Out of habit

It’s been a mere two weeks since we returned from our extended holiday in the sun. And, I still feel out of sorts. Primarily, re-establishing my routine and schedule remains murky at the moment.

I’m not sure that this is entirely a bad thing.

Oddly, this post-holiday confusion that forces me to wrestle with my schedule and how I pass the time isn’t simply the pain that accompanies resuming work. Quite the contrary — I’m happy to be back in the classroom, and enjoying my office-based work immensely. A decent stretch of sleep, rest and relaxation will do that evidently. Falling into a routine for our holiday seemed natural and instantaneous this year. Perhaps that is simply a measure of how much we both needed it. There is a lesson here. And, we’re learning.

Before we left in mid-December, admittedly my mind and body were on auto-pilot. The pace of work in 2017 was relentless. And, exhausting. Don’t get me wrong, it was a great year and immeasurably rewarding on multiple levels; but, our holiday reminded me that time is fleeting. Carving out a bit of time for life — those moments beyond work — is necessary. More so, magic happens in that chiselled-out space if only we let it. The mundane somehow becomes memorable.

As we return to our respective routines and all those projects on-hold in our absence, we’re also forming new habits. First amongst these is not working all the bleeding time. I love my job (no kidding, right?); and I’d like to continue loving my job for as long as possible. To do so, I also need to learn to say ‘no’, either because what I’d like or am asked to accomplish is impossible in the time available or because I need to not work all of the time. (Happily, I’ve already managed to say ‘no’ this year, and on a task I normally would have worked day-and-night to accomplish. I’ll take this as a small victory.)

New or re-established habits carried over from our holiday needn’t seem like guilty pleasures. In fact, there’s nothing at all to feel guilty about. Spending quality time with my husband and running or doing a bit of yoga all keep me balanced and mentally healthy and happier. In addition, as with every year, I rediscover my love of books when the 24/7 access to the internet is removed as a possibility. Reading — whether fiction, political commentary or related to my work — provides a healthy distraction and hope in the enormous potential we humans possess.

So, intentionally or not, 2018 thus far has offered an opportunity to form new habits and routines. I don’t mind being out of sorts regardless of how uneasy that would have made me feel in the past.

I’d like to reach the end of this year feeling not quite so tired and rundown. Naturally, that will take work. But, here’s hoping that the work seems more like play and continues to inspire, excite and stimulate me mentally.

(And, for those of you wondering how the half-marathon training is going, don’t ask. I’ll come back to that later…let’s just say one habit I need to re-establish is a running routine. Small steps, eh?)

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Happy 2018 from us to you — and may each day feature a little silliness and just enough laughter to make your cheeks hurt a tiny bit. 

Days like these

November in southern Finland is not child’s play, particularly once we set the clocks back that one precious hour and live on ‘winter time’. The nights become unending and the sun — if it appears at all — shines less than brightly. Couple the darkness with a heavy dose of stress and finding any joy at all becomes excessively difficult if not impossible.

But joy can be found even in the darkest of places. At least, that’s the hope we hold on to even on those darkest of days. This week featured an array of stressors and frustrations. Don’t get me wrong: bright spots shone. Yet both of us acutely feel the effects of an entirely overly optimistic and far from restful year as we near our long-awaited and overdue holiday and annual escape to the sun.

Before our escape, we must take whatever opportunities arise to break free from the daily grind. It may be a fully working weekend for us both, but we work just as hard to find time to get out and break free for our peripatetic bonding session before night falls and the darker darkness of winter characteristic of these nights descends. We made our break sometime around 16.00.  And, here’s what we found on this wintry Caturday afternoon/early evening:

