I haven’t posted in a bit, but I was busy utilizing the first quarter of my fellowship and delving into my research. As we turn the corner into 2013 and the requests to revise the personal statements of former students begin to fade, I’m wondering how to capitalize on this new year. What patterns should change? What should remain? I had a curious experience recently when my computer screen went in for repairs–at first I was utterly panicked. How could I write? How far behind would I fall? So on and so forth… Then suddenly, I just felt relief. The Apple Store inadvertently gave me two weeks to regroup and crave writing again. It’s so cliche, but once I couldn’t do my work–it was all I wanted. With any projects that we have (seminar papers, application essays, home repair) our focus can become smaller and smaller until it is nearly suffocating.
I’ve found over and over again in graduate school that neither my colleagues nor my students have any way to tell the days of the week–aside from which classroom they should be sitting in or job they are working. Everything becomes a bit too rhythmic. So, I want you to be still for a moment in the early part of this quarter or semester–before you’ve committed your schedule to memory–and schedule more breaks (or computer repairs as the case may be).
When I work with incoming transfer students for McNair, I give them all a new planner at orientation. Very quickly, they all scribble in their classes and jobs. Then they carve out time for helping their parents babysit or getting a friend moved to a new apartment. No one ever just carves out a few days for fun and rest. You need to. For the sake of your sanity, you absolutely need to. Even after years and years of talking to students about prioritizing and scheduling, I still sometimes forget to schedule my own me time. I came across a fashion blogger who mentioned that in January you should schedule all of your hair appointments and manicures and whatnot–well, I’m not sure about all of that, but I thought yes–just schedule down time.
I immediately went on line and registered for four 5ks spaced out across the spring. This was a perfect option for me; it helped me meet fitness goals, it brought me away from the computer and work, and it will help me de-stress. Having this scheduled off time always makes it so much easier to stick to the scheduled work. When the students I mentor have a hike or a trip to the movies jotted down for Saturday afternoon, they are a lot less likely to get frustrated Thursday, go out late with friends, and skip class Thursday. Those with scheduled down time know they are only 48 hours from relaxation; they know they can make it. Make sure you have that.
Just start small and schedule a monthly or bi-weekly break (after all, you don’t want a daily yoga class to become yet another thing you HAVE to do). As a first-generation student and having mentored disadvantaged students for years, I’ve seen such a pattern of self denial. My students never think they deserve a vacation–they have often never taken a vacation. Let us, in the new year, break this pattern. The love for your craft, as for any love, will grow with a smidgin of distance. It doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive–it could be as simple as penciling in an old RomCom on a Saturday–but it does have to happen.
Tip: If you’re enjoying those bi-weekly or monthly breaks, then move on to more frequent breaks. Avoid cram sessions by regularly scheduling two or three hours of straight studying daily with an hour of internet browsing or meditation. Just let yourself trust that you can achieve goals and get rest.