It’s mid-term of the fall semester. Like the fall semester of 2011, I have elected to give my students (and myself) a day off during this week. They deserve it, and I need it. But to say that today has been a “day off” or that I have any expectation that tomorrow I will be at leisure to fill my time however I want, would be to tell a falsehood. In truth, I woke up at my usual time this morning. I had the usual two cups of coffee, checked my e-mail and spent the first ten to fifteen minutes of my day trying to get into a wakeful state. Then, like every other weekday during the semester, I set off to work.
Let me be clear and honest–I had completely intended to work today and this isn’t a complaint about having to work. I may not have been teaching, but I still had work to do and was completely committed to using this non-teaching day to catch up. Read: catch up, not get ahead. Getting ahead is an aspiration I have for Sunday (and similarly, I hope to take all of Saturday off and not have to feel guilty about not working). Now that I’m sitting here and reflecting on the day, I feel good about all that I accomplished. And yet…
And yet, at the beginning of the semester, I told myself that I would stop working at 6pm Monday through Thursday. I gave myself “permission” to stop working at 6pm and actually spend my evenings doing something other than working–cooking a healthy dinner, reading a book for leisure, talking to friends and family, cleaning, etc. All those things normal people do during their non-working hours. Those things that make life, well, life. For the first three or four weeks of the semester, I was good at sticking to my stopping time, but as the semester has progressed and gotten more stressful and there is more and more to be done, I find myself working past six, past seven, past eight and even on the rare occasion past nine. So today, on this non-teaching, catch-up day, I told myself that no matter how much I felt that I still wanted to accomplish, that I would stop at six o’clock, come hell or high water.
Well, hell or high water didn’t come, and they weren’t necessary. I settled for setting an alarm on my phone, and when it went off, I spent two more minutes finishing the chapter of the book I’m reading for one of my classes, then I closed it and turned my thoughts to non-work related stuff–dinner, playoff baseball, checking in with my online reading club. The happy result so far is that I’ve made some delicious tomato basil soup while listening to the baseball game streamed online and enjoying a glass of one of my favorite red wines (Middle Sister Rebel Red, in case you are wondering). Plus, I’ve also had time to hear myself think and wonder why it is that I’m not more committed and insistent upon stopping at my stated stopping time. It’s not unreasonable to want to stop after an eleven-hour workday. But I’m stuck with guilt–no, that’s not right. I’m stuck with anxiety when I stop early and leave work to do the next day. Stopping early means having to finish the next morning before teaching and worrying that I’m going to run out of time. I have to read. I have to prep a lecture. I have to be ready to teach. Those things can’t be put off for later, and I keep telling myself: “Self, stop over-prepping. Do less.” Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. And when I don’t feel prepared, I feel guilty, like I have somehow failed to fulfill my role as a teacher.
Though I usually find answers through writing, I’m not sure that there is an answer to this recurring conundrum. Perhaps the advice I need to give myself is to just keep doing my best. I say this to my students, but I never say it to myself. If I don’t want to remember these years of my life being spent in doing nothing other than working, then I have to make some changes. One of those changes has to be actually stopping when stopping time comes around.