I’ve known since the start of the semester that sabbatical had a positive impact on my teaching. As I noted in the last post, my classes are amazing. Now, I don’t get credit for all of that. I have a great group of interested students – even in the two general education courses I’m teaching that are populated with students in majors far from my discipline – and we all know the difference that makes. And I’ve known that I’m energized and focused in my research, and that the sabbatical has given me a clear agenda for my progress, clear goals, something I haven’t really had since my book was published. And personally I’ve known that sabbatical had a positive effect, in that I’m attending to my personal life in ways I haven’t done, well, ever. While I’ve struggled a bit with the WW this month, I have stayed on plan and committed to exercise, even though I’m still working out the kinks in how to manage that with my now chaotic schedule. Whatever the case, as this month draws to a close, I feel like I’m hitting a groove and like I can continue to make progress, even if the progress is a bit slower than it had been throughout the fall.
What I haven’t been entirely sure about, though, is whether I really did gain the perspective on service that I’d thought I’d achieved. I wondered whether I’d really changed, or whether as soon as I was back in the thick of it I’d fall back into my old bad habits. Or bad habit. You know the one: I’m a person who volunteers for shit when she should let some other people step up. I’m a person who, and this is a true character flaw, tends to believe that I should rule the world because I know what’s best. And the problem is that oftentimes I really do know what’s best, which only perpetuates my fucked up desire to have my hand in everything, even when it’s not the best way to use my time or good for producing the results that I want to happen.
So at our first department meeting of the semester, there was this moment. A moment where my chair asked for volunteers for a “committee that would only meet one time.” I hesitated. I have things to say! I can DO! THINGS! WANT! TO! RULE! THE! UNIVERSE! It’s only ONE meeting! JUST ONE MEETING! But then. I thought. I didn’t need to raise my hand. In fact, for this thing, which ultimately was a nothing sort of thing, raising my hand would result in a waste of my time. And on top of that, I already am doing a thing that contributes to the issue this “committee” is there to address, and that is really and truly more than enough. More than most people will do related to this. I understood – probably for the first time in my whole life since I was in kindergarten – that the best thing for me to do was NOT to step up. And I didn’t. And the world didn’t come to an end. And I felt happy when I left the meeting. I haven’t felt a twinge of regret about not volunteering, and I don’t feel like I don’t have a voice because I didn’t volunteer. (And, if I’m honest, it also helps that I don’t want to work with the people who did volunteer, so there’s that.)
At any rate, even though this was a small thing, it was psychologically huge. It gave me a huge amount of confidence. It was small, but it was a giant demonstration of how far I’ve really come, and that for the first time I understand that tenure doesn’t just mean that I can say whatever I want and do every single thing that I want, but also that tenure means, sometimes, taking a step back. Tenure can mean that I do what’s best – that I actually exercise some judgment – instead of running as fast as I can, like a tiny little hamster on a wheel. Sometimes it’s ok not to run. And, in fact, I’m better at my job when I choose and do deliberately, instead of rushing around like the world will come to an end if I don’t.