I was chatting with my sister today and she said her Word of the Year is "Now". We discussed the effect this word has had on her productivity and life generally. So far the results are very positive! I certainly haven't poured much thought into a Word of the Year or a theme or anything, but as my sister chatted I realized my word(s) of the year has made itself apparent. If I had to sum up the way I've been trying to live for the last few months, and the way I plan to continue living, it would be "What next?" It's been having some really positive effects on my life. I'm a big fan.
Normally, or perhaps I should say previously, I've been really big on lists. Lists and arranging and productivity and time-management and self improvement. 33 reasons why you should wake up before 6am. 28 resolutions to make for the new year. 45 lists you need in your life. I loved that stuff. But then I started to feel kind of dead to it all. And after my nervous breakdown (so dramatic, but I truly don't know what else to call it while still telling the truth), I found it all positively repulsive.
I've been a "bullet journal for the week, put out the clothes and arrange your schedule the night before" kinda gal, particularly since starting my doctorate and being more busy than I thought was humanly possible (Narrator: it was not humanly possible). But since that fateful weekend in November, the thought of such an expenditure of energy to drive myself forward gives me the heebie-jeebies. I get all overwhelmed and panicky inside. So I've abandoned lists (except grocery lists, but even those are very touch-and-go). I made one when school resumed, you know, just to see how it was, no pressure, just so that I could remember everything, reducing decision fatigue and the fatigue of trying to keep things in your short-term memory so you don't forget them. You know. All that good-for-you productivity stuff. It lasted about an hour and then every time I looked at the list I felt... bad. I'm trying really hard to tune into how things feel in my body because I have a really, really bad case of "it only hurts a little so I'll just ignore it and power through", and that can only last so long before there are serious consequences. Right now, lists feel gross. Organizing my days ahead of time feels bad. It's not necessary to my life at this time, so lists are out.
So, in the absence of all productivity, mind-space-freeing, time-managing, go-getting things, I've been using a strategy I call "What next?". As I go through my day, list-less and schedule-less (except for things involving other people), whenever I have a space of time in which nothing is planned I ask myself "What next? What would you like to do next?" And then I listen to myself. For weeks and weeks the answer has been a variation of "Sit down and stare off into space until the next thing/sleep", and I have listened and done those things and tried really, really hard not to judge myself for it. Because I find it so hard to listen to myself. I don't want to listen to me, I want to tell me what to do and when to do it. But you know what, "What next?" is working. I haven't missed a deadline, I haven't horribly let down my friends (I think...), I haven't done any more than is absolutely necessary for life and continued enrolment in my program which, since I'm in the writing/research/recital phase, is very much up to me to determine.
What have the results been? Well, things have definitely been a lot slower since implementing What Next. My productivity has decreased dramatically, I get way more sleep, I save forests of paper since giving up list-making, my bullet journal is moulding in a corner somewhere, I read for fun and knit sometimes and watch Netflix way more often than I have in the last two years. I also practice a little bit, sometimes I work on my monograph stuff, I found the call number for a book that might have the definition to vocal health in it (it's surprisingly difficult to find a definition of what vocal health is. If you have a reliable source, send it my way!), I go to all my rehearsals and meetings and all the classes I TA. I take Monday mornings and Thursday afternoons completely off from school or work of any kind unless I have a burning desire to do something (rare, but it has happened). Instead I take myself to the tea shop (if I want) and journal, or watch TV, or lie in bed, or take a very long shower. I let my husband help me do things I normally try to do all by myself. I try very hard not to beat myself up for doing less. Instead, I congratulate myself on trying to find balance and working through the aftermath of a very frightening psychological event. It's hard for me to do less. It's hard for me to accept that whatever I get done that day is enough.
The most difficult part about implementing What Next is admitting that I may have to take extra time for my degree. It isn't a certainty, but it is a possibility. My degree requires a positively breakneck pace in a variety of areas in order to complete the work on time. I've been hurtling along for the last 2.5 years and I just can't do it any more. My heart's desire is to graduate on time. I feel like barfing when I think about finding some way to pay for another year of a degree which will allow me to enter a barren wasteland of a job market (obviously job security is not why I've done any of my degrees. There are other important things, too. But it's also why I've only done education after my Bachelors that was fully funded. I can't afford that stuff). I feel angry. Because I have tried so hard and it may still not be enough. I guess that's life sometimes. And it is not worth my actual sanity. Taking more time to finish my degree is fine, failing at goals is fine, and it isn't even unusual. No one has finished my degree program at my school on time. It's hard, maybe impossibly so. This is what I can do right now, so I'm doing it. If it takes 10 years to finish this doctorate, they will be 10 years well-spent because I will still be a human being on the other side. Or maybe I'll drop out and switch to Plan B (it's Farm School, in case you were wondering).
The other most difficult part about implementing What Next is that I'm not sure if this is the new normal, or if it will evolve into something else. All I know is that I'm really scared of slipping slowly back into the old ways of just pushing through the pain and tiredness, and I am willing to make some big life changes in order to keep that from happening again. It feels like going down a really dark path, I don't know what's up ahead, but I'm just feeling it out, one day/step at time. Which I guess is what we're supposed to be doing anyway?