  • The street lights were on well before we made it halfway through our walk. We appreciated the light on our return journey home. But, it’s weird and eery to see them turn on well before 16.30 in the afternoon. A month from now, it will be fully dark at this time of day. And, that darkness is intensely black, standing in stark contrast to the dusk that pervades throughout what counts for summer nights. (Need I say, we prefer the darkness of summer.)
  • Despite needing multiple layers on our walk, as we approached the beach nearest our neighbourhood, a lone, brave swimmer made her way from the changing rooms to the pier and finally down into the icy waters. She wore a wool cap, gloves of some sort, slippers of some sort, a bathing suit and was wrapped in a towel. We shivered simply watching her as she submerged into the waters and swam from the pier. As she emerged after her swim, she confessed that the water ‘wasn’t so bad once you got used to it’. We both thought, ‘Better you than us, girlfriend!’ We prefer the warm bath water of the Caribbean, thank you very much.
  • Despite living in Finland for 10 years now, we still don’t understand the weather here. We left under relatively cloudless skies. At least, it looked as though the clouds had moved on to elsewhere. As we stood watching the less-than-sane swimmer [our classification of her mental state, naturally], rather large and cold drops of rain plopped on our heads. Once again, we were stuck far from home without an umbrella.
  • Mosquitoes still survive even now. Surprisingly. As I typed this post, one lone little bugger landed on my hand.

Days like these, I’m happy to be alive.

Why is saying ‘no’ so hard?

I confess. I’m a workaholic.

I do not do well when bored, nor do I do well when I don’t have deadlines and to-do lists. Perhaps because of those other truths, I’ve never been particularly adept at saying ‘no’, particularly when it comes to work. Perhaps those leaner days now leave me simply reluctant to not take advantage of opportunities when they come my way.

As it is, ‘no’ doesn’t feature much in conversations related to work at the moment, although that is about to change. It has to.

I admit that I’m struggling. I’m not exactly falling behind so much as keeping *just* ahead. As much as I’ve worked harder to manage my time better and more efficiently and not begin tasks just before deadlines and maintain a steady stream of crisis management, currently the pace seems unrelenting. I love my job. But the combination of an unrelenting work schedule along with various other stressors in life have left me exhausted. As a consequence, I feel like I’m not doing my best. Either in my job or in life. It may be perfectly fine for others, but this is not fine for me.

More than anything I need to find moments to step away from it all, and, if necessary, schedule sufficient time to rest, recover and simply decompress. A walk with my husband on some days has proved impossible. Finding 20 minutes to sit and sip a cup of coffee whilst reading nonsense is difficult, let alone finding an hour or so to kit up and hit the running trails for an hour or so.

I’m nearly halfway through a particularly tough week, tough because I can’t simply say ‘no’. I know that the busyness will pass soon enough.

For now, if I seem distracted or scattered or simply not ‘present’, forgive me. In all honesty, I’m learning to say ‘no’.

Sunset over Munkkiniemi

 

On ‘The Subversive Copy Editor

The Subversive Copy Editor, Second Edition: Advice from ChicagoThe Subversive Copy Editor, Second Edition: Advice from Chicago by Carol Fisher Saller

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love this book.

Copyediting and proofreading as a job entered my life rather unexpectedly and perhaps entirely because I was the only native English speaker in an office of Russians. Such skills have lead me down career paths I never envisioned, and at times upon completion of various gigs left me reeling from unending headaches or bursting with immense pride in equal measure.

Carol Fisher Saller is witty, insightful and brutally honest throughout this book. Reading her is like chatting with a trusted (and at times irritatingly correct) colleague and patient mentor.

Whether you want a look into what editors do, wish to embark on a career or vocation as a copy editor or just want an entertaining read abut a profession that is both vitally necessary and frequently dismissed, this is a great read.

Here’s to all those subversive copy editors. May we never run out of red ink.

View all my reviews

Milestones and markers

Change comes slowly, none more so than changing some rather embedded bad habits. It may come later in than life than I’d like, but there’s a certain joy and relief that accompanies working towards various milestones. And, succeeding. Bit by painfully slow bit.

