Trying to live (and work) in the now to live (and work) happier
I have been super stressed lately (I know, you are shocked by this news). The general end-of-semester pressure combined with various deadlines and duties tripping over each other in too-quick succession and other life pressures have made me want to simply curl up into a ball and hibernate until everyone forgets about me and all the papers, grades, assessments, forms, reports, bills, minutes, clean clothes, food, car pool duties, and other responsibilities I apparently owe to them. This morning I did just that. I delivered my child to school and then came home and slept for a couple of hours and it was glorious. Now I’m going to spend some time blogging before I even think about all the grading (and other duties) lurking behind me. Blogging is something I do for me and I just haven’t had time to do it lately. Frankly, I haven’t had time to do much of anything just for me lately and it is making me extremely cranky. I am more than a wife, mother, daughter, teacher, NWP site leader, KCTE web master, and so on, but the problem is that all of those things demand so much of me and sometimes it is easier to give into the clamor than to try to ignore it and do what makes me happy.
I read Natalie Houston’s Profhacker post “Prioritize your Activities by Gain and Pain” which I found interesting, but not sure if it really works for where I am right now professionally. After the last few professionally fraught years, I have decided to live in the now and focus on my job and not my professional future. The idea is that focusing on the things that I can control (such as what happens in my classroom and in my writing project site) will be less stressful and more meaningful than focusing on what I can’t control (such as the job market and the future). But reading Houston’s post made me realize that so much of what I am doing is simply avoiding pain — and that’s no way to live, so I kept trolling through blog posts and articles about stress reduction and decided that this week I would take the advice so frequently offered – count your blessings to reduce your stress. I am going to focus on my professional life and evaluate it in true ProfHacker 3×3 style just as I do for my teaching. Perhaps it will help me put things in perspective. This is something that I need to do as I am no longer in the early stages of my career and, in fact, in about 12 years Kentucky says I can retire from full-time teaching. While I hope to put off claiming my social security for another 12 years after that, so I’m certainly not planning my full retirement at that point, it is certainly time to start thinking about my endgame. What makes me happy professionally and still allows me to pay the bills and offers the flexibility to be there for my family?
Living in the now, I must acknowledge that I’m in a pretty sweet spot professionally. I am able to teach classes at all levels (from first year students to graduate level professionals) and work with writers of all shapes and sizes – including teachers of other writers – and this is work that continues to excite me and allows me to make a difference. I have enough freedom in my classes to incorporate passion projects, badges, service learning, and my current obsession with comics. My work is still more interesting and challenging than drudgery and my father taught me that is always a win.
But it isn’t all good. As suggested by my opening, time is a huge problem. There is just not enough time in the day to do all the planning, grading, organizing necessary to do both aspects of my job well. I have amazing writing project partners who kicked up their work this year and I’m still overwhelmed. Combine that with the additional demands of my personal life and you have a recipe for disaster. An additional stressor is the fact that while my job is satisfying and offers me important flexibility for my family, I am underpaid for my qualifications and for my performance (although at least this isn’t me: Suicide is my retirement plan). I am still learning to live with that. And, not unrelated to the money issue, is my lack of standing. I am not (and I’ve been told will not) be a tenured professor which means my job can disappear and/or my teaching load can be much less interesting and fun than it is now. I shudder when I picture myself teaching five sections of first-year composition at the age of 70. I hope it won’t come to that, but I do worry about it sometimes.
Living in the now means that as I think about the changes I need to make that I focus on what I can control. I’ve been working very hard this semester to prioritize my daily and weekly tasks and I need to continue to do that and find a way to set aside the worry about those pending tasks that I know will get done eventually if not when others would like them completed. I need to find ways to be more efficient (or effective) with my class planning so I don’t get overwhelmed and can get done what needs to get done within a normal work week. Finally, I need to begin considering and exploring my options for what will come next for me. What do I want to be and do for the next dozen years and the dozen after that?
Perhaps this blog post isn’t as useful to others, but it has helped me think through some things. As I tell my students: Writing is thinking. We use our class blog to work through ideas and questions and sometimes I just need to use my blog for the same purpose. Are you thinking about your end game?