The last few weeks have been a total failboat ride due to end-of-semester insanity. Thankfully, I have a mere 1.5 weeks until I can kiss this miserable academic year goodbye for good. So, much like the Spider-Man franchise, expect a reboot sooner than anyone expected.
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.
In 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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
- 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?
I have an unquiet mind.
I think the first time I realized this, I was trying to meditate with the guidance of a former partner who was a very devout Vajrayana Buddhist. I was sitting on a round meditation cushion, and my legs kept falling asleep while I tried to hold the prescribed posture. The minutes passed, and I couldn’t stop the thoughts from entering, and I couldn’t stop my mind from latching on and going for a ride on each one.
I don’t feel bad about my mind; Pema Chödrön herself, in one of her lectures, admitted to having an “unusually busy mind.” I’ve been reading Chödrön’s work, and the work of other Buddhist teachers and practitioners, since college. As I’ve moved away from the religion I was raised with (Roman Catholicism) and away from the others I’ve had brief dalliances with (Wicca/Paganism, Unitarianism, shamanic practices, etc.), I’ve found much of what I’ve come to believe is true echoed in Buddhism, specifically Zen. The unexpected passing of my mother has moved me to take my spirituality more seriously.
My first step is to begin a regular meditation practice. A little while ago, I purchased a subscription to Headspace, an app that offers guided mindfulness meditation programs that build skills incrementally. It also features focused sessions to help with things like sleep, creativity, and how to defuse anxiety in a crisis. I’m going to start the beginner’s “Take Ten” program at around 10:30 pm each evening. I’ll be meditating for ten minutes daily, at first, and then I’ll take up a more advanced program.
A famous quote attributed to His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama goes as such: “Do not use Buddhism to become a Buddhist. Use Buddhism to become better at whatever else in your life you are doing already.” I’m going take this to heart. Here’s to the first small step in the journey to becoming a calmer, more gracious, and more compassionate person.
Well, the last two weeks have been a mess. A slushy, icy mess. With a big frozen turd stuck directly in the middle.
- Get clean, in some way. Take a shower. Brush my teeth. Do the dishes, take out the trash, put in a load of laundry, pick up the stuff that’s not where it’s supposed to be and put it back.
- Get away from energy sucks. This includes avoiding social media for 12 to 24 hours. Anyone who knows me knows that social media can turn me into the absolute worst version of Julie Platt that is known to exist. I am aware of this. I am not proud of it. I can get away from it. I will.
- Pick an item on my to-do list that I have been avoiding, and do it. Pretty much the same as eating a frog (see Week 6).
- Pick a reward, and enjoy it. I’m in the process of making a list of rewards that don’t include spending money (see Week 5). A few I have so far: enjoy a beer, cook something good, take Dobson for a walk, play a game for 30 minutes.
- Listen to Allegra, Heather, and Katie’s HBIC playlist. I WOKE UP LIKE DIS