When I began planning my undergraduate honors research project, my advisor told me that I would need to be defensive of my time. While this is good advice for anyone, he told me this knowing me all too well.
Even as an introvert who loves to be holed up in her house for days on end, I love giving my time away. During my honors project, it was working as the lead editor for the school’s literary magazine and publishing company where I poured myself endlessly into making sure things got done. Once I entered grad school, teaching came into the picture. Because I cared about my students’ success and was up anyway doing my homework, I’d answer emails or send things out at one, maybe even three in the morning. Of course, I’d also never turn down a friend that needed to talk, or someone who asked me to look over their writing.
My responsibilities to everyone else took priority over my own work. It felt selfish of me to work on my own stuff—things that I thoroughly enjoyed—when someone else might need me for something. By the time I did feel like I had genuinely taken care of everything and everyone else (a rare occurrence), I was mentally and physically exhausted.
After my first semester last fall of teaching as a professor and not a graduate assistant, it became clear if I wanted to get anything done regarding my own personal pursuits, I finally had to make some changes. I had barely submitted any work out to journals (partly because I was barely writing, and what I was went onto Yay Words!); my first genuine attempt at NaNoWriMo nosedived within the first few days; I stopped drawing. Why? Because I was still pouring all my energies into teaching, answering student emails, grading and leaving extensive feedback, or rushing to meet an editing deadline. A lot of it comes down to not just learning the ropes for a new job, but not having control. Whenever I finally found myself with a little time, I’d either find myself thinking I should check to see if anyone else has submitted an assignment to grade or has a question that they’ve emailed me.
I have ideas I want to pursue, concepts that need researching. None of that’s going to happen if I keep up the above pace and pattern. I have a responsibility to myself just as much as I do other people. Thus my current mantra has become letting go and making time for my own projects.
Note, this doesn’t mean the other things I do are any less important, or that I think it’s okay to do them half-assed. It just means I’m not willing to let them consume me. Teaching, working with students, and editing all make me happy. I want to do right by the people around me. But I’m compelled to create. Creating, honestly, is a large portion of how I measure my self-worth. When my creative output is low, chances are my self-image and outlook are even lower.
This morning while getting ready, I took a little time for myself. I drank a cup of tea while I started this post and chatted with a few friends. I went to work with a better attitude, despite the bitter cold. I felt relaxed and accomplished. I felt like me.