Thursday, January 5, 2017

Back Around

The holidays have come and gone, and here we are again, starting a new year.

There were some high points during my time away, and some lows. Like many, I was a bit depressed by the prospect of 2017, for all of the (to my mind very obvious) reasons that have made the prospect of 2017 a depressing one for many.

But now that I'm back home, and the holidays are over, and I'm in it ("it" being 2017), I'm determined to make the best of things and not waste a lot of time wishing (or worrying--unless and until it becomes absolutely necessary to do so, that is).

So I've been spending the past couple of days getting back into the swing of writing, and I'm pleased to say that it's going well. I've mapped out what I need to get done over the next few weeks, before classes start, and so far, I'm staying on-task (and thus, on schedule).

I don't always do New Year's resolutions, unless I feel that the preceding year has been marked by a glaringly bad behavior or mindset in need of correction, and this year, I didn't really feel compelled to commit to any sweeping changes.

But I did decide that I want to manage my time on social media and email a bit better and, along with that, to carve out more time to reflect on and, when necessary, adjust the pace I set for myself.

So, for example, instead of beating myself up for not getting in shape right away! or not finishing that article right away! I'd like to commit to taking the time to think about why I might not be motivated to work out when I usually enjoy swimming or biking (is my body trying to tell me something right now, and if so, isn't that okay, really?) and why I might not be able to get past the writing "snarl" that has me entangled.

To help me achieve that goal, I've adopted a policy about when I will (and will not) be available via email and how much time I'll spend on social media (and what I'll do when I'm on there). My New Year's resolution (such as it is) is to stick to those choices, so that I can have my evenings and my weekends to myself, and feel better about the things that I accomplish--not harried or "behind" or stressed out.

Because the thing is, if a professor doesn't set boundaries, s/he can end up working constantly--there's always someone who needs something and always something that needs doing. Something to read, something to write, someone to respond to.

And that's not a bad thing, except that it makes it much harder to conceive of a professor's job as a job with clear boundaries that determine when s/he is "on the job" or "off the clock."

I started thinking about this after I began reading The Slow Professor: Challenging the Culture of Speed in the Academy (2016) by Maggie Berg and Barbara K. Seeber. Berg and Seeber examine the ways in which academia now compels those within it to move quickly and efficiently--a "corporate" mindset that is not necessarily conducive to deep thought or probing insights.

In fact, it's a mindset that many successful corporations are now moving away from, precisely because it is not conducive to thought or reflection, skills that are as necessary in business as they are in the pursuit of book-learning.

As Berg and Seeber--and many, if not most intellectuals employed within academia--acknowledge, jobs in higher education are positions of privilege. We have the option of not only thinking, but actually saying, "Hey, wait a minnit" and arguing for a different pace, something that many people in many jobs do not have.

But perhaps they should have that option. Because really, how rich do we all want to be? How much money do we want to be clutching when the Grim Reaper comes knocking?

Fast food isn't better for us--quite the contrary. Fast cars are fine, but you can only go so fast (outside of the Indy 500) before you're going to end up facing a problem. And if you quickly accomplish 8 million tiny tasks, someone out there is (quickly) going to find another 500 or so that you can do as well, since you "have the time."

At some point, I think we can easily lose sight of what we're rushing around for and why. If we want to spend time with loved ones, we need to slow down and pare back--to live and think more deliberately about what we want to do and when.

And if doing so leads to being branded a loser or a slacker, we sort of need to be "okay" with that.

Because success in our careers is a good thing, but only if we actually have the time to stop and smell the roses that we've so assiduously planted along the way.

And time spent with loved ones doesn't always have to be about getting things done or "catching up" or "keeping up." It could just be about... being.

For my part, I've decided to commit to looking and thinking more deliberately this year--to taking the time and effort to move more slowly, when I feel that I'm getting caught up in the rat-race that is our world.

So with any luck, it will be a year of pondering and savoring the food for thought that 2017 offers.

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Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, "Life is short, but there is always time for courtesy."