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Searching for stillness

Photo by Taylor Simpson on Unsplash

I haven’t posted for a couple weeks, mainly because it’s that time in the semester when every waking moment is accounted for. I became a college professor because I liked the idea of having more control over my time; I also like it that I don’t have to be sitting at a job from 9-5 and my hours are more flexible. My mother was also a professor and I remember having a great time in the summers getting to be with her. BUT, as I’ve been in this job for many years now, I’m seeing that the working hours, while they are not exactly within the 9-5 slot, end up having even more hours tacked on here and there.

The Professor Lifestyle – it’s not about sipping coffee and contemplating the universe

My schedule since August has looked something like this: I wake up by 6 and attempt to have an hour of zen, but often find myself in a 6-7 am rush to figure out what I need to do that day, to answer any emails that I forgot the day before, check in with finances, etc. From 7-8:30 I scramble to get the kids ready for school, then my husband takes one and I take the other. By 9 I’m in class, then the rest of the day is taken up with teaching, preparing classes, grading, answering emails, going to meetings, etc.

For the past two years I have taught a freshman seminar that has meant I’m also responsible for 17 first year students each year, and during their advising period for next semester’s classes, I spend at least 20 minutes with each one, talking to them about classes and helping them think about career plans, figure out internships, etc. Many of my advisees from last year are still with me because they haven’t figured out a major yet, so I just advised 28 of them for next semester. I also created a community-based learning project in one of my classes that entailed a weekend service trip to an underserved area, and weekly volunteering with a refugee organization, both of which I am also present for. That was not technically necessary, but the classes are so much better when students actually get to go out into the community and apply what they’re learning.

While all this is going on, on the side I also had to write a 30-page article for a journal, a 50-minute talk I gave out of state, and a 10-page presentation for a conference out of the country next week. I also brought a guest speaker to campus, who I got funding for and did all the publicity for to make sure people showed up, and have been working on organizing a conference happening next semester. What all this means is that even when I have the kids again at 5, I’m constantly looking ahead to when they go to bed by 9 so I can work for another two hours before going to sleep myself.

There is also just the basic life stuff going on outside of work. We refinanced our mortgage, have been working on getting the roof replaced, looked at buying another rental property (but didn’t get the offer accepted), and other bureaucratic, manage-the-finances stuff has sucked up time as well. I tried using You Need A Budget, which was helpful for the first two months, but now I’ve slipped and haven’t posted my transactions in a while. I signed up for Acorns. And I’m working on maxing out my Roth IRA for the year.

Fitness – the one ball I can keep in the air

I knew this semester would be crazy, so I cut down on subbing extra fitness classes and have just been teaching the minimum – one cycle class and two Zumba classes. I look forward to those times of day so much – they are literally the only moments where I can forget everything else and have fun. Then lately I decided to add two more classes – a 5:30 am cycle and an additional weekend Zumba class, alternating weeks with anonther instructor.

Although I would like to be the kind of person who can go to the gym at 5:30 a.m., I’ve done this before and couldn’t keep it up for more than two months. Usually I spend the night worrying about the alarm going off at 4:50, then I feel great during the class but by two o’clock in the afternoon I can’t think straight anymore. There’s another fitness instructor I know who has four kids and teaches early mornings – she gets up at 3:30 every day and says it’s the only time of day she can get any peace and quiet. I have no idea how she deals with the kids once they come home from school, though – I’d be ready for bed and having meltdowns of my own if I did this every day.

Major Life Fails – the diet & the children

Although I’ve kept up my fitness, two things feel like they’ve slipped – taking good care of my diet and my kids. On purpose, we’re following a budget and not resorting to takeout on busy nights, but sometimes it feels like dinner is still a pretty meager affair, because I suck at meal planning (I’ve tried, it annoys me). Food is really important to me and frequently I find I’m not eating like I want to be (although I did just make a huge jar of kimchi that I’m excited about, and I’m working on a sourdough starter and continuing to make kombucha. Go, gut microbiome.)

