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one day off

Megan Betz

In an effort to take one day off a week, my husband & I fled to the woods for 24 hours of no cell phone reception, lots of strawberries, and recreational reading.

In an effort to take one day off a week, my husband & I fled to the woods for 24 hours of no cell phone reception, lots of strawberries, and recreational reading.

“Every person needs to take one day away. A day in which one consciously separates the past from the future. Jobs, family, employers, and friends can exist one day without any one of us, and if our egos permit us to confess, they could exist eternally in our absence. Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for. Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us." -- Maya Angelou

I've had this quote saved as a draft for a while, chewing on it & trying to find a way to make just one day off a week work for the list of obligations I've let attach themselves to my life. When Angelou died, this quote rushed back to me. I've decided to stop sitting on it, to share it with you, and to take a moment to dwell on the peace Angelou hoped we could each cultivate within ourselves. I apologize for the navel-gazing moment to come, and I thank Maya Angelou--for her life and for your words the  knack her words have for finding us just at the moment we need them most.

Take one day off a week. This is advice they give each incoming graduate student during orientation. I thought I was listening, thought that after getting my Master's I knew what was coming. I wasn't, and I didn't. I fizzled out in my second semester. Hard. So, I'm removing obligations from my life, acknowledging that I'm in a position to allow myself to let things go--and acknowledging that I am replaceable. I'm building a 9-5 schedule for the summer and giving myself Saturday or Sunday completely free of obligations each week. 

I've learned a few things about myself over the past few years of seriously sloshing and becoming unbelievably under-motivated in graduate school. I am a mono-tasker: I function well focusing on only one project at a time & become much more productive when  I give myself this type of schedule. I am prone to failing at my to-do list: I carve out a task for each hour of the day, filling in time slots from my larger to-do list. But when one hour gets off track, I allow the whole day to fall apart. I function best when I write just time allotments (1 hour, 45 minutes, etc.) rather than the time (7-8 a.m.) for doing a project. I am fickle: I need the option to ping around between tasks, to do whichever item on the list strikes my fancy. Structuring my day this way ends up with the same hours occupied, but a lower risk of feeling like a failure.

I am prone to feeling like a failure: My husband brought up impostor syndrome the other day, and it's remarkable to me how much I (and, I believe, countless other academics) feel like an impostor--like I'm hiding, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Waiting for people to find my ideas unoriginal or--maybe more frightening--uninteresting. It was exhausting. And pointless. And having a negative impact on my work.

I am, as a result, getting over myself:  I was not expecting this after years of being trapped in the feeling that a day off would disappoint countless people, would leave me worse off the next day. Giving myself one day a week has taken me miles toward a sense of peace--and, oddly enough, a sense of real accomplishment. I've taken some steps to become less distracted; I've given myself time for a few passions, like blogging about food. I've put more trust in people, knowing that they can carry on without me, that they have better ideas than I, that the project is stronger when I let others have a voice. In the space I've created, I generate better ideas for paper, contribute better content to projects on which I'm working, and am excited to get back to work at the end of the day.

I am, though, afraid of the school year: It's easy to carve out this time when I'm largely working from home for the summer, dedicating myself to my own projects. I don't know how we maintain this sense of calm & the confidence to take time for ourselves when the fall semester begins. I am shamelessly requesting ideas.