Being busy is a really weird thing, and the busier you are the weirder it gets.
I’ve been so busy for so long that since the semester is winding down and I’m no longer running at a break-neck pace, I’m feeling like I am not doing enough. I know, right? Because working three jobs (instead of seven) while writing a dissertation, blogging, and having a social life is TOTALLY not enough and I’m definitely a slacker.
In moments like this, I contemplate starting another project. Then I contemplate why it is that I’m so intent on dying young due to stress-related heart complications.
There’s a huge sense of guilt which comes with being essentially self-employed. Some things will test the boundaries of what you thought you could do. Studying for my comprehensive exam last summer, for instance, was one such task. I learned exactly how many books I could read in a day and still retain the proffered information. After that, even when comps were over, if I wasn’t reading five to eight books in a single day and watching two documentaries as a cool-down, then clearly I wasn’t working at full capacity.
It’s the same with the end of the semester. I get up every morning at 8 and drag myself to my desk after making a cup of coffee. There, I stay (unless I have to teach during the day) until at least 7:00 PM. At that point, I often leave the house to fight direct or review a show. And on days when I don’t do that (and I’m not taking a rare social break), I have been known to work until 9:00 or 10:00 at night because there are things that just have to be done. Essentially, I’m used to twelve hour plus days (I think my record is something crazy like sixteen hours, but on a typical week I average more like thirteen). I’m used to every single moment of my time being filled with some work-related thing of one variety or another.
So when it’s not, I feel like I might be doing something wrong. Like I’m not doing enough. Never mind that “normal” people work eight hour days and maybe burning the candle at
both ends isn’t the most sustainable work habit. It takes me a while to acclimate to a “normal” workload because I’m always so busy. When I drop by my desk time to a “regular” schedule, I feel like I don’t get as much done as I should.
I’m led to believe that this is a common thing in academia. It stems mostly from the fact that our projects are almost never completed (and when they are, never all at the same time). We can always always be working on something. There will indefinitely be another draft to write, another book to read, or another set of research to plow through. So when there’s work to be done and time in your schedule, why aren’t you working?
Part of it also stems from the constant drive to produce. With the job market being the way it is, there’s always a need to do more faster than the person behind, in front, or next to you. That one extra published article on your CV might make a different somewhere to someone at some time (especially at the early stages of your career).
Yet another part of it stems from the perfectionist tendencies which produce viable academics. Let’s face it; you don’t go for a PhD unless you’re incredibly driven to succeed and have a track record of near-perfection. If you’ve made it this far, chances are you’re used to being amongst the “smartest” people in the room no matter where you stood.* Now, you’re in a department full of people like you. That’s a really tough situation to be in and can result in no small amount of struggle. When the cream floats to the top,** some of that cream is inevitably going to feel like milk again. Or, to put it as my mother says it, “not every doctor graduates top of the class”. You worked hard to get here, now you have to work twice as hard to stay where you’re used to being: at the top.
So the semester slow-down, while a perfectly healthy form of work curbing, doesn’t always feel right. I try to remind myself that it’s okay to average out those long days with a couple of “short” ones, but that only goes so far.
So I’ll be here trying my hardest to sit on my hands at 5:00 if anyone needs me. I can’t guarantee success, but I can certainly at least try!
*I put “smartest” in quotation marks because I want to differentiate a socially-accepted view of book smart from street wise, kinesthetic smarts, or emotional maturity that can make a brilliant person feel overlooked in a conventional classroom setting. Books and grades aren’t a sure-fire way to measure intelligence.
**Again, not sure this is a metaphor I’m entirely comfortable with but I’m having trouble coming up with an alternative.