As for the kids, the middle schooler has been in a questionable before-and-after school program. There’s very little supervision and they just get to watch YouTube on their school-issued computers the whole time, so she comes home talking about the Kardashians and Tick-tock and a host of other things I don’t really want her watching. So I need to take her out of that, at least the afternoon part. The preschooler is out of the house until 5 and loves her school; I try to get her early some days and she complains. But she comes home an absolute wreck; she’s so tired she has frequent meltdowns and is starting to show signs of becoming a picky eater and demanding candy all the time (hello, Halloween).

Granted, all this eases up by the second week of December and then we have a couple weeks “off,” to plan for the next semester. And in the summers, there’s no school, although I then have to keep up an active research agenda to not become marginal in my field. But I don’t like this pace, and I have a very difficult time not throwing myself into it. I don’t like the effect it has on my family life, even though I love my job. This is really the “why” behind my FI – I need to try to pull back and not do so much, but I haven’t figured out how to do that.

On Finding Time and Stillness

For respite, I walk around with my headphones on listening to my favorite FIRE podcasts, or music (always trying to find new songs for spinning/Zumba), and I look forward to the times I’m in the car so I can do my listening. I’ve been subsequently gravitating toward podcast episodes that are about the kind of peace I long to create in my life but haven’t done a good job of doing.

The two podcast episodes I mention below have some great ideas about how to be better with time, distractions, finding your center, and being less busy. First, a disclaimer – I am someone who really likes practical ideas, so I’m less drawn to vague, abstract concepts or “woo-woo” suggestions about manifesting abundance or attracting energy or concepts like that. So I loved these two episodes because they actually offered takeaways I could apply to my life. I love the idea of minimalism but I frequently fail at it, so I find it’s good to keep reminding myself of how to keep striving to bring it into my life.

This episode with Ryan Holiday, entitled “Stillness is the Key,” from my current favorite podcast, Afford Anything, was one of the most inspiring. Holiday is an entrepreneur who has written some books about stoicism, and as an academic, I am completely familiar with these ideas and have read them in their original form, but he really does a great job translating the ideas into a form that places them in the context of our contemporary lives. In this particular podcast, he talks about achieving stillness, with actionable content for how you can find it in the midst of a super busy life, and get more control over your time in the process. I need to listen to it again and really make a resolution to not have next semester be as crazy as this one.

Another episode I really appreciated was with Laura Vanderkam, entitled “How to Believe your Time is Abundant.” She’s a time management expert, and this one also contained a lot of ideas for changing our perceptions of time and not trying to cram “free time” with other activities, which is what I tend to do. I need to listen to this one again.

I’m putting this out there so I can check in with myself this time next semester and see if things got any better. My goals for the following term are not to feel crazed all the time, to be on top of work but not neglecting family, and to not be working until 11 pm every night. And to do more writing projects. Got any strategies for how to improve at this busy game of life?

Published inFinancial Independenceminimalism

4 Comments

  1. Ana Ana

    Wow! You have a hectic schedule but you’re also doing a lot of things you love. I think there are just times where everything seems to be happening at once and then things just level out. Hope the holidays bring a calmer pace for you.

    Thank you for the podcast recommendations. I don’t listen to any right now and I know I’m missing out on some good stuff.

    • misFIRE misFIRE

      Thanks for the comment! I do love my job but I also feel like it’s too hectic… I appreciate your site because it seems like you do a good job keeping life as low stress and minimalist as possible! And yes, Afford Anything is my absolute favorite podcast – she asks great questions of the people on her shows and never leaves questions unanswered.

  2. Yes, a professor’s schedule can be so much more packed than people realize. It’s certainly not just your in-class time that you have to commit. (My husband did this for awhile and his time was so monopolized by meetings and administrative tasks that there was almost no time for the research he needed to do, let alone extra committees.)

    Your life definitely sounds busy! And that is too bad about your child’s after-school program; I hope you find a good alternative soon.

    Finding stillness is a huge challenge. I listened to the Ryan Holiday podcast episode as well and it had some really great takeaways.

    • misFIRE misFIRE

      Thanks for the comment, Kate! I think I’m going to have to make the effort to take her out of the after school program; middle school gets out at 4 so I can probably swing it most days. It gives me one less hour to get work done, but as I’m finding, work just fills up whatever time you allow for it. I’m glad you heard that podcast, too! It was really great to listen to. I’m inspired by the suggestion on your site just to decide to make a change and do it. Here’s to finding stillness in 2020!

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