I’ve had an insane lifestyle long enough to recognize how insane it is and to simply anticipate periods of time when I feel like punching walls and throwing up my (then bruised) hands in despair. Fortunately with great responsibility comes great wisdom as well as great amounts of stress for good measure. I often use my great wisdom to find ways to reduce my great stress.
Preface: I Have Three Stressful Jobs
You have to understand that I’m not just idly whining here. I take full responsibility for my three stressful jobs. I chose this lifestyle. I have two boys - one six and one almost four. We’ll be spending the summer together starting….today. I have a job teaching some seriously needy at-risk teenagers. Most days I feel like I’m really good at what I do here and I like to think, with a bit of encouragement from my students, that I do a reasonably good job with it, so I enjoy it enough to keep teaching. Then, on top of that I have a writing career that I can’t seem to fit very well into the evening or into the morning right now. So I’m tired – a lot. And I’m stressed – a lot.
But I deal with it, and if you’re ripping your hair out, you can, too.
Running Full Speed into a Wall
I find that giving myself a small break means I give myself permission to be lazy over a period of time and I lose money, so I don’t take breaks in that way. I just push myself until I hit a wall. Then I go to bed, drink some more Diet Dr. Pepper and keep going. Usually this takes about four or five months at a stretch, but there are times that it really starts to get tricky for me.
One tricky time is this part of year when school is winding down. Summers were created for teachers to regain their sanity. That means that the normal teacher is crazy right now. Teachers with their own kids are crazier and those of us in my boat are positively insane. I have body aches and twitches that weren’t there in March, I promise you. That means that I have to just expect the insanity, warn my family ahead of time and then just power through it aided by Hot Tamales, yearbooks and $1 drinks from McDonalds. I’ve done it six years now, and twitches aside, there hasn’t been any lasting damage.
I’m not sure this is a good method for everyone to try – some people don’t go pedal to the metal very well and live to tell the tale, but if you haven’t ever tried to just barrel through something – a marathon, an intense work schedule, an all-nighter – maybe you should try. You actually feel pretty amazing on the other side, even if you’re more tired than a human should ever be. You might also be amazed at just how much you can really do.
Pacing: Hourly, Weekly, Annually
Ask any marathoner and you’ll probably hear a lot about pacing. I wouldn’t actually know since I run only when chased by something bigger than me (and that’s saying something). But pacing yourself during a marathon is a lot like what those of us with the insane schedules have to do, I’d imagine. I go into my days knowing I’ll crash by the end of it, but that I can’t crash too early. I go into my weeks and my school years knowing the same thing.
On a daily basis I can physically feel myself holding back reserves of strength. I might skip a trip to the mall with my kids on a Saturday because it will deplete my reserves. I might push for an earlier kid bedtime since I know I’m running out of steam and I have to preserve some energy for work that night. Most parents do this already by the nature of parenting, but I do it so often that I often feel a bit guilty. How much more could I do if I wasn’t saving myself to get some work done later?
I pace myself on a weekly basis as well by staggering assignments to fit my mood throughout the week. Monday gets the easy warm-up, routine work, Tuesday through Thursday are the hard assignments and Friday is the wind-down day. Sunday is my own stuff and Saturday is my day off – which I definitely need by then. Most amusingly of all, I do this same sort of pacing on an annual basis – I don’t take on new projects or anything too hard around the beginning or the end of the school year because those times of year are so crazy already.
Pacing might be something natural or it might be a learned skill – I’m not sure anymore at this point since I’ve been doing it so long, but it does bring with it a sense of guilt. Could I be growing my business? Could I be doing more for my family? Probably – but I’m almost afraid to upset the already delicate balance in my life right now that I’ve worked hard to achieve, and I guess there is some guilt, but definitely no shame in that.