I recently did a stupid thing at work. I overindulged. It nearly made me ill, but fortunately I did not end up embarrassing myself.
Before you imagine me having one too many at a cocktail reception, or pigging out on fajitas at the faculty luncheon, let me explain: what I overindulged in was meetings. Specifically, one-on-one student meetings. As Director of Academic Support, I meet with students practically every day. They come in seeking advice, we go through practice essays together, I help them understand their strengths and their weaknesses and create strategies for improvement. I think I help a lot of students – I have received some very positive feedback from them – and my consultations with them is one of my favorite parts of this job. I enjoy these meetings, and I am good at them.
So maybe that made me a little cocky.
In the spring I teach a skills class of 60+ students. I usually schedule one-on-one meetings with each of my students during the month of February, and last year my Assistant Director and I divided the workload between the two of us. This year, my AD has been on leave, but I was not daunted. I was certain that I could, by myself, hold 20- to 30-minute meetings with each of my 60+ students with little or no trouble. Sure, there would be some scheduling challenges, especially because I needed to leave time in my calendar for appointments with other students outside of my skills class. But I imagined that I would be able to meet and give feedback to each of my students over the course of about two weeks, with time to spare for my other responsibilities.
Whom gods destroy, they first make mad.
I had thought my plans were optimistic, sure, but only in the midst of their execution did I realize that they were actually crazy. After a slow start, I was soon facing days in which eighteen or nineteen meetings were scheduled, one right after another. Entire days were blocked off, which meant that the only times that I had free to read and assess the students’ work in preparation for our meetings were in the night or early in the morning. Fortunately, there were always a couple of students who missed their appointments, which was a blessing because then I had time to eat lunch or use the restroom. Between those students and other misadventures, however, I ended up having to add additional weeks of meetings. When the appointments finally wound down, just before the students’ spring break, I had spent three weeks during which I had met with a dozen or more students every day I was on campus, mostly in back-to-back appointments, and had also spent hours every night, morning, and weekend preparing for those meetings or attending to my other responsibilities. By the last couple of days, I was physically and mentally completely drained.
And why had I let this happen? Because these meetings are my favorite part of the job.
It’s true. I love the counseling aspect of my job, and I know I do it well. A day without a student meeting feels a little bit empty and mindless, as if I had just spent the workday cleaning out filing cabinets. So, perhaps, when I was planning out my skills course syllabus for the spring and setting forth the dates for one-on-one meetings, my fondness for them inclined me to underestimate how burdensome it would be to do so many in such a short time. For certain, it blinded me to just how exhausting and overwhelming the whole experience would end up being. Thank goodness for the arrival of spring break, and the imminent return of my AD. If this had gone on too much longer, I might have grown averse to meeting with students, which would have ruined the best thing about this job.
It’s easy to grouse about the parts of our jobs that are inherently irritating – paperwork, office politics, repetitiveness, lack of support – pick your poison. But if you really want to lose your chance at fulfillment, just let yourself overindulge in the stuff you love. Overestimate its appeal and your own capacity. The unpleasant parts of our jobs may never stop being unpleasant, but at least that encourages us to minimize them. It’s much easier, and more tragic, to get burned out doing the things you enjoy the most.