Surviving? Thriving?

Surviving Thriving

Last Fall, in my first semester of graduate school, I wrote in a reflection assignment for class about how I planned to manage it all. “It all” meaning a full-time job, what feels like more-than-part-time school, and providing some semblance of an adequate life for myself (involving a number of s-words: sustenance, shelter, sleep, social life?). I said a few nice things about maintaining a regular schedule and blogging as a creative outlet. My professor commented, “What a great idea!”

I tried. I really did, as you can see by my somewhat monthly postings last year, ending with a reflection that prompted separate phone calls from my parents. I kept meaning to follow it up with something (more banal? life updates? anything?) but I ended up slammed with finals, an imploding work environment, and then traveling home to California for the holiday season. California was wonderful — a bubble of friends, family, and few responsibilities (besides making attempts at clearing out my childhood mementos). No blogging was done as I maximized face-to-face time and caught up on sleep.

January, I told myself. I had a couple of weeks off from school when I got back to New York, which I promised myself I would spend printing and blogging and seeing friends. Time off from school, however, still meant that I was still working full-time. Work had increased from level yellow to a code red as two of my coworkers retired within a few weeks of each other and the remaining two of us doubled our workload, including taking on projects that were supposed to have been completed months previously and now were urgent (let’s just say that one person had mentally retired years ago). Every day it was like we were running over a deep body of water — there was no stopping, no pauses, and I couldn’t tell you for the life of me how we were doing it. It defied the laws of physics. Every evening I dried myself off from that day’s effort, dreamt up weird mutations of work crises in my sleep, and dragged myself back to do it again the next morning. On a positive note, I got a promotion!

March, my coworker and I repeated like a mantra. If we could just make it the rest of the way through January, and then through February, by the time March rolled around we would be fully staffed again (and this time with more productive and dependable coworkers!). We will have learned the bulk our respective new roles and could actually do them with the care and attentiveness they deserve.

Well, it’s April now. School picked up again at the end of January, and February just felt like a pile-on. March slid past as everything began to settle a bit. Like finally squeezing the lid back on a jar of poorly stacked items and shaking it until they begin to fit a little better than before.

How are you coping, I was recently asked. I don’t know. It’s been messy and things have slipped through the cracks. I had buckled down for work and school, giving myself time to complete assignments, but at a loss of social time. I hardly allowed any space for seeing friends, which ended up backfiring when I wallowed in moments where I felt extremely isolated. I’m just starting to emerge from that now, but at the cost of my schoolwork. I’ve learned that your brain and your body know what you need but we often fight that, relying on our own predictions or what we think we know about ourselves. My plan for careful scheduling was just one tool in my kit, not the entire toolbox, and regardless of how well-paced I may have been, I can’t maintain the same speed forever.

So I’m trying to listen to myself more carefully and learn to shift gears based off of what my body and soul tell me. The reality is that this is hard. It requires stamina and self-care and a level of being gentle with myself that at times may seem at odds with doctrines of ambition and success. But something always has to give and, as I’m learning every day, these milestones are not worth it if you have not valued yourself in the process.

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