In case you haven’t been super-stalking my digital life, you may or may not know that I’ve just come off a grand adventure. Three days; three plays; three reviews. All have been posted to New England Theatre Geek (since in my copious free time I moonlight as a reviewer there), and you should check them out if you’re at all interested in the American Shakes-scene right now.
What this really means is that I’m exhausted. I’ve been working so much that I’ve forgotten what “fun” is. I demonstrated this fact the other day when I sat down to my desk, looked at the pile of books I set aside to read that day for my Prospectus prep, and thought unironically “THIS IS GOING TO BE THE BEST DAY!” (… it was “THE BEST DAY”
for maybe two hours before I realized that I had about 1,000 pages of reading to do before sundown, wasn’t getting through it as fast as I wanted to, and OH BY THE WAY also had a veritable pile of other work to do). The stationary bicycle of PhD work has really got me down this week, and as a result I’m plugging along like the little engine that could (“I THINK I CAN I THINK I CAN”), or if you prefer, Dory the forgetful fish (“JUST KEEP SWIMMING! JUST KEEP SWIMMING!”). That said, I have a hard time sitting down at my computer for more than twenty minutes without my eyes glazing over. It’s just the way it is sometimes.
The problem is that it will always be like this on occasion. There are days, no matter what you’re doing and how much you love doing it, that you simply don’t wanna. Heck, there might even be whole weeks when you simply don’t wanna. That doesn’t mean you don’t love your work, it just means that you’re a human being and not a research machine.
Understanding this and getting through it is a process. Up until now, I’ve prided myself on the point that I can work through just about anything; extreme weather conditions (you laugh, but it’s actually a problem in deep summer when your apartment doesn’t have central air or deep winter when you’re freezing mid-day because you’re trying to keep your heating bills down), extreme emotional conditions (life happens and you still have to work), extreme stress (I swear I will never again be able to hear the words “exams” without a small spine-tingling shudder), extreme pain (I’ve undergone minor surgery and still had to work the same day), and extreme workload. The fact that these extenuating factors take their toll is not something that I’ve cared to put much thought into, but we need to face reality.
Being a graduate student is hard. Doing the work for a Ph.D. is REALLY hard. There’s a
reason that not everyone gets one. What we’re doing is extraordinary. Period. If, at any time, you feel tired, overwrought, or wrung out, it’s probably because you’re working your smart little elbow patches off.
This work is exhausting, life-consuming, and never-ending.
It’s also incredibly fulfilling, exciting, and the most enormous privilege.
To pretend otherwise is ridiculous.
There’s good and bad in everything and, when you’re doing something extraordinary, the extremes are pretty extreme. Admitting this is not admitting defeat. If you’ve hit a point where you’re just tired don’t let it stop you, but don’t assume that it makes you weak or lesser in some way. Taking breaks is healthy and finding your break zen is important to productivity (I, for instance, need longer days to work at a slower pace. I will take an hour and a half mid-day to fit a workout in, but I will work until 9 or 10 at night to get what needs doing done).
Really, though, if you’re going through a rough patch for whatever reason, be gentle with yourself. It doesn’t make you a bad scholar, it doesn’t make you a bad teacher, and it certainly doesn’t make you a lesser person. Just take a moment to accept that you’re a human being. Remember your triumphs, and consider slowing your pace just a tad. You’ll pick up the slack when you’re back in the saddle. As long as less work doesn’t become a habit, it all evens out in the end.
And now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I’m going to go watch some trashy television and detox from my Academic Life for a while. If you need me, I’ll be on my couch with my Netflix.