by Lisa Melonçon 16 December 2018
Stop! Be easy. Just be easy.
This is a phrase—well, a version of a phrase as translated to English as I can get it—that my grandmother used to use all of the time. As she remains one of the smartest people I’ve ever known, I have returned to this phrase (and so many other) time and time again. The way this phrase is ported in American popular culture as “go easy on yourself.” As should be obvious, but worth saying out loud, the message in this phrase is that we are often too hard on ourselves. We set the bar for excellence or productivity or success way too high so that often we find ourselves disappointed in our own performance.
The slight difference in the two versions are important. The use of “be easy” as opposed to “go easy” signifies the Cajun stance of becoming and as an act of becoming a better version of yourself. The more Americanized version focuses on an action that you do to yourself. The becoming part is vital because it suggests perpetual change and growth. That you are becoming more yourself when you are still. French (both Cajun French and French) is a nuanced language so “easy” has at least five different options in French. This particular phrase uses tranquille, which connotes two meanings simultaneously, still and easy. Again, this is an important distinction because it encourages a stillness that is necessary to think and to contemplate, which is the only way change can happen.
This little Cajun French lesson has a point. We need to be easy on ourselves, to cut ourselves some slack and not be some critical of our lives and our activities (or perceived lack thereof).
The winter break is one of the worst times of the year for this to happen. We often look to the break as a time when we can “caught up” (there is no such thing link) and can do the work “that matters” to us (it all should matter link to work). And when you add in the fact that many of us have family obligations during the holidays or that the holidays are an especially fraught and emotional times, you get a recipe for a break that is not a break at all.
Don‘t misunderstand. I totally understand that this time between terms is a great time to do some writing and reading and to move projects along. The point is twofold:
- Be realistic about what you can actually accomplish
- Ensure that you have some balance that is just about you and not the work
Setting realistic goals for the break is especially hard. We always overestimate our zeal for returning to a project we want to work on, and we underestimate the fact that our minds and bodies need this time to rest and recover from a long term. These two things are incompatible, and we end up setting the bar way to high, then we get disappointed and then we start the cycle of being way too hard on ourselves wondering why we can’t get anything done.
My rule for summer planning is to make a list and then pick the top three things. My rule for winter break is make a list and pick one thing. Yup. Just one cause likely that’s all the time you’ll have. When I refer to one or three these are larger sorts of tasks such as finishing an article length manuscript or completing a big report for a committee. I recognize that the break is also filled with smaller tasks that can likely be accomplished in a couple of days. That is, you can set aside a day to do an IRB application or do those reviews that you agreed to do or start the prep for your spring courses (or fully complete an update of an existing course). All of these smaller tasks along with your big task need to be realistic within a schedule that allows time for balance.
The surest way to set realistic goals is to start with some balance that includes giving in to your need to rest and relax and do something that is not at all associated with work. This is part of being easy on yourself too, accepting that you can do other things outside of work and not feel guilty about it. (yeah, I recognize that the guilt thing is tricky to overcome. Practice helps.)
I’ve probably written ad nauseum about balance, but it’s one of things that I find we need to be reminded of, to be reminded that we are more than our CV and we are more than work. These are habits that should have been built in grad school, but they are habits that can be built at any time. Please do not misunderstand. Ours is job that needs dedication and attention. My point is that it is a job that need boundaries so the job doesn’t become all that you are. Doing things that balance work with the rest of life is one of the best ways to enact going easy on yourself.
On Tuesday of last week, our grades were due. The next day I sent a message to the grad students in our program. Here is part of that message:
With the end of the term officially here, this is a reminder that the time between now and when school starts is a time for you.
Please do not feel obligated to put everything you wish you would have gotten done over three months into the next four weeks. It is vital for your physical and mental health to be slow, to think, to rest, to find time to be joyful, and to do some of those things that you enjoy that are not work related.
So I leave with you the same words, and I hope that you can find a way to put part of them into action to yourself, to do those things (whatever they are) just for you during the break.
And please, when you’re about to make decisions, try to stop yourself thinking about the work you “need” to do. That’s the biggest aspect of learning to go easy on yourself, that is, not over thinking or thinking you should be working when you goofing off and napping and hanging out and being with your family and/or friends, or doing whatever it is you’re doing that isn’t work.
One more time for those in the back: Be easy on yourself.
Wishing you health, peace, and joy during this holiday (winter break) season.