Digital Sabbatical

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An update on my pulling the plug post, as one of the intentions of this blog is to hold myself accountable to my goals; I have not done well with pulling the plug on technology and making my interactions more meaningful. I was successful for awhile, but then discovered that I was not getting the type of engagement in real life that my brain required, and I tend to get more attention online than I do in real life.

The past two months have been a learning experience in how I interact with the world and have forced me to take a step back and evaluate my relationships more critically. The benefit to having an online presence is that it results in more interactions than in real life. By the same token, the detriment is that constantly being plugged in results in increased levels of anxiety and decreased ability to focus on the task at hand.

I took a digital sabbatical this weekend to unwind after a particularly challenging week of all things grad school on top of my normal day-to-day responsibilities. While my phone has been off and I have not been on social media, I have used an Ethernet cord to plug into the internet when I have needed to do something grad school related. Yes, I know the purpose was to unwind, but I am nearing the end here, and need to seriously get some work done.

What I have discovered these past few days is that the people who matter most in my life are already with me – my cats. Other than that, people so rarely contact me that I am sure no one is having meltdown over the fact that I have been unreachable the past few days.

I have discovered that I do, in fact, have a healthy relationship to the internet when I must access it old school via Ethernet cable. I only plugged in when I absolutely needed something this weekend, and not for more than 20-30 minutes per day. My downfall with internet and social media comes from my smart phone. That little square glowing diabolical hand held device that allows instant access to the internet at all times and from all locations.

With my phone off these past few days, I have gotten more accomplished on grad school, I have spent more quality time with my cats (those who are most important), and have even managed to read a novel for leisure that is completely unrelated to any of my degree programs.

I had a real-life in-person discussion a few weeks ago with someone whom I greatly admire about my desire to completely shut off my internet after grad school. That person persuaded me not to, arguing that internet is now a utility much like electricity or gas service, and that the internet provides me with a way to communicate. This is true. So while I will not be getting rid of internet service completely, my goal instead is to put better boundaries around its use.

Saved by the Ethernet cord is how I am going to accomplish this goal. Given that I do not have self-restraint with my so-called smart phone – once I am on the internet for one thing, I am looking at all the things – I will be turning my phone off more and plugging in my Ethernet instead.

I am quite sure that if it was not for the fact that I needed email for things grad school related that I probably would have only been online once in the past 4 days – and that would have been to double check the ingredients for a recipe about which I was doubtful.

I have not missed the status updates, the rants, the raves, or the photos. I more thoroughly enjoyed all my activities this weekend because I was fully present. I enjoyed the sunset. I enjoyed the beach. I enjoyed music. I have had the opportunity to plan my cross training schedule for when I am fully recovered from my running injury.

I am coming up on my last few weeks of grad school before my final defense. I may take a sabbatical every weekend I have off. Really, the only time I need my phone is if work needs to find me or I have to email for things grad school related. My stress levels have been a lot lower the past few days. I am looking forward to returning to work tomorrow energized and focused without the distraction of grad school panic and everything else that overwhelms when you are trying to finish a degree and do 10 million things.

Have you taken a digital sabbatical? Has it been relaxing for you? Have you noticed less anxiety when you turn the smart phone off?

If you are not on social media, how do you improve your in-person interactions? My problem is that I tend to get more interaction with people online than I do in real-life (even though the people I know online I also know in real life). With everyone so busy these days, how do you find or make time to spend with those important to you?

Out The Window

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I’m working on writing my now second masters thesis, and I can tell you that in this process and many others, lots of things go out the window. The first is my APA (American Psychological Association) publication manual. Literally. Anyone who has written a document of any length can attest to the frustration, tears, and sometimes screams that accompany the creative process. Sometimes, in frustration, I throw my publication manual.

If it happens to be a nice day, and the windows are open, it flies out the window.

What is not okay to throw out the window are our positive coping skills and ways in which we engage in self-care. Yet of course, those are always the first things to go when things get busy. Schedules change from summer to fall and all of a sudden after work; we are rushing to this club or that game or some event. We no longer have time to engage in the yoga, reading, whatever it is that we do to replenish and rejuvenate our soul.

It’s very easy to do when things are rough financially as well. You are so worried about paying the light bill, the rent, and all the other necessities that there is no money left over to do anything fun. That may be true; it is reality for a lot of people. Yet, when we are at our most busy and overwhelmed times are when we need self-care and fun things the most.

You cannot keep pouring juice out of an empty pitcher. Unless you are a magician of some sort, once it’s gone, it’s gone. Yet repeatedly we overextend ourselves and run on empty.

How is that going for you?

It’s time to stop. The time you are most busy is the worst time to throw self-care out the window. If you have been going at a pace that makes a marathon look like a sprint, then it is time to slow down and embrace those things that nourish your psyche.

