I teach at the local University and as the summer winds down, I think, “Put on your seatbelt.” Typically I have over 300 undergraduates in 4 classes in the fall and then again in the spring. While I have about 12 weeks off in the summers, there are also 12 weeks during the rest of the year when my life becomes a blur of late night grading and other demands. “Buckle up!” It is a wild ride of student emails, questions, and anxiety. Just to manage my own life, I frequently repeat to them, “Remember, there are over 300 of you and only one of me. If you can ask in class, you’re saving me 5 other emails with the same question.” It’s just one strategy for making my messy life more manageable.
During these heavy load times, I cut back on other, less necessary things. I ask for more help or hire it. I get very efficient on weekends. I break up my work by setting shorter, manageable goals. I shop in bulk. I cook in large batches. I socialize less. I don’t travel as much: “I wish I could, but I can’t spend the 6 hours in the car this weekend because that’s a half a day of grading time for me.” I keep my eye on the end—long periods of not teaching. I know the intense times are relatively short-lived.
I am not unique and this is not just the story of teachers. We often enter messy times of life knowing that we are in for a ride: a new baby, moving, marriage, a new job, divorce, illness, caring for a loved one, among many others. When those times have a celebration associated, we might have idealistic fantasies about how it could be and then run headlong into the wall of reality. Sometimes, we have no idea what we’re in for—and maybe that’s a good thing. Otherwise, we might just hide under the covers if we could see the future!
We wear seatbelts (hopefully!) to secure us and in order to increase our chances of staying relatively unharmed in the event of an accident. Many accidents just happen. Perhaps our attention drifted; perhaps our equipment failed; perhaps something unexpected occurred in our path. Two years ago (to the day as I write this), I broke my ankle with a simple misstep. (Yes, on the eve of the start of the semester.) It was serious and required surgery. Lying on the brick steps waiting on the ambulance, I had the clear thought, “Well, put on your seatbelt; it’s going to be a rough ride for a while.”
Lying on the brick steps waiting on the ambulance, I had the clear thought, “Well, put on your seatbelt; it’s going to be a rough ride for a while.”
When we anticipate the turbulence, we are less likely to scream out in surprise. (You’ve been on that flight, right? The one on which a first time flyer cries out at each drop in altitude…) When we know the signs of a rough ride, we straighten up and take a breath. We tighten our lapbelt and say a little prayer.
The alternative is to get shaken up. To let the struggle rattle you out of your seat. If you don’t protect yourself—your coping strategies, your exercise, your sleep, your relationships—the struggle CAN get worse. It is very much like Re-entry (Skill #13). If we don’t make adjustments, large and small, we are making our journey more challenging. It takes staying mindful.
We need to remind ourselves that “this too, shall pass”.
We can’t change reality but we can get prepared and buckle up for safety. (Do you remember that old black and white television PSA jingle?) We need to adjust our minds, attitudes, and expectations. We need to remind ourselves that “this too, shall pass”. And it will. The semester will start and it will end in 16 weeks. Night turns to light. Winter turns changes into spring. Eventually. Messy will pass and shift back to Marvelous. It’s the cycle of nature and the cycle of life.
So Buckle Your Seatbelt because Life is Messy and Life is Marvelous.