Cutting myself some slack

Around the start of the new year, some friends started a Facebook conversation on their new year’s themes and resolutions. For various reasons mostly relating to exhaustion and burnout, I was in a pretty foul mood at the time, and I jokingly posted that my resolutions were to cut myself some slack, take more bubble baths, and eat more good chocolate.

Except something funny happened: I realized that these, in fact, were brilliant resolutions, and that I should, in fact, adopt them this year.

I haven’t made much progress on the “eat more good chocolate” front. I’m doing slightly better in the bubble bath category. I have, however, made a lot of progress on the cutting myself some slack front.

Here are some ways I’ve been cutting myself some slack since the start of the year:

  • Making the (tough) decision to not resubmit my failed NSF grant this round. I’d fallen behind on the revisions and some of my experiments didn’t end up panning out as I’d hoped. It would have taken a herculean effort to submit it on time, and with all my other obligations (particularly as chair of our hiring committee), I decided that sleep and eating and not whipping myself into a frenzied panic was worth a year’s delay in resubmitting it. (This ended up absolutely being the right decision—right after I emailed our grants person, my schedule for the week exploded. I seriously would not have slept at all that week.)
  • Recognizing when to let work go undone/taking care of myself. Several times this year I’ve gone to bed right after my kids, even though my to-do list overfloweth. Guess what? I’m way more productive when I get a proper night’s sleep, and the work gets done anyway. (Duh!) Or it doesn’t. And that’s ok too.
  • Saying no. One of the ways I repeatedly get myself into trouble is by way overestimating the amount of “free time” I have. This term, I am ruthlessly saying no as much as possible and being very, very selfish of my time. Partly this is to rebalance my workload so that I have more time for research and spend less time on service. Partly this is so I can, oh, have some semblance of a life outside of work (unlike fall term, which was all work all the time, hence the burnout).
  • Letting go of the working parent guilt. I sometimes tend to beat myself up that I don’t spend every waking minute from the time I get home until my kids are in bed having Meaningful Experiences with my kids. Surely, I think, I should leave the dinner dishes until later, and play with my kids now! Surely we should be doing art projects and playing games so that they have happy childhood memories! One night this week, as I was cleaning up the kitchen after dinner and the kids were playing in the next room, the parental guilt showed up. (I was also single parenting, so the guilt was doubled, as it usually is.) But then I realized: Yes, I could leave the dishes and cleanup until later, and play with my kids, but then I’d spend all evening fixated on the fact that I’d have to do dishes and clean up the kitchen after the kids were in bed, instead of doing something for myself after the kids were in bed. And I was having a great time listening to my kids play together, and they were having a great time playing together without me. If we were all doing things that were making us happy, why on earth was I feeling guilty? Problem solved; guilt extinguished.

I still have lots to work on—sometimes less-productive days will still send me into a tailspin of guilt, and darned if it isn’t really hard to say no and to get to bed at a decent hour and let the inbox grow. But being more mindful of my sticking points, and working hard to overcome them, has been a tremendously freeing exercise.

Now, however, I need to go do something about that good chocolate resolution…