Was going to make some lists of where I’ve been and what’s on deck. Typed and deleted a few things.
It’s hard to be fully present. I was going to add a lot of qualifiers to that sentence like “it’s hard to be fully present when an inbox full of emails demands attention” and “it’s hard to be fully present when your phone promises an easy distraction to even a moment of boredom” and “it’s hard to be fully present when your mental to-do lists are shuffling out your ears and littering the lawn” but I needn’t bother. It’s hard to be fully present. Period.
Last week at school a speaker came to talk to the students about smartphones and the effect they are having on teenagers’ development of social and emotional intelligence. Her talk really stuck with me, as I thought about all of the ways I distract myself from what’s around me, all of the ways I disengage with the challenge of being truly present, and all of the ways the things that I think help me stay connected (twitter, facebook, instagram, email, texts, etc.) — also harm me. To that end, I’ve tried to be more intentional about when and where I carry my cell phone with me, how many times in a work day I check my email (I never leave it “open.” I respond quickly once I’ve read a message, but I designate times to read and respond), and how much screen time I allow myself in the evening before bed.
I checked twitter two nights ago after a busy, packed, fantastic weekend with a dear friend, saw all of the good stuff you all have been up to, and immediately experienced so much guilt and self-doubt about how I choose to spend my time. It’s this strange, competitive (embarrassing) FOMO around public professional successes. “I’m not blogging enough!” “I’m not tweeting enough!” “I didn’t make the time to read that book/article/blog post yet.” “I’m not curating mathematical art shows.” “I didn’t apply to be a Desmos fellow.” “Dan Meyer didn’t give me a shoutout in his recent blog post.” Dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb. Dumb brain. Comparison is the thief of joy.
Here are recent successes that exist wholly outside the digital domain: I’ve slowed down. I’ve still had my share of disjointed, less-than-ideally paced classes this year, but on the whole the entire vibe in my classroom has been calm, focused, productive, positive. My interactions with students feel more deliberate, my conversations with colleagues less rushed. My classes are a story with a beginning, middle, and end (and – I am not the main character in this story.) In the lunch line, rather than checking my notifications on my smartphone, I try to find someone to talk to about how their day is going. As I walk around campus, I am comfortable. I check in with students I taught last year, and really sink into those conversations. I work hard as a team member on my shared courses, refining curriculum and executing lessons that allow students the chance to authentically engage in meaningful mathematics. I am busy, but I feel like I have a good sense of the work that is worth my time, and I put as much of my effort as I can into that work. Then, I put boundaries and parameters around the rest of it in order to preserve my mental and emotional health.
I know there will never be enough time. But the time that we have is a gift. Trying oh-so-hard to slow down, and enjoy it.