One habit that has plagued me my entire life is my penchant for procrastination. I’ve told myself time and again that I do my best work when I wait until the last moment to tuck in as that deadline creeps inevitably nearer. This has not serve me well at various moments and has caused far too many sleepless nights. But, more so, the stress that accompanies that penchant for procrastination as any deadline approaches and as life becomes increasingly busy have taken their toll in unintended yet predictable ways. Coupled with an inability to say ‘no’ (another issue I’m working on), my schedule no longer allows me to both procrastinate and still meet whatever deadline exists. Never mind my inability to cope with the stress I’ve caused myself in the process. My work and mental health have suffered, and thus the vicious cycle continued.

As I  work towards feeling better mentally, I’m also recognising that I need to adjust how and when I work, and make some changes towards procrastinating less. Note: I’m not even considering eliminating my tendency towards ‘tomorrow’—I’m simply attempting to procrastinate less and, thus, diminish some of that mental anguish I cause myself.

Habits formed long ago and stuck. It doesn’t mean they must remain.

This week and last mark a milestone for me in multiple ways. I’ve not only made it beyond a running milestone that I’ve long wanted to shatter,  but I’ve sat at my desk and worked when I didn’t really need to. As much as I love my job, there are days when I just don’t want to work.

Sure, I could have taken off most of last week and this, and still made my two deadlines tomorrow. But, I did something weird and completely uncharacteristic for me: I made a plan of action (that is, working towards a goal each day), reached those targets, and then had the rest of my working days to do with what I wanted. Not only did I complete both tasks well ahead of schedule (one on Tuesday and one today), but I finished in the morning (after requiring a mere two half-days of work earlier this week), enjoyed a three-day weekend for the first time since our holiday in December and January, and managed to spend some quality time each day with my darling husband.

Who is this person? More importantly, can she stick around for a bit?

As I work on improving my physical stamina, I’m realising that much of the same mental battles I face running apply to habits in general across the rest of my life. Pushing through those moments when the temptation to twiddle my thumbs rather than work on my to-do list relies on the same determination I need to put one foot in front of the other. Naturally, I could take the easy route and quit. Or I can take one extra step and another and see how far I get. One small step may seem insignificant at any one moment; but, add them up together and they become a journey. Reaching one marker or goal allows me to place another a bit further along the path. Any path.

Change may come slowly. But, it comes. Eventually.

 

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Progress may appear slow. But, quitting halts it altogether.  

Metamorphosis

As a twenty-something graduate student, I never imagined teaching. The prize that I kept my eye on at that time was research, ideally in a position related to policy in some way, shape or form. At that time, as an arrogant graduate student rather myopically focused on her own research, I thought landing a teaching gig would be the worst possible outcome of all those hours and years spent as a graduate student.

Oh, the irony. Life has a way of reminding us of just how foolish we can be as young (or, even, older) idealists.

Fast forward 20-plus years, and here I am lecturing to graduate students. What’s weirder still, I love it. After three full academic years of teaching at the University of Helsinki, I cannot imagine not teaching.

Part of my enthusiasm for teaching lies within the topics I teach: academic writing, conference presentations and presentations in general, and grant writing, along with a few other transferrable skills courses. I was fortunate as a graduate student to have incredible mentors, professors-turned-friends who I still rely on for their wisdom and guidance, even if I don’t constantly pester them or hover in their doorways. The lessons they taught me years ago remain with me even now, and often echo in my own lectures. I can only hope that I do these incredible minds and kind souls justice. Because they shaped me in so many ways and helped me to become a more dedicated member of the academic community I now feel duty-bound to serve.

As exhausting as the academic calendar is and as much as I look forward to summer and winter breaks, being an instructor never ceases to provide further inspiration and immeasurable rewards. This most likely reflects the immense privilege it is to guide the pool of students that grace my classrooms. These brilliant, dedicated individuals, wise beyond their years, amaze me. They are, quite simply and, as one professor referred to me, indefatigable. As I sift through my inbox sending reviews and feedback to those who worked incredibly hard throughout whichever course they took with me, some of these bright young minds provide feedback to me. I welcome these moments because they help me do better in future. But, this, this I wasn’t expecting and it has moved me in ways I can’t begin to describe:

…. [O]ne thing that I found particularly inspiring was that you seemed to let your personality bubble through your professional instructor role. I have noticed that especially women often somehow suppress or flatten their personality when acting in an expert position, which is maybe because they are afraid of not to be taken seriously otherwise. I don’t want to end up falling into this pit, so I also want to thank you for showing an empowering example that it is possible to be a professional without burying yourself under a role.

