Donkeys and Deadlines

image from Inimagine

Legend goes that in post-renaissance France and England, society ridiculed and humiliated individuals (guilty of a crime, or thought to be dominated by their wives)  by shaving their heads, hanging a garland of used footwear around their necks, and forcing them to ride a donkey backward through town while onlookers pointed and mocked. Traditional psychological shaming if you will.

These past two months of school have kicked my a**, placed me on a donkey backwards, and paraded me around town much like the sorry souls of history past. I am not sure of the exact moment I began to lose control of the world around me, but when I did, that donkey was waiting. It all started with the beginning of grant season in early October. I was prepared. I had been preparing for the madness of October and November  since the end of summer.  I am a self-proclaimed schedule maker, complete with colourful pens, highlighters and sticky notes.  My schedules are like pieces of art, and I had crafted up a fool-proof agenda for my upcoming deadlines.  This schedule was so solid that it even had “bathroom break” and “eat food” buffers  in place.

And then reality hit like a heard of braying, stomping donkeys. My beautiful schedule totally failed to include in its perfect pink and yellow squares the occasional, yet inevitable breakdown (horribly time consuming and very distracting post-tears). An example comes from a recent meeting with my supervisor:

Needless to say, I spent the remainder of the week completely off-track, feeling insecure, and reworking my schedule to accommodate tasks which continually kept getting pushed to the next day.. closer and closer to upcoming deadlines. Factor in lack of sleep and a schedule without normal, fun outings (dinners with friends, movie nights, etc),  and you pretty much end up with a hot mess of a graduate student. In fact, trying to work beyond your personal limits, not taking time off for yourself, and not getting enough sleep are counterproductive to any tasks at hand.

Unfortunately, this is a cycle not uncommon with graduate students. Sometimes, we are our own worst critics. With no defined structure in our schedules,  lack of tactual short terms goals,  seemingly far-off long-term outcomes in sight, our focus gets shifted to the larger goal at hand (finishing our dissertation), and our days tend to become unstructured messes,  candy-coated with guilt and self-loath. Coming to terms with one’s own limitations can be hard.  And in an ideal world I would be a proud owner of a 25-hr clock which would give me an extra hour to “chill” without guilt.  Yet, the reality is that 24hrs is what I am left with.  That cannot be changed.  So, I am now learning to make a conscious choice in deciding what to do with those 24hrs to make this experience more enjoyable.  Although my days no longer resemble my lackadaisical moments of my most recent fieldwork, I am grabbing this grad school donkey by its reigns and leading it down a more scenic path in the new year- even if I am seated backwards, with smelly shoes around my neck.


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