"Ugh, I have so much work to do..." (Theme and Variations)

I confess that I can easily get into a rut talking about how much work I have to do. There’s a presentation due Friday, there’s a perfect storm of a heavy reading load this week, there’s a seminar paper or three that I’ve yet to put serious enough thought into, aside from ordering some library books that will sit on my shelf and stare at me with judgment until I finally read them.

This can become a negative pattern, but I will say that sharing this conversation with other students in similar situations often feels helpful. Usually another student or two might be having a similar week. At the end of the conversation, we might shrug, say “It is what it is,” and duck back into our basement cubicles (where, as I tell my students, the important people work. I have a stable of jokes I reuse, and unfortunately my students laugh at this one every time). To the extent that it’s possible, we’re in it together, and that helps.

Thinking about this today, though, I recognized that the stress that I’m trying to vent in these conversations doesn’t have a whole lot to do with the substance of the work itself.

I am excited to read the novels and scholarship I get to read, I actually kind of enjoy going from a blank page to a response paper that has a semi-coherent thought or two, I like digging through someone else’s argument and outlining their claims and evidence.

It just so happens, though, that the realities of time and space mean that I cannot do all of those things as thoroughly and as well as I would want to for every book I have to read or paper I have to write.

So the frustration comes not from having to do the thing itself, but from knowing that I’ll have to compromise on what’s in front of me in order to do something else as well as it ought to be done, or that I can absolutely deep dive on the project I have in front of me for hours. But that’s going to mean that I’ll have to compromise on other work, work that might be less time-sensitive or maybe even less important for some reason or another, but work that I would still be excited for and would have loved to have been able to do more thoroughly.

It would likely be better for me and a lot of people if the structures and constraints that make these decisions necessary were different. It is what it is, but it doesn’t have to be this way. But regarding the work I have in front of me right now that I’ve got to do, I’ll try as I can to change the conversation a little bit.

“Ugh, I have so much work to do…”

“…but I’m really looking forward to seeing what one of the students I’m tutoring has done with their productive counterargument project topic.” (conflicts between ICE and sanctuary cities.)

“…but I’m reading Maus for the first time this week.” (Certainly not proud it’s taken me this long, but am glad to finally do it.)

“…but I just stumbled onto a short story that might work for both a seminar paper project and also wind up on my comps list.” (“Seventy-Two Letters” by Ted Chiang.)

I need to remind myself, at least occasionally, that I very much love what I get to do.

Rob Nguyen