Julie’s Week 13: A Credit Line at the Jerk Store

In the real world, being an overachiever is a fairly uncommon quality. Once leaving school, you might meet only a handful of overachievers in your lifetime. That’s not to say everyone else you meet is stupid; what it really means is that only a handful of people have chosen to measure themselves in adulthood with the same criteria children are defined by in school. It’s not bad. It’s just a really singular, specific system, only one among many, and many choose not to use it as their own personal measuring stick.

thejerkoriginalIn academia, however, being an overachiever is a necessity. In fact, it’s the lowest-common-denominator, the absolute minimum requirement one needs to have any hope of moving up from the basement level. Achievement becomes a race among elites, with status markers wholly unlike those used in the real world. In academia, you are only as good as your next publication, your next big scientific breakthrough, or your next grant money intake. It should come as no surprise, then, that the most common emotional state for academics is a volatile combination of fragile insecurity and overwhelming egotism. Twelve years after first entering academia as a 23-year-old MA student, this is certainly where I again find myself. Jealous. Whiny. Catty. Self-righteous and obnoxious. Panicky and despairing. My social media posts vacillate between smug humblebrags and sloppy goodbye-cruel-world vagueness. I am, well, a jerk.

Sudden family tragedy and conversations with old, pre-academia friends have brought my awareness of the real world back with a vengeance. I’m sick of myself, and of the way I’ve learned how to act over the years. I’ve been trying to step outside myself and watch how I act (especially at conferences), and I’m not impressed. I need to be less narcissistic, develop greater empathy, quit interrupting people, listen more. Thankfully, Lifehacker has some strategies for that. The tips for avoiding conversation narcissism seem particularly helpful for me, as I tend to always dominate conversations. So, to concretize my efforts, I’m going to try to do the following this week:

  1. Avoid talking about my favorite topics when in conversation with others. This seems absolutely key for me, as I often go off on conversational benders about particular things and suddenly everyone looks annoyed and bored.
  2. Ask those I speak with questions about what they think or feel. My normal response is to chime in about myself, even when I’m not trying to dominate the conversation. Instead, I’ll work on making questioning the default conversational strategy.
  3. Reflect at the end of the work day on the conversations I had and how I acted. I can’t improve unless I know where I’ve been and where I am now.

I’m sure this isn’t the only time this year I’ll work on being less of a jerk. Academic jerkhood is a pretty big and deep-seated problem, so I think I’ll need more passes at it later on. For now, checking my conversational style is a good place to start on this journey to stop overstocking the jerk store.

Rule 2: Prioritize Like Mad (Julie’s Spring Break Special)

1330620527750_7544264My parents were very clean, orderly people. When I say you could eat off of my mother’s floors, you pretty much could (you could probably eat off of the toilet seat too, but, you know, ew). I was expected to make my bed every single day, fold, hang, and put away my clothes, etc. I wouldn’t dare leave a dish in the sink or a sock on the floor. That just didn’t happen in the Platt household. But when I moved to Ohio and started living on my own, my 20+ years of (vaguely German) neatness training started to unravel. There were many reasons—rebellion, laziness, too much partying, and the insanity of the grad school schedule. To this day, I can tell when it’s nearly midterms because my apartment looks like a bomb hit it, and I’m not even in grad school anymore. I’m an actual adult. With an actual job. I turned 35 less than a week ago. AREN’T 35-YEAR-OLDS SUPPOSED TO HAVE THEIR SHIT TOGETHER???

My point in all of this is that having your shit together means you have to prioritize, and sometimes keeping neat and tidy—the quality that marked one as responsible and good in my late mother’s eyes—gets kicked to the bottom right quadrant. So, guess what I’m not doing this break? Cleaning. Organizing. Sorting and filing and scanning. Even though I sorely need to. But there are some other things I sorely need to do more.

