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Adventures in Self-Care: Carving out Space

Summer in higher education is a beautiful thing. For many of us, the pace of direct service slows down, we shift into project and preparation mode, and summer Fridays begin (workdays ending at 1pm).

I’m lucky to get this extra time to slow down, center, reconnect. But lately I’ve been thinking about the anxious feeling I get whenever someone says “August.” That burst of Orientation activity, the month that will fly by with an extra helping of overtime and very little “me time.”

Last year, August saw me in my first full-time job. I shifted from being a student with multiple part time jobs to working one more-than-full-time gig and teaching two classes.

At the start of July, I’d just begun a new relationship. Not only was I juggling more work hours than I was used to, I was also learning how to make consistent space for a romantic partner, something I hadn’t done since high school. It was a joy, a surprise, a pleasure—and it was so very new to me.

It was a whirlwind, and the semester just kept chugging. I met the end of it frazzled, dazed, and exhausted.

I’ve been thinking about all the space I get during the summer. How, three weeks ago I was in Salem stepping outside my daily life and the next weekend got to hike and bike my way around the wilds of Somewhere, Pennsylvania with Andy. I’ve got another camping trip lined up and a vacation on the horizon.

That time in the outdoors, or outside the normal confines of my life, recharges and refreshes me like nothing else. And realistically, no, I won’t have time for long weekend getaways much when Fall hits. But surely somehow I can carve out the space to refresh and reconnect where I have it?

I’ve written before about how so much spare time gets filled with input anymore. With scrolling. With listening to Podcasts. With more, more, more.

What I’m thinking about lately is how much more time I’d have for the things I want to explore, grow, and create if I could just carve out more space.

For years now, I’ve been a busy person. As opportunities come my way, I have a tendency to snatch them up and hoard them like a magpie, like I’m afraid a single “no” could make the entire future crumble. I’ve been learning to let go, let things pass by when the timing isn’t right.

And yet, I keep finding myself saying “This week’s really hectic, it should slow down soon.” I say it to friends when we try to plan a Skype or phone call. I say it to people I’m collaborating with on side projects to excuse a delay on a deadline. I say it to myself in the quiet hours when I’m wishing for the fabled day home alone with nothing to do.

I’ve been saying “this week’s really hectic, things should slow down soon” for about three years now, so I think it’s probably time to admit that no, really, things will most likely not slow down soon. Time to realize that if I want that hectic feeling to slow down, I have to find a way to slow it down myself.

So I want to be more intentional about how I use my time. Resist the urge to flop on the couch scrolling through social media until bedtime, then wonder why there never seems to be time to get things done. Resist the impulse to say yes to everything, all the time. Learn how to say no, and when I should say yes. Because sometimes the things I most resist filling my time with are the things I need the most. Like those phone calls with friends that are a headache to schedule but a delight to enjoy. Like the still, quiet moments of a yoga session instead of seeing what’s new on Instagram stories.

During my weekend away with Andy, we sat around the fire at night, talking or not talking or just listening to the sounds of cicadas slowly coming to life. We played cards in the tiny kitchen. My phone didn’t have service, and I felt this overwhelming sense of freedom, of remembering what I used to do and who I used to be before I walked everywhere with a wifi box in my hands. I felt the overwhelming urge to abandon my hectic, “it’ll slow down next week” life for a cabin in the woods.

But instead, maybe I can bring a little of Woods Amanda back to my every day. Decide to walk in the wild after work instead of scrolling. Put energy where it should go and learn to carve out the space I need to fill my cup. Stop waiting for things to slow down and embrace that this, right here, this break-neck pace of everything all the time, is what my life is for the moment.

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