I suppose I should note that I’m writing this post at a moment at which I am entirely drained of energy, having just returned home (after driving four hours yesterday, and then driving back 4 hours today) from The Wedding of the Year in Hometown – A’s older sister (who is also my good friend) married a guy to whom she was introduced by my friend J. at a biker bar – and I am in no way exaggerating or describing this place unfairly in naming it as such. A) It lives in a state with a smoking ban and yet it is widely known that it is fine to smoke in there, B) 90% of the clientele is bikers (male) – the parking in front of the place is all motorcycle parking slots – and C) The clientele tends to be old and/or tattooed and/or military veterans, many of whom have missing teeth. Quote of the night via a toast that J. made: “Dreams do come true at [Biker Bar’s Name].” If there was ever a place less likely to make dreams come true, I can’t think of one other than this establishment. DUDE. But the good news is that I will not go out of town again until Christmas, and I have never felt so happy to be home as I feel right now. Oof.
But anyway, the post that I intend to write is not about the festivities of last night. Instead, I want to talk a bit about “energy” as it relates to work. People tend, I think, to characterize me as an “energetic” professor. I get this impression in part because of student comments on evaluations (my highest scores tend to come on the question about enthusiasm and energy, regardless of contradictory comments on other questions – they might hate me, but they cannot deny my enthusiasm! and energy!). I think students respond this way at least partially because I’m fairly extroverted, just in terms of personality. But it also has to do with rigor of assignments, and the amount of feedback I give on assignments. For what it’s worth, I don’t see myself as especially energetic or enthusiastic, and it’s not something I try to be in any conscious way. To me, that level of energy and enthusiasm is “normal.” I also get this impression in part because of comments that colleagues make to me about how much I accomplish – in teaching, but in service and research, too – or about how I manage certain things in my schedule – like doing 15 student conferences in a single day (as I did last week). But, as with the way my students regard me, I never especially think that I’m doing anything odd or above and beyond, and so the comments strike me as weird.
If you were to ask me to describe myself, I would not describe myself as a “high-energy” person. I am naturally a gregarious person, and an extroverted person. But that, to me, doesn’t necessarily make a person “energetic.” When I think about people whom I would describe as energetic, I think about A’s sister K, who has a husband and four kids and who managed the day after her sister’s wedding to wake up at 4 AM, to pile three of her four kids into the car, and to drive to Pittsburgh so her daughter could participate in a dance competition. Or I think about J, who has the discipline to wake up at 5 AM every day to go to the gym, all the while working at a job that requires her to travel something nuts like 200 days out of every year. Or even about my friends who teach high school or my colleagues who cull together a living out of part-time teaching gigs. Or about my mom who never seems to sit down in the evening after work – not until it’s time to go to sleep – and sure, she goes to sleep at like 9 PM, but from the moment that she gets up until the moment that she goes to bed, she’s moving. Or A’s dad, who is retired, and who has 7 kids total, with the sister who got married at 40 the oldest and with his youngest only 15 years old – and yet still somehow is working a 60-hour work-week.
If I were to describe myself, I’d certainly note my gregariousness and my extroversion, but I’d also say that my default “energy-level” is laziness. I am a person who regularly (like, 5 days of the week) takes an afternoon/evening nap – a nap that lasts anywhere from 1-3 hours. I am a person who, sure, will wake up at 6 AM, but that’s only so that I have three or so hours to “ease into the day,” which involves watching television and drinking coffee and maybe reading things on the internet – I accomplish nothing during that time. I am a person who, if her house is messy and her kitchen a filthy mess (in particular) will prefer to live in her filth rather than to forgo her naps or her easing into the day, or even talking on the phone or watching tv. I am a person who enjoys “taking to her bed” for a day of intermittent sleeping and reading, as opposed to doing anything that has any sort of merit or utility. I am a person who, at the end of the day, resents meetings and appointments and is exhausted by them, and who will do anything she can do to get out of things that she perceives as “work.”
And yet, apparently, other folks perceive me as having energy. Indeed, as being highly energetic and accomplished through that energy.
Now, to be kind to myself, I’m going to say it’s probably true that I have energy for things in my job in part because I’m so slack in my non-job life. It’s easy to have “energy” in some ways if you don’t have kids, or a partner, or an aging parent to care for, or anything to take care of beyond two (fairly demanding, as these things go) kittehs. I fully recognize that a lot of my energy is due to the fact that I’m a single lady with a totally fine income for one person and two cats. And who never has to negotiate with other human beings in her personal life regarding the clutter on the dining room table or the fact that laundry hasn’t been done in a couple of weeks. My life would surely change with the addition of more human beings, which wouldn’t be a bad thing – and is maybe even something I wish I had – but it would cut into my Time of Rest and Laziness, which would be an unfortunate and much-mourned consequence of the addition of more human beings, as great as those human beings might be.
But it occurred to me this past week, as I was forced to reflect on my activities through the summer to report on a fellowship I’d received, that maybe it’s true: maybe I am a person with energy. Because I did more in the past 3-4 months than I’d ever imagine anybody doing ever in that length of time, and certainly more than I’ve ever done in my academic career. Weirdly, this was also the most socially busy summer I’ve ever had, so it may be the case that doing lovely non-work socializing (4 weekends of visitors in the 5 weeks before the academic year began, plus additional socializing, plus another weekend of visitors early in the summer and a week in hometown) actually makes me work MORE and with more positive results – rather than tiring me out. (See: Definition of Extrovert.) And I’ve accomplished more this semester, and have been a better teacher, precisely because I’ve been out of town the past three weekends. (Again: it may be true that I am a textbook extrovert.)
I think it might be true that while I think of myself as lazy, I actually am energetic, when compared with other people.
Or, rather, my modification of that judgment. I’m energetic when I’m doing crap that I really, really love and believe in. When I’m doing stuff that matters to me, it takes a lot less of my energy. Which I should have understood from the time I was a teenager, because, frankly, I was the sort of student who only excelled and invested in stuff she “liked” and let all the rest of it go to hell, even while that stressed her out. This, right now, is the first time in my life I have been able ONLY to invest in stuff that matters to me, that I “like.” And, it turns out, I get TONS done under those conditions, and I don’t feel beaten down by the work that those accomplishments entail.
And I also think it’s true that I accomplish more when I give myself permission for fun, as opposed to trying to (or thinking I should) work non-stop. I was talking to my mom today about all the things (productive) I’ve done since Spring semester ended, and she was surprised: “I feel like you didn’t do any work for half of that time!” she said. I replied, “No, I didn’t. I think that might have been the trick of accomplishing that much, actually.” Because, in giving myself permission not to work – and to totally shut down and not even to think about work – I didn’t procrastinate. Instead, I worked when I had time to work, and in the meantime, I gave myself over to fun! I didn’t worry about work, or think I should be working when I wasn’t. Maybe that was the lesson I’ve needed for the past, oh, 30 years.
So do I have energy? More than most people? Actually, maybe I do, now. But only because I’m only expecting myself to have energy for work in about 50% of my waking hours.