Monday, September 20, 2021

Middle Ground


We're now nearly a month into fall semester, and last week was the week "stuff got real." I know this because, after feeling on top of things for several weeks (and congratulating myself about that), I suddenly  felt that familiar "too much to do/too little time" feeling begin to follow me around. In addition, my to-do list items were lingering, adding to the pile and disabusing me of any notion that I was actually keeping all the plates spinning. Judging from my inbox, my students were in the same boat. Requests for extensions began popping up like weeds and tired resignation replaced enthusiastic participation.

While there's a multiplicity of possible reactions to this, the two extremes tend to tug at us: dig in and work harder, eschewing down time and fun or curl up in a ball, take a nap and hope it will all go away. I've learned that small doses of the latter can be helpful in restoring balance, but a full-on ostrich act only makes things worse. And, although digging in and working harder seems a logical response, it's a terrible long-term plan. I spent all of last summer trying to recuperate from several semesters spent doing just that.

So, what did I do? I fought the urge to give in to more work, longer hours, less fun and opted to try to preserve the balance I'd spent all summer restoring. I picked up the pace a bit, because it was necessary to do so, but tried to avoid the all-work-and-no-play solution that the little voice in the back of my head kept pushing.

Oddly enough, it was more difficult than it sounds. That little voice may be quiet but it's persistent. I'd sit down to read a book and it would start in, running through the list of school tasks I "should" be doing instead. I'd set aside my laptop to watch something on television with my family, and the little voice's panicked cousin would tell me that I needed to keep the momentum going or I wouldn't get back to work-- something that was, unfortunately, often true.

But was it really the end of the world if I chilled out at 9 pm? And if it was okay at 9 pm, how early was too early?

The bottom line is, there will always be something on my to-do list that travels from one day to the next. There will always be things to grade, the list will always be longer than I want it to be, and someone will always be unhappy that they didn't get an assignment back sooner than they'd have liked. But exhausted, stressed and sick of the material are not qualities that lend themselves well to a good instructor, family member, or human being.

So, here I am. Stuck in the middle with to-do's.

But the middle isn't so bad. It allows for time to read a book, time to tackle the school list, the home list, the writing list, and any other list that comes my way. And it keeps me from working 16-hour days and curling up in a ball, hoping it will all go away. Not surprisingly, after a summer spent seeking balance, stuck in the middle is a solution I highly recommend.

Even if it doesn't come the least bit naturally.

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