Hello, it’s been a while. Mostly due to a research trip I took to Jamaica. I thought I would be able to keep up with all my usual activities while there, including blogging, but soon found that for various reasons – archival research, family time, unreliable internet, heat, a wholly different pace of life – I had to start letting all non-urgent activity go undone. It was a good lesson for me in prioritizing, and also in facing the fact that I do too much.
Unfortunately, because I came back to all those non-urgent activities waiting for me, some of which had become urgent in the meantime, I haven’t had time to reassess my priorities while here. Often people say in such situations it’s sink or swim, but for the past two weeks I’ve felt like I’ve been in a perpetual state of floundering, neither sinking nor swimming and certainly not the easy float I’d come to know while in Jamaica.
An aside: Floating isn’t a universal way of life in Jamaica (much as the popular media may have you believe it is). It’s just that I was there for a single purpose and so didn’t have to contend with the distractions of real life during those two months.
So, I mention all the above not to brag (though, feel free to think more highly of me for what I could fashion as a single-minded dedication to research) but to bring up this question of how much we have on our plates. I am speaking even more specifically of how much work we have on our plates. Academics – active and productive ones anyway – tend to have several projects going at once. Most of them we do because we have some passion for the work involved and are invested in the expected outcome. A few (if we are lucky, only a few) we do because some force outside ourselves (the job market, the tenure track, the department chair) decreed we should. Let’s ignore the latter for a moment and look critically at the former. How much of your passion do you really have to pursue right now? Right this minute? How much of it can you pursue? That is, do you have the resources – time, energy and attention being the most important ones here – to do so many of them justice?
I’ve been on sabbatical for this past year, so I’ve had the luxury of indulging in primarily what I’m passionate about (including more yoga!) but now it’s summer and I can see the end of this freedom fast approaching. That imminent change, along with my experience while in Jamaica, has prompted me to declare June 1, 2015 to May 31, 2016 “the year of no.” I plan to say no to as many requests for my time, energy and attention as possible.
“No” is a lot more difficult than “yes,” more difficult even than “no, but…” There’s so much wrapped up in “no,” so many unknowns, whereas yes seems paradoxically clear cut. I’ve already had the opportunity to decline a request this week and I opted for the “no, but…” escape. Baby steps. I still, however, have very high hopes of practicing saying “no” for the next twelve months. The hardest part, I have found in just the four days so far, is saying no to myself. Reminding myself that just because a project should be done, does not mean that I should be the one to do it. Wish me luck. I’ll occasionally let you know how I’m doing (because I’m still saying yes to blogging!)