The November Doldrums

Credit: The Phantom Tolbooth, Jules Feiffer

Entering my first November as a full-time faculty member I am struck by the dreariness that has overtaken me. In many ways, the academic calendar is a sprint -- 15 [relatively] short weeks that comprise the semester and a predictable flow of tasks and expectations. This made me wonder -- why is it still so hard?!

Here are a few thoughts I had and I would love to hear about your hypotheses in the comment section. Let's science this.

The weather shifts and so do students attitudes. Looking out of my window right now makes me want to curl up on my office couch and nap. It's wet and gray and damp and bleak. Should I blame my students for dragging their feet to class and taking a bit longer to kick-start? I mean, I feel this way and I am no longer trying to balance all of the plates they are: social life, future, student leadership, academic demands, identity development, completing their frontal lobe...I should give them a break.

The anticipatory holidaze. In addition to professional demands, personal ones ramp up during November. Coordinating grading and final course plans alongside travel and lodging can be draining and distracting. It doesn't help that my students always want to listen to holiday music while they are working on brief in-class activities. The collision of my professional and personal to-dos just make a mess around this time.

The trouble with sustained self-direction and motivation. Part of the reason I wanted to be an academic, was because I like to choose what I do with my day (for the most part). Before I leave work, I draft up my tasklist for the next day, sorting what I believe is high, medium, and low importance within the context of my concrete class meeting and course demands. I mean, I still have to think long-term about tenure expectations, but right now, I didn't have to ask anyone's permission (or be told to) write this blog post. It was on my list, I thought it'd be a good thing to do, now here I am. In many ways, academia is entrepreneurial -- the flip side of its benefits (agency, creative freedom, increased intellectual curiousity) are its perils (loneliness, lack of motivation, meandering, creative slumps). November highlights all of these things and I find myself missing the bustling energy and camraderie of working with colleagues more closely and regularly at times. But then the introvert Janellle smiles and keeps doing her thing.

Well -- it could be all of these things or none of these things. Anyhow - wishing you all the best as you sludge through (or maybe you're crushing it and not sludging at all! You go, Glen CoCo!) the dreary dark months. Let me know if you need some motivation!