K so the way my masters+internship program worked was all the course work was up front in the first two semesters, and exclusive from the internship portion which would follow in the next 3 semesters. Looking at the game plan ahead of time, we had 2-3 weeks at the end of April between finishing classes and starting internship (with no exams). Perfect! A dear friend of mine from Newfoundland had just had a baby, asked me to be the godmother, and was waiting for a gap in my chaotic schedule to have me be a part of the ceremony. This was the gap!!!
Since I was working though, I had to chat with my supervisor before booking flights. They were willing to move some things around to accomodate the break – wonderful! All was well. Or so I thought….
In the weeks leading up to the break, final assignment deadlines in many of my classes got extended, and though this was exciting news for most, I was not so enthused. This meant the deadline extended into the time I had “off”. But I thought ‘You know what? Whatever. I’ll stick with the original deadline myself and hand things in before I leave.’ Probably a good idea for the first extended assignment, but when nearly all of them got extended, I had signed myself up for a lot of work in a little time.
In the first draft of this post I went into detail about all the work I had on my plate, both expected and UNexpected, but I won’t bore you with those details. Just think of the busiest you’ve ever been in your life. Then add in 45 papers to correct all by yourself. Yep. Long story short, the free pass I had to go home during this gap seemed to fad and the expectations my supervior had for my workload kept changing..
More and more, the conversations seemed to steer into the idea of me taking the work I had to do (papers I had to correct) on my trip home. That was not happening.
I worked tirelessly every waking moment, and late into the night, even skipping meals, losing sleep and showing up to classes holding back tears. None of which I do, like ever. seriously. (#selfcare)
Could I have taken my work with me and worked during my ‘time off’ instead of working myself into the ground prior to? Sure. Was I going to? Hell no.
Moving to a new province for this program, one where I knew very few people, and didn’t even turn out to like that much, meant I poured almost every minute of spare time into my professional development (even before this scenario). If I got a business email at 9:30 on a friday night, I responded at 9:34. If I was asked to take on some extra work, I gladly did so every evening. I was devoted to my program and professional development 100% of the time while I was in Toronto, no joke. And don’t get me wrong, I was fine with that. That was my decision.
What I was not so fine with was losing that feeling of control.
So when I would leave for time off, I wanted it to be just that: TIME OFF.
I earned this.
I deserved this.
I needed to go to my hometown and be PRESENT – not thinking of all my responsibilities and prioritizing them over my friends and family I hadn’t seen in years. I needed to take a break for the first time in a long time and RECHARGE before coming back to a hectic city to work for free full time (and then some) for 8 months straight.
I honestly needed this.
It was ridiculously difficult to put myself first and put my professional stuff on the back burner. It was even more difficult to explain myself to the people around me.
Through all the stress, I didn’t let it impede my productivity. I got A LOT done in a little time, and I was vocal about my struggle with others involved. Did that mean they were going to say, “Oh Acacia, you did a lot of work in this little time, you’ve done enough and I will do my part from here. You go home and rest and recharge and be with family.” ? Nope…
Deep breaths. Deep breaths.
It was incredibly difficult, but after ‘beating around the bush’ for some time about my concerns, I had to be more upfront about my decision to put myself first, and I had to be confident that it was the right decision… because it might not be perceived that way on the other end.
So I did. I didn’t slack off and leave my work unfinished, but I did draw the line about how far I was going to go. I stood my ground and left the province knowing I did a hell of a good job with my responsibilities, and I honestly earned this stress-free family time I had ahead of me. As ridiculous as it sounds prioritizing my own personal needs like this was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.
Coming back to reality two weeks later, I realize even moreso that this was the right decision. When I asked my colleagues, “How was your break?” the response was a smirk and, “What break?”.
I could have easily been in the same boat. It’s unfortunate that I had to put myself through so much turmoil to avoid it, but I was so proud that I set my own boundaries.
So my advice to my readers is:
Do the best you can, your 100% best, and walk away from things when you have to, with the satisfaction that you did all you could.
Face the fear and stigma around putting your personal stuff over your professional stuff when you need to. You are human. You don’t need to keep that a secret.
Communicate, communicate, communicate.
If you are in a situation you aren’t happy with, politely talk about it with those involved and try to reach a compromise. It’s uncomfortable. It’s scary. It’s difficult. And you know what? You may not come to the perfect compromise and you may need to just agree to disagree. My advice is to get comfortable with that. You won’t share the same perspective and values as everyone around you, and you will exhaust yourself trying to.
My hope is that this experience of mine triggers you to do a little self reflection. Have you ever been in a similar situation? Would you bend over backwards again, or would you soothe your aching back?