Last semester was the most difficult four months I’ve experienced in my job. By December, I was burned out, depressed, anxious, and overwhelmed. If I’m honest, it wasn’t just that four months. It was a long time coming. I wasn’t satisfied with my job or my life. I felt that I hadn’t been the teacher I needed to be, the colleague I needed to be, the organizer I needed to be, the wife I needed to be, the person I wanted to be. I felt like a failure.
In fact, the semester was so rough I wasn’t looking forward to another one. Normally, even if I’m tired, I am excited about the beginning of a new semester. I genuinely enjoy planning my courses and am like a kid on the first day of school. Not this time. I really and truly felt I had lost my joy in teaching, and as the first day of classes approached, I became even more apathetic and was filled with dread. I needed perspective.
I spent some time over the break reflecting and trying to figure out what went wrong. There are many contributing factors in the workplace that are beyond my control, but what I realized is that the most significant factor is who I am and what I need. I was neglecting myself in trying to be perfect.
I’ve always been fascinated by personality typing, but only recently have I considered the ways in which understanding our personality types helps us to know what we need in our lives and how to grow. I’m not saying that we should be defined only by or limited by our personality types. They are not excuses for behaviors, but are instead ways, at least for me, to understand behaviors and even triggers. So, in the last several weeks, I’ve been reading about personality typing and trying to understand how I can make this year better. I came to some surprising and not-so-surprising realizations.
On the Meyers-Briggs scale. I’m an INTJ. And I’ve always registered as INTJ: The Mastermind. On the Ennegram scale, I’m a One: The Reformer/ Perfectionist. And I’ve recently
discovered admitted that I’m an HSP (highly sensitive person). All of this means that, in a nutshell, I am an introverted, perfectionist, analytical problem-solver who is easily overwhelmed, hard on myself, and am both a bitter cynic and romantic idealist. Here is the example most often given to explain the contradiction: An INTJ believes that anyone can accomplish anything with hard work and determination. At the same time, they believe people are often too lazy or selfish to achieve these things. In response, INTJs push themselves hard and hold themselves to often unattainable standards. In other words, if they don’t get the results they want, they just keep working.
I’ve always known that I’m an introvert and a perfectionist. I don’t like large groups, and I hate small talk. It makes me feel awkward and unproductive. As a child even, I felt most content when I was alone. I would spend hours outside bouncing a ball against the side of the house. I remember my mom asking me why I did that. I told her I was telling stories to myself. I liked being quiet, and I needed that time to myself even then.
If at this point in reading you are thinking I may be a little crazy, you are not alone. For the longest time, I felt crazy. I didn’t understand why other people seem to be able to function well when they have a lot going on. I didn’t understand how other people can create boundaries between work and life, how they can do well in the workplace and still make time for the things they love. I find it extremely difficult to relax if my house is messy or if I have work to do (even if that work isn’t due for another month). What this means is that I deal with anxiety every day. At the end of last semester, I honestly believed something was just wrong with me.
Then, I realized something important. I need to stop comparing myself to others, and I need to recognize what I need in order to be happy.
Almost everyday last semester when my husband asked me how my day was, I responded: “I just need quiet. I need my mind to be still. I need to rest.” As I have reflected the last several weeks, I recognized the problem. In the Fall, I never had any quiet. I spent my days teaching, my lunch break talking to other instructors and colleagues. Then, I came home, talked to my mom on the phone in the afternoon and to my husband when he got off work at night.
For an introvert, it isn’t just nice to have quiet time at the end of the day; it’s necessary. Spending all day talking, plugged in to the internet, navigating social situations is draining for me and other introverts. I’m beginning to acknowledge just how important quietness is for me and learning to be okay with that.
On the perfectionist side of things, I want to be a great teacher, colleague, scholar, and writer. But, it’s more important to me now (and this is hard to admit for this goal oriented INTJ) that I’m a great wife, friend, and that I’m happy. What makes me happiest is enjoying my teaching, spending time with friends and family, taking long walks without feeling rushed to move on to the next thing, to read good books,to travel, and to write about the things I want to write about.
In order to do that, I have to stop seeking validation, approval, and even respect from people and in places I will never get it–even at work. Ultimately, what I have learned from my time of reflection is that I need to find practical ways to reduce the stress and anxiety I feel everyday. I need to remember the joy I find in teaching.
I’m aware that in my job (or any job) there are going to be stressful days, but I have to take care of myself.
To do that, I have begun to make changes. First, I am learning to say no. The perfectionist in me wants to prove myself to my administration and colleagues, and so I say yes and yes and yes. I will try to ignore the control freak in me and will delegate instead of just doing it myself. I will not check or respond to emails past 7:00 PM, and it will not be the first thing I do when I wake up.
I also have begun prioritizing my days instead of creating simple, but lengthy to-do lists that overwhelm me. I know that there will be days that my new schedule doesn’t work, but it’s important that I have one. For instance, last semester my blogging was pushed aside for teaching, lesson planning, grading, cleaning, etc. Not anymore. Even if I have work to do, blogging (or writing of some sort) is first on my schedule for the days I’m not teaching. Writing makes me happy, and I do my best writing in the mornings. The same with my reading (for me and not for work).
And I will have quiet. For at least an hour every day, I will disconnect. No phone. No TV. No social media. All of it will be turned off.
In the end, I’m trying desperately to get some perspective and to recognize what is most important to me. What I’m realizing is that the things I used to think were important are not what define me. Instead, what I most need is to accept who I am. And who I am is a person that sometimes just needs to be quiet.