Someone else’s summer

With the end of summer quickly approaching (seriously, how is it the end of August already?), I find myself way more disgruntled than usual with how my summer’s gone. Even with the realistic goal-setting and early course correction, I’ve had a growing and gnawing sense of intense dissatisfaction with this particular summer.

It took me a while to pinpoint exactly why I felt this way:

I’ve lived someone else’s summer.

What do I mean by this? I’ve spent the majority of my summer supporting others, emotionally and otherwise, at the expense of my own goals and projects. I’ve had to prioritize other tasks over my own priorities, in some cases. In other cases, the energy I’ve spent on supporting others sapped the energy I had for my own projects and goals, leaving me with literally nothing left to give.

Getting COVID at the start-ish of the summer cemented this situation in place, as I scrambled to do what I could from isolation and reschedule the rest for when I recovered. Even from isolation, I found myself single-handedly dealing with rescheduled vacation logistics and making sure the rest of my family stayed healthy and safe, on top of my can’t-be-put-off workload, at the expense of resting and recovering. This COVID interruption threw off my summer “flow”, and I never really recovered from that setback.

A work project — hiring a new program manager — extended well into the summer (and continues as I put plans in place to onboard our new hire!), taking up significant time and energy. Other STEM projects also consumed my attention and energy — projects that landed back on my plate as I spend a few “bonus months” as STEM Director until the new director takes over in December.

Home provided no relief from emotional labor. For complex reasons I won’t go into here, this was a challenging summer for both kiddos — and thus, by extension, our family. Our family vacation was not restorative for any of us, least of all me. Home is not always a relaxing place.

I’d hoped to get a paper out in July and make significant progress towards a poster submission deadline in September. But with depleted energy, I have a hard time doing the deep, creative thinking that this particular phase of my research requires. I decided a week before the July deadline to let that deadline go, which was absolutely the right decision at the time, but that doesn’t mean I’m not beating myself up over missing the deadline. My lack of research progress — even though I understand on one level why that’s the case — frustrates and demoralizes me. I spent part of July in a depressive spiral as a result.

Naming what I was feeling helped tremendously, and helped me realize that I need to actively manage my energy levels. I’ve scaled back my (mainly self-imposed) expectations, embracing both time-blocking and a motto of “good enough is good enough”. I’m meeting with my therapist more frequently to help me work through this particular rough patch — which has really helped me figure out what I can control and what I need to let go. And I’m putting some strategies in place for the fall to better safeguard my time and energy so that I can work more thoughtfully on my own goals and priorities while also providing appropriate support to others’ goals and priorities.

(Let’s just hope this sticks!)