There’s a major paradox in my life right now. I’m mentally exhausted and pretty darn well beat by the time six o’clock rolls around each day. And yet, somehow, as I hop into my car to drive home, I find myself energized in spite of that.
On one hand, I can understand the exhaustion. My job is to essentially be with people all day, every day. It’s a wee bit of a shift from my previous position, where some afternoons I might peek into a coworker’s cubicle and creakily say hello with a voice that hadn’t been used all day. I’ve always treasured balance and time to myself, and I haven’t quite figured out how to navigate that with the new position yet.
I’m also trying to make the most of summer and a few months without schoolwork, readings, and papers. Old friends that I haven’t seen in ages, new friends that have wandered into my life, and staying connected to the people that I care about – it takes effort. It’s fulfilling, and I love it, but it requires engagement and energy, and I’ve been atrocious at taking time for myself the last few weeks. One day this week, I woke up to run with a friend, went to work (which as we now know, means being in company with others all day), and met up with a new friend after, followed by a drive home and an immediate crash into bed. Wake up and repeat. The Leaning Tower of Pisa has more balance than this.
All of this is to say that the exhaustion piece, I can understand. Based on what I’ve been up to, I expect that, and it comes as no surprise.
What is surprising, though, is the energized piece. In my previous job, I’d often come home tired and a bit lackluster. Sure, usually I would kick myself out of it, but that was often the default that I then chose to change.
I wake up, looking forward to walking into my office.
I walk into that room, light streaming in from the full-length window, and smile at the little space that I can call mine.
I introduce myself to a student, asking them, “What can I help you with today?” and mean it.
I finish up with a student, and eagerly check to see if there are more waiting. If not, I wander over to a coworker and ask what happened at bible school last night or what’s going on with their house-buying process.
I leave the office, often smiling to myself as I think about the students who walked through my door that day. The 39 year-old mother and Montessori teacher who is trying to get a certificate so she can advance in her workplace. The freshly graduated high school student with dreams of transferring to State and studying engineering. The millennial who asked if I really liked the piano music that was playing in the background, and after seeing my bemused nod, quickly gave it his stamp of approval as well. The young vet who wants to learn welding and open her own shop. And yes, the student who has been around for a while and could easily be sitting on my side of the desk and explaining what to do with their complicated situation to the new advisor.
I was hoping to like my job. I was praying to be able to help students be successful in their educational pathway. I thought it might be a good fit for me, and a solid step forward.
Hoping, praying, thinking. Trying to stay away from expecting, because it was all such uncharted waters. Because of that, I wasn’t didn’t anticipate what happened: loving it.
Yes, I’ve only been there a short while. And yes, I’ve been around higher ed and know institutional politics occur and red tape exists, and I’m sure I’ll encounter that all too soon. The excitement and novelty will wear off at some point. And to be perfectly honest, I doubt that most of the students with whom I work remember my name by the time they leave campus. And all of that is perfectly fine with me. I don’t care if I’m remembered; I don’t mind the layers of bureaucracy that come with jobs in this field. What I do care about is that I’m able to help the students that come my way. To give each student the support and guidance they may need to get out there and tackle the world that awaits them.
So sure, it’s a Friday night and I’m beat. But I think back over the past few days and remember the conversations I had with friends, family, colleagues, and students. I consider all the different stories that I was able to take part in, to varying degrees. The people whose path crossed with mine, even for a bit.
And all I can do is smile and be grateful. Well, that, and then to go to sleep.