What I got accomplished today:
  • Bathed, dressed, and fed myself (bonus—put on makeup!)
  • Made the bed
  • Paid some more bills
  • Finished a conference proposal
  • Cleaned all the expired food out of the fridge
  • Took out the trash
  • Planned meals for the next 5 days
  • Went grocery shopping
  • Made two doctors appointments
  • Prepped lessons for one of my two classes for next week
  • Did my daily IWCA conference tweeting
  • Wrote this shit right here again
Tune in tomorrow for Rule 3.

Rule 1: Take Small Steps (Julie’s Spring Break Special)

neil-footstepSo, I made my list. You know, stuff that needed doing. I dove in, using the Getting Things Done strategy for listing every single thing that crossed my mind (every card to write, every phone call to make, every room to clean). I listed and listed. When dust settled, there were no less than fifty individual tasks on my “Spring Break 2015” to-do list.
It’s clear that some things are going to have to be reconsidered, because a list of fifty things to do in five days doesn’t look like it can be conquered in a series of small steps. So, here’s what I did accomplish today, however small:
  • Bathed, dressed, and fed self
  • Made bed
  • Wrote a bunch thank-you notes and emails
  • Paid bills
  • Co-wrote a conference proposal
  • Got two other conference proposals underway
  • Got one of two inboxes to zero
  • Delegated some service tasks
  • Did my daily IWCA conference tweeting
  • Wrote this shit right here
Tune in tomorrow for Rule 2.

Julie’s Spring Break Special: A Week of Habits, Rebooted

So, if there’s one thing I know, it’s myself. And knowing myself, I knew it would come to this. Behind on the blog. Behind in life/work. Habits abandoned, or only practiced sporadically. Seems about right for mid-March, where I left off. When I get derailed with anything positive that I’m doing, I pretty much always wallow in unhealthy behaviors for a little while instead of trying to get back up.

For the last two weeks I was frantically trying to get ready for CCCC, and then attending CCCC. I had to prepare a week’s worth of virtual classwork for my two classes. Once I got to CCCC and thanks to my Overeager Young Scholar Syndrome (OYSS, as in “OH YASSSSS I’ll do that!”—currently being evaluated for inclusion in the DSM V) I found myself with a metric shit-ton of ideas and opportunities and obligations. I got home two days ago with my usual travel migraine. Good news: this week is spring break. Bad news: my migraine and general malaise have lasted until today. Tuesday, mid-afternoon of break. There are only three days and a weekend left. My inboxes are overflowing, and my to-do list is so scary I don’t even want to open the app.

Then this appeared on Lifehacker: http://lifehacker.com/how-to-overcome-workload-paralysis-and-get-back-into-ac-169316979 It’s great advice. After thinking about it for a while. I’m going to use it to knock myself out of my work paralysis and reboot. Here’s my plan (I reordered the original list):

  • Take Small Steps: My small step today is to make a list of the things I want to accomplish in the next five days. Listing is something my mom always recommended I do whenever I got overwhelmed, and I still rely on it.
  • Prioritize Like Mad: I don’t do this in any formal way, but I think I need to. Not every passive-aggressive work email needs to be dealt with right away.
  • Pick One Thing and Finish It: Today I will finish my grading backlog. That’s daunting, but if I break it down into steps, I can do it.
  • Make Health a Priority: For the last…I don’t know, twelve years? I’ve not done this, and my body has suffered horribly. How can I work effectively when I feel so awful?
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In future posts this week (I’m going to try for one per day) I’ll be reflecting on my priority matrix and highlighting what I’ve completed.

Dalyn’s Week 8: E + D Toy Room Challenge

Yesterday we had a parent-teacher conference with our kindergartener’s teacher and speech therapist. Our son has been thriving in kindergarten, so I was pretty sure that it would be a great meeting and it was. He’s still struggling with certain sounds (he tends to turn ‘y’ into ‘yl’ for instance), but he’s made a lot of progress using subject pronouns instead of object pronouns, which was a major concern last time around. And he’s excelling in all the typical kindergarten stuff like writing, recognizing sight words, and, especially, math, which just seems to make sense to him.

