This week has been yet another lesson in patience and letting go. I had a lot of big plans at the beginning this week. There was a hint on Sunday that things wouldn’t go as planned when my daughter was very tired. In the optimistic hope of parents, we thought maybe it was because she’d had a busy weekend. That optimism ended at about 5am Monday morning with a high fever and puking….
So the week has not been a busy one where I accomplish all the things. Instead I’ve gone into campus when I needed and have been the one home when it wasn’t absolutely essential (right now a more equal sharing of childcare is more difficult for my husband). That has meant giving up grant writing time, a course on how to advise students in oral presentations and endless other things (like finishing up a blog post earlier this week). This morning the subtle feeling of panic started to creep in (day 3 at home….). I absolutely despise that moment where you need to assess whether the child is well enough to go to daycare. I really wanted to work today and it is hard to balance that against your child’s needs. When they are really sick, it is easy because it is obvious they can’t go. But that in between time when the snot is still running and they have a tired look around the eyes is tough (or maybe that is just me). Are they still infectious? Will the daycare schedule exhaust them and slow down the healing process? Will they be well enough to drive you mad as you spend another day at home? And there is all that work you want to do!
So I’m at home, forced into giving up much of what I wanted to do this week. But although there are outside forces driving the change in plans this week, it seems that it is a constant in academia. Often things don’t go according to plan. In fact this week my PhD student is struggling to get software for our new spectrophotometer to function, with little success so far. I’m sure she’ll figure it out but she’s had to let go of the goal of running analyses this week. It often seems that tasks you might think will be easy, turn out to be hard and rarely the other way around. It is always good to be ambitious, but important to triage when things hit the fan, as they say.
Letting go also seems to be a bit of a theme in things I’ve been reading lately. There’s the genre of ‘quit lit’ of people giving up on academia (I learned this term from Meg Duffy). I like the positive outlook on doing part-time adjunct work here that reminded me a bit of what it was like while I was on parental leave but the post is also about letting go of goals of a full-time tenured position. I haven’t yet come to a cross roads where I need to make any tough choices about my path in academia but letting go can be a daily theme where I try to cram in as much as possible into the constraints of the day.
Time management is always critical for success in academia and there is certainly no shortage of advice on the subject. What I always found strikes a chord for me is the advice to say no and give up on ideals like perfection. I don’t like giving up and sometimes have a hard time letting go (these traits, of course, are not limited to the academic part of my life). But it is crucial to keep in mind what is important and put efforts into those things.
So maybe writing a blog post wouldn’t be top priority in normal circumstances, however, it is something I can do while my daughter colours and occasionally chats with me. So is filling out all the busywork (CV, publication lists, etc) associated with the grants I’m submitting early next month. But I’ve had to put aside the real writing until I can give it my full attention and had give up completely on the course I was to be attending.
So this week is yet another point to assess what is important. Things such as stopping to read a story to my daughter and making sure I can manage to apply for the funding needed to keep my lab and myself going. And I should never underestimate the importance of keeping the panic at bay by checking off a few important but manageable things on my list in the evenings. For now, it is time to leave the computer and play with my sick little girl.