Lately I have attended meetings and read several blogs and comments regarding academia and time management. Being busy all the time. Not having time for all those side-projects and research interests or a personal life. In fact, I wrote a post on the Boundary Objects’ blog in November last year describing my hope that those long hours were building up to something. It seems like a good time to follow up on that thought now.
I am one of those people, on the first steps of my academic career, who complains about these very things. I am one of those who complain about stress, work commitments and demands on my time. Getting a part time job as an adjunct in museum studies this winter only made it worse. My happy Facebook status updates about getting an office quickly turned into panicked pleads to the gods to add more hours in the day. I get frustrated, tired, overworked. I also become a little sad because there is so much research and stuff I want (or ought) to be doing that I simply don‘t have the time for. I don‘t have enough self-discipline or time management skills to maintain a busy social life either. I sporadically turn my computer off with gusto, or slam a book and with a determined mind call a friend asking them to meet up. Then I promptly spend the majority of the evening complaining about all the work I’m not doing. I took one week off to entertain a visitor this summer and I have never dreaded opening my work email as much as I did on the first day back.
Having firmly established my current position, I would like to address the idea that this somehow lessens the value of my career path or the quality of my life. Getting the self-help-meme sentences out of the way, my first argument is that we make our own choices in life. From the first time I registered to a university course to applying for a job at the University of Iceland, I had a choice. And I made it. I decided to get a PhD, I decided I wanted to work at a university, I decided to take on extra projects and attend (almost) every meeting that is called at the faculty. I had ample warning about the stress and the work hours but I made the choice that it was worth it. When I sit at 3 am, trying to finish a paper or a lecture, I may complain, but I am also aware that it was my choice to be in that situation. And I revel in it.
When the pressure is on and work is piling up, my adrenaline kicks in, my inner berserkur (shield-biter) screams with blood thirst and energy. It’s not the ideal way to work, all the books seem to advise against this and my poor, long-suffering family and friends see me disappearing into my own world for a while. But there is something that I was reminded of today. Before I did my PhD in museum studies, I had a regular 9 to 5 desk job and I have never been as absent from my surroundings as I was then. I had more free time during the winter, but was incapable of spending it happily. It’s been a long time since I’ve tried so hard and actively to go out, meet people and find hobbies outside of work. I may complain about work while I do it, but to those who have to endure it I would like to say: Bear with me as I learn to balance out my life. I haven’t had the time for a real, long term social life in so long I’ve forgotten the rules.
I know I don’t always get to do what I want, I also know that I should probably learn to work a little more in advance. Hopefully, as I gain life experience I’ll learn to find a middle ground between work frenzy and planned calmness. But if I’m complaining, I’m doing so aware of the fact that this is a life that I chose and given the chance, I would make the same choices all over again.