For whatever reason, this feedback from an incredibly bright young student represents one of the most powerful indicators that I’m doing what I should be doing. What I was intended to do. And, perhaps, something I’m truly good at. If my classroom example encourages young women scholars to be themselves regardless of stereotypes and expectations, all the better.

Indeed. As a graduate student, as a young career professional and later as a mid-career professional, I didn’t always feel sufficiently empowered to be me. Perhaps the greatest gift this gig has offered me is a way to find my own voice and to apply that voice to providing guidance to others. Without consciously realising it, my own voice appears more genuine and more authentic than it’s ever been before. And, oddly, more confident.

I love my job. Truly. But, this personal metamorphosis was so entirely unintended, yet I completely welcome it. And, can only hope that it continues. At the very least, I hope my own metamorphosis allows others to transform as well…

 

 

Days 33 & 34: Proekt 365 (For friends and friendly praise)

Day 33: Proekt 365 A friendly snow angel for a friend

Day 33: Proekt 365
A friendly snow angel for a friendly friend

In a chat with a close friend months ago, he’d asked and I’d promised to do a snow angel when there was finally enough snow on the ground in Helsinki to allow for such a creation. Yesterday afternoon, I finally had the opportunity to lie down and fan my arms and legs like a child in my attempt to create a snow angel of the finest order. I can’t say that my angels were particularly lovely, but what fun it was to revisit a childhood thrill.

A little later in the evening, after I’d already sent version 1.0, we finally looked out our kitchen window to see version 2.0, which looked heaps better from our third-floor vantage point. I neglected to make my post yesterday. But, it was a high point of the day. A day late it may be, but it is still just as friendly today as it was last night. And, oddly, it still remains undisturbed.

I’ve yet to take a photo for today. But, honestly, I don’t know how’d I’d capture a particularly lovely moment from the day. Before I get ahead of myself, a little background history is in order.

The life of a freelancer is often characterised by periods of feast (more work than you know what to do with) or famine (being bored out of your mind). The last few months now have been downright gluttonous, which is great but also at times hugely challenging. This past week, I was a bit behind on work and was suffering from the worst sort of writer’s block at the most inopportune of times. There’s never a good time for it when 90% of my work relies on putting fingers to the keyboard and creating something logical and meaningful. But, this was particularly worrisome given the already tight deadlines my client and I were facing. I managed to fight my way through a very rough draft and sent it on thinking that it was utter shit. And, then, promptly turned my attention to other items on my to-do list along with a bit of R&R and socialising to recharge.

With that as the backdrop, today’s high point came when discussing my work with my client. Without recounting the entire conversation here (which would just be weird on all sorts of levels), it was probably one of the nicest bits of praise I’ve ever received from a client. First, I’d managed to capture the essence of what they wanted (which is always the main objective), and second, it made them excited about the idea for this particular body of work. (Whilst I recognise this is incredibly vague, it has to be given the nature of the work and the proprietary information included in that particular task.)

This really made my day. Not just because it’s nice to know that I’ve managed to do my job relatively well, but because I have a tremendous amount of respect for the organisation with which I’m working on this particular project and specifically for the individual managing my work . As he recognised, I am my own worst critic and tend to be entirely overly self-deprecating. To say I’m happy and relieved with his assessment of my work is an enormous understatement. There must have been a moment during our call when he heard my very audible ‘phew’.

There’s no way to capture on film that particular moment which took place entirely in a virtual space. But, it is captured in my memory. And, that’s not a bad way at all to call it a day on this particular Monday.