And here we are. Tomorrow is the last day of class, finals are next week, and I will have officially survived my first semester. Maybe “survived” isn’t the right term, because to me that implies that I was enduring something hard, something negative, and that is not the case at all. So I’ll rephrase…a week from now I can say I’ve finished my first semester!
But it wasn’t easy. In November, month #4, I was tired. Tired of wearing real clothes everyday, tired of having to get up in front of others and talk for an extensive amount of time everyday, and tired of never having my to-do list completely finished. This past month I struggled to find a balance between work-life and outside-life.
For a professor (or any educator), the struggle never ends. I knew what I signed up for…having parents as teachers, they often worked at home after their “work day” ended grading papers and lesson planning. That is no different for myself. Most days after work this semester, I have continued to work– preparing lectures or grading assignments. Many days I felt as though I was “on repeat”.
Mid-november, something had to change. I think I “snapped” the day when my favorite jeans barely zipped up and the milk i had with my cereal was expired by a week (but I had it anyway because there was nothing else in my fridge). I knew that I had to reevaluate my priorities and my time. So here’s how I did that.
1. I immediately joined a gym. I am on a serious budget at the moment, but I have definitely gained a small amount of weight since the semester started, lost whatever endurance I had built up before my triathlon in August, and honestly feel terrible about my physique. From experience, I know I do well with physical activity and sticking with it by two means: a) fitness classes, where someone just tells me what I have to do and I don’t have to think… and b) training for races. Given the current season, I opted for option a. I’ve been going to fitness classes 3-4x/wk and it has lifted my spirits. It also helps me stay on track and focused at work during the day because I know that “after work” time is now limited with the addition of gym time!
2. I started scaling back my to-do list to a reasonable size. By doing so, I was able to prioritize what was necessary to be done that day and what could be done by the end of the week. This helped my anxiety immensely.
3. I forced myself to start meal-planning for the week on Sundays, followed by going to the grocery store with a list. When you cook for only yourself, it is very easy to have food go bad because stuff is sold in such large batches! Just in October, I made a pizza with slightly-moldy cheese (I know, I really reached rock bottom but that was a terrible night). I worked hard to stick to my schedule the past few weeks and use up my food. If a surprise happy hour came up during the week, I attended, but left to stick to my dinner schedule. I had less food go bad, was eating much healthier, and spent less money eating-out.
4. On the days where I didn’t want to get up and teach, I sucked it up and did it anyway…and my students probably never knew the difference. As a professor, you not only lecture, but you answer several emails and in-person inquiries. Your students look up to you and feed off your energy, so you’re are only shooting yourself in the foot by slacking. By remembering how lucky I am to have a job that I love, it made it easier to show up and give 100% everyday. I mean, I expect 100% of my students…why would I give them any less?
Anyway. By making some changes and re-prioritizing a little, I have definitely been more productive at work and a better professor as the semester unwinded. I think it has helped me climb out of my “tired” slump I had heard so much about that plagues educators about 2/3 of the way through the semester. I continue to love my job, but if I’m being honest, everyday isn’t a cake walk. So those are my thoughts for November. I still cannot believe the semester is going to be complete in a week!
Question of the day. What are some challenging aspects of your career?
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