This is both good and bad news. He still has a number of things he needs to work on for speech, but his IEP runs out in September. Because he’ll be six-years-old, we need to show that his speech is interfering with his academic progress. As his teacher said, “That just won’t be possible. His academics are outstanding.” So, we’ll take advantage of summer support and do what we can in the remaining months. But, in the meantime, we had some serious celebrating to do for a job well done.

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1/3 of the toy room, 2/3 of the children

Our local store, Belmains, which reminds me a lot of an old Woolworth, has an ice cream counter that they moved inside for the winter. So, we took the kids to get ice cream. It was lovely family time that we so rarely get to have in the middle of the week in the middle of the school year. At least it was lovely until the boys ran off to peruse the lego aisle. The kids are obsessed with legos, particularly Eames, and they’ve come to associate this particular store with treats–usually legos rather than ice cream. So, even though we were very clear that no legos would be making their way home with us, Eames has a complete and total melt down in the store. The kind you’d give me dirty looks for if you were in the store with us.

The good news is that I didn’t yell at him. I explained that we’re working on saving money (makes no sense to him), that we just moved (has no relevance to him), and that the toy room I so carefully cleaned last week was already a complete and total disaster because he doesn’t clean up after himself and that I’m not buying him more sets until he learns to take care of the ones he has (I don’t think he realized I was channeling my mother). This, of course, prompted him to make promises that he would. There was more screaming and crying and the throwing on one’s self on the ground until Josh carried him out slung over one shoulder. Good times.

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Kids forget things easily, so Eames was over the whole thing before we got home. But, I realized that I had solved one problem (needlessly spending $10) but not the bigger problem of the toy room, which they have destroyed to such an extent that they don’t like to play in there until I clean it up. So, Eames and I planned an “E+D Toy Room Challenge.” For two weeks, they will pick up the toys they played with for the day and complete another task on the grid–tasks I came up with. When they cross out each of the squares, we can go back to Belmains to buy a small lego set. I’ve learned through other chore systems that they start to lose focus if the goal is too far out. Two weeks seem doable. And small lego sets won’t break the bank. I’m hoping that what we can do here is set up some habits, since that’s the purpose of this blog and I’ve just made them contributors, then start making the challenge more difficult with each iteration (making the timeline longer and adding different tasks, etc). These really are the best laid plans…

Dalyn’s Week 7: Catching Up and Taking Stock

As it so often goes, I find myself getting further and further behind. But, now that we’re 90% moved in AND I have a week off for spring break, I think I just *might* be able to catch up.

There’s nothing quite like moving to show you how much crap you have. And boy do we have crap. This week I’m going to attempt to tackle some of that crap as I simultaneously unpack and organize what’s no longer in boxes. The most obvious place to begin is the kitchen. We’ve moved into a much smaller kitchen than we previously had, and we’re bursting at the seams. We have kitchen gadgets. Lots of them. We have bulk food. Lots of it. We  have frozen tomatoes and sprouting potatoes. Pounds and pounds of them.

On top of all that, we spent every last dime getting into this place and now we are in the process of incurring all the expenses related to moving. There are all the little hooks and hangers and bolts and wires that connect your old house to your new one. There are the not so little things like paying two electricity and oil bills until your old lease runs out. There is the plowing that you never had to worry about. There is the long, slow, and untimely death of your television (which has to be replaced immediately when you actually study TV). Basically, shit’s expensive.

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veggie stock in the making

So, it’s time for a good old-fashioned pantry challenge. Because I leave for a conference next
week, I’m keeping it simple with a 9-day pantry challenge, then Josh can do whatever he wants when takes the helm next week. If you’ve never done a pantry challenge, well, I’m guessing you also don’t spend much time on Facebook or Pinterest. Good for you. If you have heard of it, then you know it means we’ll be eating and cooking exclusively out of the pantry/freezer/fridge with zero trips to the grocery store. Zero money spent on food. More room in the cupboard. And more attention to cooking.

The biggest challenge will be the kids who expect to have copies amounts of fresh food daily, so I’ll have to get creative with snack food to keep them from rioting. In the meantime, however, I’ll be spending my week making sauce, turning frozen veggie scraps into stock, and baking pies.