Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Those old family sayings...

I was on campus yesterday morning before 7 a.m. When I pulled up, I thought "the early bird gets the worm!" and felt optimistic about my day. But then, the reality set in. My day consisted of a class plan which required me to heft (roll and carry, actually) 40 pounds of equipment/props to class in another building. Of course, being a completely uncoordinated klutz I ended up wrenching my back and doing something unknown but painful to my foot. I kept pushing forward remembering my mother saying, "this too shall pass, Toots." Working through the pain, I rushed back to the office for a student appointment before heading to a 2 p.m. meeting which very unexpectedly ran until 4:30 p.m. and threw off my whole schedule. I zipped over to my departmental office to sign payroll before the 5 p.m. deadline. I left work around 6 pm. hungry and tired. I went home to log on to the computer and work on my online course. I turned off the computer around 8. I then reviewed a research articles, made some notes, and sifted through luggage for my upcoming conference travel. By the time I went to sleep I was exhausted.

This morning I pulled up at ten til 7, armed with a Tuesday Treat (a chai latte) and ready to face the day. I reminded myself that "hard work reaps rewards" and squared my shoulders as I faced my desk and all of the items I didn't get to yesterday. Then...I saw that I must represent our department at a high school recruiting/informational event today and will, again, be scrambling from one place to another before flying to a conference for the rest of the week. I felt deflated, defeated! Does the early bird REALLY get the worm? Does hard work reap rewards? Will the challenges ever pass? Is there truth in any of the old sayings from my family? My face worked itself into a cranky grimace as I thought about my grandma saying, "I'll just take my dolls and go home" whenever she was teasing us kids. I wanted to pack up and call it quits. Instead, I sighed and began to chip away at the to-do list, but mentally I was starting to check out.

Then, I opened an email from a student. And suddenly I remembered something my father told me when I was 15 and working at a local greenhouse. Back then, I complained about the dust, dirt, and heat. He told me in his logical way, that "work is a privilege." I have tried very hard to remember this throughout my life.

Seriously, it is easy to forget though...isn't it? With deadlines looming and conference season under way, our work can sometimes overshadow the actual WORK we are doing. In that email, a student wrote her appreciation for the course and noted she had given a speech where she saw her past 9 weeks of the public speaking course pay off. She even thanked me and said she was looking forward to the rest of the semester! That little email brought back a big reminder. All of this work matters. All of this effort has an end. All of the endeavors carry forward the institutional mission that I so strongly believe in and improve the educational opportunities of our students. This work is a true privilege.

Thus the emotional cycle of the tenure track life continues! I believe it is especially difficult in this year (year four) where I so easily feel the pressure of the need to publish, speak, and present on top of the institutional obligations of our QEP and the added duties of another semester with an overload class schedule. It is as if I can SEE what must be done, but there is a glass pane in the way and I can never quite reach all the things that need to be done. There are grants to be written, articles to finalize and submit, and research to analyze...but there are classes to teach and conferences to attend, and meetings that never end. It all goes back to the balancing act that we try to manage in academia. One that we control, but often forget to evaluate. One that can easily start to change our outlook on life. And so I end up mentally dialing in to my family members' sayings and reminding myself of the mantras that have moved me forward in my life.

The tenure track life involves so many different types and kinds of work that we can easily lose sight of the impact we may have daily on our students, institution, and community. We can easily forget the privilege of work when faced with its pressure.

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