new school year is about to begin, I’m finding myself standing face-to-face with old habits and patterns, wondering who or what will win.
I’ve long known that academe will suck up all of the time and energy that it can, and it will tell you that it’s still not enough, but this past school year a series of challenges came at me with full force and as I struggled to allocate attention between my life (home, family, friends, my scholarship) and work (the teaching and administration of academe), I started to think that my values, the ones that pushed me to stay up late and put in just another 30 minutes or agree to yet one more small service task, were messed up. I can’t do it all. I can’t prioritize it all. And it’s not worth trying.
So here are my ramblings from May. It’s interesting to consider the ways in which my thoughts and actions have (not) progressed since then.
It’s summer, and I’m a professor. My school year contract has ended, and summer session has begun. The summer session has a different feeling from the regular school year, and the summer is a time when I typically (re)consider the various patterns in my life. During the last school year I got perilously close to burning out. More than once. The week after school ended, I collapsed in an unhealthy heap. I knew something had to change. But what?
Adding to the challenge, I end each day feeling that I have not done enough.
So, I’m examining my patterns. It’s a Monday. Yesterday – Sunday – I relaxed with my family, but I also spent about 1.5 hours providing student feedback, 1 hour preparing for data collection and I wrote 444 words on a scholarly paper. I’m not complaining, just documenting. As the evening hours came along, my stress level rose as I realized that I had neither prepped the research nor written for the day.
This morning I was up at 7:30 and getting ready for the day. By 8:45 I had done about 30 minutes of work – correspondence, research prep – and then drove my daughter to school. Back at 9:15 I ate a super quick breakfast and was ready to be picked up at 9:30 by my research collaborator. We headed to our data collection site, did 3 interviews of about 1 hour each, had lunch (all while talking about research plans) and then I was home by 2 for another email check. I’ve touched base with my class, engaged in more research correspondence, confirmed some administrative details, and now, at 5:30, find myself sitting with my planner and iPad at my daughter’s violin lesson trying to fight the feeling that I’ve done NOTHING today. Nothing. So nothing is 3 interviews, several emails, and planning and organizing? And because of this nothing I will feel compelled to go back to work at 8 pm tonight, once my daughter is tucked in, and will probably sit at my computer until around 11 pm. Is this my summer?
I’m trying to figure out why the little voice in my head says I’ve done nothing. Is it because I know I have hours of typing up interview notes ahead? Because I’ve not fully finished last week’s notes? Because I have various manuscripts I need to be working on? Editorial duties to take care of? A class to interact with? (Have I ever interacted enough?)
Flipping the dialogue, I conducted three interviews and took excellent notes. That was about 3 hours of very intense work. I had travel time that was related to that work. I debriefed the project over lunch. That was work, even if it was enjoyable and at moments felt social. I had to download and organize files afterward. That was mundane but necessary work, as were the emails and administrative planning. In short, I worked a full day, but beat myself up for not working a full day.
Something is wrong here.
No matter what I do, there will be more work to be done. The feeling that I need to conquer outstanding work will never recede. I have grown certain of this. All I can do is control how I feel about it and what I do about it.
Flash forward to present day. I cannot recall if I felt this piece was finished when I wrote it, or if I trailed off in distraction or got caught up in other more pressing activities. I do know that the school year is about to begin and I hardly feel as if I have had a summer break. Still, I fought for some “me time” and “me activities” throughout summer, and I think I’m starting to win on that front. I’m starting to call it a day a little earlier, ensure I get the sleep that I need, and communicate my limits to myself and to others. I still may not know where the point labeled “enough” resides on the axis of work/life balance, but I do feel like I’m getting warmer.