Sometimes we are forced to slow down. Major life events, usually an emergency, illness, or injury can force us to slow down whether we like it or not. It is usually karma’s way of saying, “hello, don’t throw self-care out the window.”

What have you done to be kind to yourself today?

Can you take even 5 minutes to turn off the phone and electronic gadgets, shut the door, and just close your eyes? Can you escape the whirlwind that is your racing mind?

I have been receiving massage to help the healing of the hip muscle I tore in my most recent marathon. I have not received massage in quite a while – not since I had employment at which I was making double what I make now. I am not sure if it is busyness or just thinking that massage is a luxury I cannot afford, but the thought to schedule a massage has not crossed my mind.

While massage is indeed helpful with my hip injury, it is perhaps even more helpful for my mind and stress levels. As I was lying there allowing someone to work on my injured hip, I remembered how important it is to take care of oneself. Massage is a luxury that I cannot afford, and probably would not be getting if not for my injury. Yet, it reminds me that every once in awhile we need to do something beneficial for ourselves even if it seems to be a little extravagant. Those are the types of things that keep your pitcher full. Those moments when you take time out to replenish yourself so that you can continue to give to others are just as important as what you do for others.

What goes out the window when you are really busy? Can you identify one activity or thing that you can do to replenish yourself at times when you need it the most?

The Perfect Day

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Perfect days are rare. They are usually some huge momentous event like getting married or the birth of a child. Whatever your definition of the perfect day, it usually looks like those fictional, happy women in the tampon commercials that are frolicking about with their hair blowing in the wind. I don’t know about anyone else, but when I try to frolic like those girls in the commercials, I am usually tripping over my own feet, eating my hair, and trying not to break an arm or something as I fall down.

Some of the perfect days in my life that have held great significance include:

  • My college graduation when I received my bachelor degree after 15 years of trying to overcome the challenges in my life and really fighting for it.
  • My first major league baseball game when I got to see my favorite team play at home. This was huge for multiple reasons (but that is probably a TBT post).

Perfect days usually require a lot of thought, planning, and organization in order to successfully pull them off. In my quest to slow down, I realized that I had the perfect day recently. In fact, I have had more than one perfect day. None of them revolved around any majorly significant event, but they were just days when you are so happy to be alive.

I don’t know about you, but I do not have those days often enough.

I have been taking advantage of my park pass this year by trying to visit parks in my state that I have never seen before. I always take a backpack of supplies and a cooler. The only expense to these day trips, really, is gas money. The first few day trips I took, I also took my schoolwork with me. Grad school never ends. I have spent so many years working 60 hours a week, that every moment I was not working, I was doing school, so to have uninterrupted time to do nothing was rare.

Now that my schedule with my new job is much more manageable and I *gasp have leisure time on my hands, I am learning that I do not have to do my schoolwork every moment when I am not at my job. I now have time to be able to complete my schoolwork at a comfortable pace, and I still have time left over.

My time left over has been spent at the parks, the beaches, running, reading, and on my surfboard.

When I go to the park, I go old school. Remember those carefree days as a teenager when a day at the beach meant a towel slung over your arm and a copy of Ratt magazine? You don’t need the radio flyer wagon full of beach chairs, beach umbrellas, and other paraphernalia. Well, maybe you do. But if you keep your beach list simple, it might be more fun to only carry one bag and not have to try to pull a wagon through the sand.

I realized on one of my excursions last week that it was the perfect day. It was nothing like a commercial. I did not pack the car and have an impeccably planned itinerary. I slept in, left the house when I felt like it, and was in no hurry to arrive. Once I was at the park, I realized it was one of the first times I had not brought any of my schoolwork with me. All my schoolwork was caught up. I had time to spend the day as I chose and was able to read a novel not related to my masters thesis. I went surfing, made sandcastles, and got involved in a pick up game of football in the lake.

Yes, my hair was blowing in the wind, but it wasn’t like some luxurious commercial. It was a hot mess. I had sand everywhere, missed some parts of my body when using sunscreen, and did not pack enough food. But, it was the perfect day because it was one of the few times when I could just BE. I had nothing to worry about, and the freedom to do anything I chose.

I just rolled with the waves I was riding. It was not the perfect day because the waves were great and I never fell off my board. I mean, yes, the waves were great, but I fell off my board. That’s okay. It was the perfect day because I was just totally content to literally and figuratively roll with those waves. I was okay with being tossed in the water. I was just happy to be there.

I know many people who obsess over details and get upset if things do not go just right. Ok, so I may have arrived an hour later than I initially planned, but that did not bother me one bit. I was an hour “late” because I needed the sleep, and once there, I thoroughly enjoyed the time I had at the park.

Maybe to have the Perfect Day, we need to relinquish control instead of trying to micromanage every single detail. Maybe it’s not about choosing the fonts of the invitations, but rather, the people that are going to share your moment as the result of those invitations.

