Even though it’s only been a month since I moved back to Maine, pre-tenure leave seems like a distant memory. I expected that the change would be abrupt, especially since I was traveling and trying to do research pretty much until the day I got in my car in Austin, Texas to drive back to Portland. But I did not expect to feel this busy and overwhelmed. In this post, I share a few thoughts on the return to my regular life after my magical sabbatical.
When I was thinking about writing a blog post about my rude post-sabbatical awakening, there were a couple of things causing me writer’s block. The first, ironically enough, is that I felt overwhelmed and it’s very hard to write when your mind is thinking of all the things you need to do. The second was that I didn’t really see a point in writing a post where I complain without offering anything to the reader (I like my rants to be useful, to some extent). So I needed to think about why I wanted to write about being stressed out after sabbatical. Why do I feel this way, and what lesson can be learned from all this?
Finally, today, as I prepare to go to a week-long workshop (which will surely be the topic of a future post), and I’m excited about the prospect of spending all day talking to other mathematicians in my area about research problems, I realized what I wanted to write about. This post is not about how stressed out I am now, but about how great it was to be on sabbatical. All of last year, I had to focus on ONE thing: research. That is not to say that research is easy, and I had a few simultaneous projects that I was trying to make progress on which means I was still juggling things. But research was the only thing I had to worry about. From this side of the sabbatical, I miss the days when I would wake up and the only thing I had to do was spend time working on one of my research problems. Sometimes I had to work on a talk, or edit a paper, or travel to a conference, but that was it. The simple life of the research mathematician.
Now, I’m teaching two classes, I’m back in committees, I’m commuting to work, I decided to make most of my free hours office hours (yup, turns out that’s a great idea for your students, not so much for you, but no backsies, right?), and I’m still trying to make progress on my research and attend a few conferences. The funny thing is that this is no different from what I was trying to do before my leave (well, except for the office hours). And it is no different from what my colleagues are doing (some of them are even responsible for other human beings). This is just what we are normally supposed to be doing. I’m already getting better at juggling the different things, and last week was a vast improvement over the previous two.
So in fact, instead of complaining about how busy I am (which is pretty obnoxious when you do it in front of people who are just as busy, honestly) I will try to remember how lucky I was to go on leave for a year and focus on my research. And a pre-tenure leave at that! This is my life, and to be honest I quite like it, but it’s a busy one. Just remember that every once in a while we get the opportunity to go on a magical sabbatical, to a land where the only thing that matters is working on math. OK, that probably sounds like a nightmare to some people, actually, but not to me!
So, dear readers, have you experienced the post-sabbatical freak out? How did you deal with it? Do you have advice on how to get back into the groove after a long hiatus? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.