October has flown by. Midway through the month, I looked at my calendar and panicked when I saw how close we were to Halloween. Two nights before a friend’s Halloween party, my husband asked if we still intended to go. “But we have no costumes,” he responded. We grabbed witch hats at Target and went as “Witchy Witchers.”
On the drive home, I told myself that November would be different. Listening to a commercial for carpet cleaning reminding us of the holiday get-togethers still to be had. After Halloween, there’s a blink-and-you-miss-it feel to the arrivals of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s. But I told myself – “not again.”
We had a one-hour drive home from the party, and the entire time I sat there, I felt tired. I didn’t even think that I had enjoyed the conversations around me. My neck, shoulders and back were aching from marathon midterm-grading. Hunched up over papers, I read and worked with cramped hands to write out comments.
Looking back on the first half of the semester, I realized something important. In my frantic rush to get everything completed on my to-do list for teaching and academic research, I had neglected to stop and look around me. The leaves were changing, the air was getting crisper. Fall is my favorite season and I was missing it. Again.
Over a pot of tea, I talked to a friend from church. I babysit occasionally for her 2-year-old son, and I know how much she and her husband have going on in their lives. And yet, she seems to have the right balance.
Her response: purposely drive behind a person that’s going slower than you. It was something her mother had taught her to regain perspective.
When we drive, we tend to think that we need to get where we’re going in a hurry. Maybe we do, but often, we don’t. Driving in a 60-mph zone behind someone going 30 mph teaches patience (and requires a few Hail Marys), but it also reminds us to take things moment by moment. We’ll get where we’re going when we get there.
It’s an important lesson that I tend to forget. Too often it feels like I’m constantly putting out fires. But how many of those “fires” are actually as urgent as I think they are? How many of the items on my to-do list are priorities, and how much of my time am I devoting to some things that I could ask others to help out with – or not do at all?
Part of the issue, it seems, is that we live in a working environment where many of us are overloaded at our jobs. A friend was telling me that one of his coworkers was teaching him the rules for filing timesheets. As a salaried employee, even if he worked 80 hours per week, he still needed to enter 40. He laughed when she mentioned it, saying that he probably wouldn’t work close to 80. Her response was one of incredulity and amazement – “you say that now,” she said.
In that conversation, there’s something of a competition or challenge in commiserating over the number of hours worked. It goes something like this – Person A: “You think you have it bad? I worked 60 hours this week.” Person B: “Oh yeah, well, I worked 80.” Why is there this need for combativeness? Did the job get done? Isn’t that all that matters?
When I told myself “not again,” I promised that I wouldn’t let certain things take over my life. It’s not actually living if we let everything pass us by. So, rather than rush around like the Tasmanian devil, for this holiday season, I’m gliding by. I’ll spend time with friends and family, and actually take time to enjoy those moments. Those moments are my priorities; not the daily fires.
Dr. Heather Bozant Witcher can be reached at email@example.com.