The Perfect Day means something different to everyone. To some people, embossed envelopes may be important. To me, they are not.

The Perfect Day is a day when I can just be myself and exist as a person, have no worries, and enjoy the moment I am in. Tomorrow is not promised. Today is a gift. That’s why it is called the present.

What are you going to do to try to have more Perfect Days in your life?

The Penultimate Paper

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Note: The above photo was taken shortly after I completed my first masters thesis, which was 120 pages. Today is nothing like that.

I just submitted the last paper. It’s not a big deal. There is always a final paper, right? Well, right, except this one is huge. After almost 20 years as a professional college student resulting in numerous degrees, this is the last paper I wrote before I complete my thesis. That’s not a huge deal, either. I have already written and successfully defended a 120-page masters thesis in another field. Ultimately, my thesis for this masters degree will be the final paper ever. So, I guess this one is technically, in the words of Monty Python, the penultimate paper.

It took me 7 years to complete an associate’s degree, 3 years to complete a professional degree, 15 years to complete a bachelor’s degree, and when I am done this fall, 5 years to finish a master’s degree. My life has been all about school.

When you ask most kids what they want to be when they grow up, they respond with cute answers like ballerinas, firefighters, or veterinarians. Not me. When I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, my response was “college student.” I started giving that response at about age 10. I had literally no plan of what I wanted to do after college. I never imagined a life after school. I just knew that where I was, in grade school, middle school, and high school, was so ultimately miserable that College was like the Holy Grail (Monty Python again – it must be that type of day).

I was so focused on going to college that I skipped a grade and graduated a year early. I did not just skip any grade. I skipped 10th grade. While most girls my age were engrossed in how high they could tease their bang with Aqua Net, which boys were going to light up their see through slim phones, and trying to perfect the ultimate roll on their jeans, I was reading Flannery O’Connor, Jean Paul Sartre, and studying just what really makes poison dart frogs poisonous.

The only thing I’ve been good at is school.

I survived a shitty childhood by being good at school, and basking in the praise and attention of my teachers and instructors for doing such a good job. I just want to stay in school forever.

When I realized I was actually going to finish my bachelor degree, panic set in. What do I do after school? I had no plan for this. Life after college? What is that? Graduation is not supposed to happen. I had a mid-life crisis over graduation. Granted, it was my fourth graduation ceremony, but that one is particular held a sense of doom. I was so clueless, that I remember standing in line at the ceremony getting ready to walk across the stage when someone yelled “Congratulations” at me because I was apparently graduating Summa Cum Laude. I had no idea what that meant. I didn’t even know I was graduating Summa Cum Laude until I was standing in that line to walk across a stage.

I now know that I was 6th in my class of over 2,000. Apparently, that’s really awesome, but to me, it’s just a pretty gold sticker and some fancy looking letters on a piece of paper.

Back to the penultimate paper.

In my panic over graduation and trying to figure out how I cold possibly graduate and still stay in school, I decided to go to grad school. My idea was that with a graduate degree, I could be a college professor, thus staying in college forever. Perfect.

However, after working on two masters degrees in five years, and being buried in an exorbitant amount of student loans, I have decided this is the last degree. 20 years in any field is a career. I have spent 20 years as a professional college student. Tap, tap, I’m out.

The fact that I just wrote the penultimate paper is a huge deal. It signifies the sunset of a huge part of my life and identity for 30 years of my life.

I’m trying not to stress. I am going with the flow. I am looking forward to focusing on my thesis (the real LAST paper), as I absolutely love my topic and my field. I cry over it. I laugh over it. I just love my topic. I am sure once it is over, the panic will set in again. I am hoping that when that point comes, I will be able to take it in grace and stride.

But for now, I just gave a sigh over the submission of the penultimate paper.

I am about to take my last math class ever. Yet another statistics class. After my time in nuclear physics, I have taken a great many math classes. While I may be able to find the square area of a horse, that knowledge has done nothing to help me in life. Don’t even get my started on algebra- I can tell you right now, there is no point in dwelling over your “X” (ex?) because life has taught me that the “Y” is more important – like “Y did I date you?” or “Why am I here?”

I am relieved that the penultimate paper is done. I am unsure what the final paper will make me feel like when my thesis is complete. I am hoping that I will be able to find ways to enjoy my retirement from being a professional college student. I am still slightly unsure of what I want to be when I grow up. Sometimes its fun to ask kids just so I can get some ideas. I’m hoping this time when I graduate, that I do not have the level of panic I had with my bachelor’s degree. Unless, I have to adult now. I just don’t think I can adult.

I may have to be an adjunct. If retirement gets to be too much, I can just go back to school by teaching. But, for now, I am going to relish in the achievement of completing the penultimate paper. I may even celebrate with a mariachi band.

(To get these references, you may need to view Monty Python’s “The Last Supper.” You can find it on youtube).