Academic Musings, Life Musings

3 Lessons We Can Learn from Overcommitment

MeThis semester, I’m learning quite a lot about over-commitment. Over the past month or so, I gave three talks across the country while trying to find time to teach, run the Race, Ethnicity and Inequality workshop at SBU, mentor undergrads and graduate students, fulfill treasurer duties for SREM, handle service obligations, write peer reviews and make progress on several papers and the book project. Oh, and then there’s also the writing group I’m part of, and, gosh, everything else. Finances. Self-care. Family. Social life. Romance. Unexpected crises. SLEEP. Or rather, insomnia. I got very, very little sleep during the entire months of February and March. When I started feeling the ill effects on my health, I realized it was time to take a step back and recommit to my well-being.

I’ve had to make tough, embarrassing decisions about cutting back on various obligations and deadlines that simply do not fit within my time-space continuum. But in so doing, I’m keeping notes and taking stock of what works, what doesn’t and making a conscious decision to strategically lower my standards.

Aside from complete and total exhaustion, one of the main reasons I haven’t written much here lately is the staggering sense of shame I feel about falling behind on several writing deadlines. On the upside, I’ve already written far more than I have in any other teaching semester since I started my job, thanks to the practices and support system I established by participating in the Faculty Success Program. But I haven’t done all that I hoped and dreamed. And you know what? Despite the very uncomfortable feelings that have come up this semester, I’m learning that this failure to meet my unrealistically high expectations is a really, really good thing. Here are three reasons why:

1) Over-commitment can help us learn how to make better choices. One of the best things about the discomfort I’ve felt these past two months is that I’m learning just how much is too much. Sometimes we don’t know our limits until we push ourselves a bit too far. If we commit to a daily practice of conscious awareness, then we are acutely tuned into unpleasantness as it presents itself in our body, mind and energy field. I’ve been very, very, very aware of the physiological effects of stress and fatigue that have manifested over the past couple of months. It’s to the point where I don’t even try to lie or hide it whatsoever. When folks ask me how I am, if I’m feeling shitty, I say so. I don’t even have the energy to front.

This acute awareness of my limitations is teaching me how to set more realistic goals the next time I do my semester planning.

2) Taking on too much can help us get clear on our priorities. As the semester progressed and I felt myself falling behind in variously stressful ways, I watched my self-care practice crumble and felt lost about how to get back on track. Thankfully, several support systems helped me assess and adjust. My girlfriend and I try to hold ourselves accountable for taking care of ourselves — something that’s not always easy to do in the midst of the urge to merge. Mom checks in to make sure I’m taking vitamins (I’m not) and exercising (getting better). My weekly writing buddy and I have an intentional practice of checking in about our self-care (or lack thereof) and trying to troubleshoot solutions for what physically and emotionally ails us. I also have a really great therapist that I started seeing again, after letting our appointments slide for several months.

All in all, I think it’s pretty fucking awesome that I caught myself mid-way through an extraordinarily stressful semester and made a conscious decision to prioritize my well-being.

This has meant, concretely:

– getting 8 hours of sleep every night no matter what (instead of the 4-5 I was barely squeezing in)

– making a commitment to either take a walk or go to the gym daily (after a 6 week hiatus)

– setting aside time to get my finances in order

– stepping up my spiritual practice (more on that in my next post)

– shifting back to a veganish lifestyle

– nourishing my creativity

– trying to respect some kind of boundaries with work (e.g. not letting myself work all night; not letting myself work all weekend)

3) Overcommitment can expand our capacity to love and forgive ourselves. I’ve had all kinds of shame come up this spring: Shame over not meeting all of my writing goals. Shame over missing and extending deadlines. Shame for having made the decisions that resulted in the consequences I’m now experiencing. But, thank God, as all of these shitty feelings emerged, I remained quite grounded in the bedrock of my spiritual practice — an on-going, conscious awareness of not only my thoughts, feelings and sense of beingness, but also a deep inner-knowing that none of this was or is a mistake. Life has unveiled to me again and again the fundamental truth that even when situations feel like a clusterfuck of a mistake — it’s still not a mistake. All of this is an intentional, divine unfolding.

I was, evidently, meant to attend all of those conferences and have those invigorating, exciting interactions with scholar-friends and colleagues. I was supposed to push myself past my comfort zone in order to better know myself, my boundaries and my priorities. I was supposed to aim a bit too high, and in so doing, write more during a teaching-semester than I ever have in the past. I was supposed to feel all of these uncomfortable feelings in order to transcend them.

I made a conscious decision to forgive myself for getting into this pickle and to extend love and acceptance to all that I am feeling and learning through the process. And so, I’m blogging tonight, despite the fact that my professional plate is piled too high, because I realize that writing and connecting with you is also part of my self-care. And for goddess sake, it’s Friday night. The Work will get done — or it won’t — but right now? I’m going to finish this whisky, get my eight hours and love myself something fierce.


2 thoughts on “3 Lessons We Can Learn from Overcommitment”

  1. As someone who is consistently over-committed, I deeply appreciate what you’ve taken the time to write here. I’ve found it’s the hardest thing to keep commitments to myself, and that’s the place where I’m striving to do better. For me, this means going to Tai Chi at least twice a week, and practicing the use of that all-important word–“No”. There are other commitments I’m still working to implement. As for 8 hours sleep–now that’s completely out of the question. 6 seems to be the operative number, and maybe 7 if I’m over-tired or sick.

    I look forward to reading about your continuing progress. And yes, it will get done. . .or it won’t. And that’s OK.

    PS, Zora is indeed a beauty!

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful comment! I lovvvve tai chi and have been thinking about starting again, after a long hiatus. And yes — the art of saying no. Profoundly important.. and, for me, still very much a work in progress..

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