The perils of overachieving

At 5:15pm tonight I was having a panic attack. My heart was racing, breath shallow, feeling like I was about to burst into tears as I raced to finish my five page case analysis paper. I had fifteen minutes to submit it and get out the door on time for class. It was only half-done. How did I let this happen?

I feel like grad school is kicking my ass right now. Last week and the week before wore me down while I stayed up too late a few extra nights making this blog. This week the blog is less of a time suck, just in time for the most intense workload of the semester to date. This week’s assignments are a five page leadership memo for SHRM, five page case analysis for SP, one page reading reaction for SP, and as a group our first draft team project agreement for SP.

So I decided to tackle the SHRM paper first, because the instructions were to base that on the first four weeks of readings, so it seemed to make sense to do first. Then I would tackle the week’s readings, writing the one pager after reading that assignment, then I would read everything else, then I would write the five page case analysis.

And of course after the readings came the summary post. It dawned on me while writing that up that it was just taking too much damn time. I started questioning the wisdom and value of the exercise. Is it really worth all this time for what’s mostly just long bullet lists of copy-pasted material? And then, while writing up that post and chewing on that, I adjusted my style. Whereas I had been copy-pasting most everything which seemed relevant and putting most of my effort into cleaning up formatting, I started focusing more on re-reading and analyzing the material. I began to do more typing to string together swaths of short highlights and just copy-pasting lists and longer passages. And by the end of writing that post I had a renewed enthusiasm for it. But by then it was also Monday night already.

My available time this weekend was constrained by childcare duties Friday night through Sunday morning. I managed to get the SHRM paper drafted by Saturday, our SP work group met late Sunday morning to talk through our paper (which thankfully another group member volunteered to draft), I started in on the readings on Sunday afternoon. They were done by the time I was done staying up too late that night. On Monday there was work, then family time, then schoolwork time, and the reading summaries were done a bit after 10pm. When I turned focus to the case study assignment I started to sense trouble.

I had read the case already, a couple of times. My habit with the one page analyses had been to read it once through before doing the week’s readings, so I can try to look for themes which apply to it. But when I finally sat down and dug in to the assignment questions I started to struggle. The assignment is focused on analysis and wanted me to apply a specific model to looking at stakeholders. I struggled to make connections to themes from the broader readings. I puzzled at how to approach the writing. And (I learned later) I failed to notice supplemental information on who the stakeholders are in the appendix after the blank worksheets that I read up to multiple times. By the time I was done staying up too late yet another night all I had done was a list of stakeholders, the analysis model copied from the book, and a few notes.

I took today off work. I’ve been in need of a day off to catch up and rest. Ultimately it became a day to catch up and do homework. I got my hair cut, went to Target for diapers, went out to lunch. I toted a tablet with me to pick at homework over lunch, but who really wants to touch a computer with fajita grease on their hands? Shortly after getting home I sat down and focused on the assignment which was due. And I started making progress but it was slow going, and then it was 3pm, then 4pm, then holy shit how am I ever going to finish this in time…….

I saved the paper and uploaded it to Moodle at 5:45pm. Then dashed out the door and made it to class ten minutes late. The paper wasn’t proofread. The analysis has flaws. It’s hopefully good enough to pass, but it’s not my best work. I’m pretty sure my score on this paper will prevent me from acing the class. It’s twenty percent of my grade.

There were a few lessons to be learned here. First of all, I really should have started that paper sooner. I got in a habit with the one page analysis papers of doing them after all the rest of the work was done. This was a different animal, a major assignment, and it needed to be begun sooner in order to have the proper time to do it well. Second of all, my sleep debt is still a problem this week and that just gets worse the longer you don’t catch up and get enough sleep. It’s taking a toll on my ability to really absorb and synthesize the material, which makes writing go even slower, which can lead to less sleep in a vicious cycle. I’m really hopeful that with fewer assignments due next week I’ll get a moment to breathe, and then actually take that moment.

So far in school I’ve heard messages about how ambition is a choice and how grit - the determination to grind out projects to completion - is a predictor of success. And I’ve noted with pride that those are things I’m good at. I knew before I went back to school that I’m an INTJ and my StrengthsFinder Top 5 Themes are Responsibility, Strategic, Achiever, Ideation, Analytical. I’m a creative person who’s eager for new challenges and tenacious about following through when I commit to something. But I can bite off more than I can chew sometimes and right now I’m feeling that. Going back to college at 40 is way different than it was at 22. Now I have to balance this with a career and a family. Biting off more than you can chew is way more difficult when your plate is full. I need to keep remembering that and focus my efforts accordingly. And I need to catch up on my sleep.

Written on October 3, 2017