February 7, 2012

Syllabus Week Blues

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Do you feel like you’re in a bit of a slump? Is the realization that you might actually have to do work this semester bringing you down? Are you unnecessarily disappointed that your professor didn’t really live up to the hot tamale rating from ratemyprofessor.com? Then you might be suffering from an affliction I like to call Syllabus Week Blues.

Syllabus Week Blues is the initial onset of feeling like the more you have to do, the less you want to do anything.  It’s those first tens of days at the beginning of the semester during which you may or may not have even brought a pen to class. You don’t actually have anything to do, but the emails about lab schedules and gym classes and group meetings are starting to pile up.  You’re not even sure which classes you’re taking but you already have a handful of neatly typed lists of assignments looming perilously over your previously empty calendar. New Year’s resolutions to work out more and get good grades are at a standoff with second-semester senior resolutions to not care about anything.

Every morning, I wake up and give myself a little mental pep talk: okay, looks like you got a discussion here, a meeting there, do your homework for this class in that class, make sure you call the first shower after going to the gym and boom, you’ll totally be ready to go out in 30.

Syllabus week is the proverbial morning of our entire semester and I think I may need a pep talk.

Just today I was confronted with the minor anxiety one feels when realizing she is a week and a half behind, a week and a half into the semester. At this point, I almost ache for the comfort of knowing exactly how much work you have to do for which class and exactly when you’re going to do it.  Almost.

While the tried-and-true response to Syllabus Week Blues is to be organized, to plan our days out ahead of time, to start checking the little check boxes off on to-do lists, excessive planning often has the crippling side effect of dull, tedious, complacency. Those time management skills we’ve been grooming since high school can sometimes become unnecessarily confining and lead to more monotony than comfort.  Why micromanage when you can ride the waves of activity as they come?

While right now it might feel like our schedules are packed with very little wiggle room, feeling constrained by Syllabus Week Blues is really just a transitory phase.  I propose approaching it with a positive attitude of possibility and choice.  In college we have so much personal agency, so little responsibility imposed on us by others. No bosses, no supervisors, no husbands, no wives, no children, no one to answer to but ourselves.  Some of us may still be tethered to our parents’ wallets, but our day-to-day activities are ultimately functions of our own choices.  Even mandatory classes are somewhat optional.

Syllabus Week Blues make me realize that I can and should be more selective about the events I go to, the clubs I participate in and the classes I take.  I want to find the balance between overscheduled and underwhelmed while still leaving room for spontaneity. I can look at my assignment book and see, not dreaded hours spent in the library, but opportunities for learning and exploring and adventure.  I need to take advantage of being able to do things on my own time and then actually do things. I want to be motivated not by a fear of falling behind or a desire to get ahead, but because I enjoy whatever it is I’m doing.  I want to do things because I want to, not because I have to.  And if it feels like I have to, I want to think about why I’m doing it in the first place.

As I shift the view on my iCal from day to week to month, it’s like zooming out in time, watching the events simultaneously multiply and yet become less daunting when placed on a larger scale.  Just the most important, exciting things stick out and the rest is, well, flexible.

So as you casually sit down with your bowl of stale Fruit Loops leftover from before winter break because you’ve been too busy going out to spend a day “getting your life together,” don’t be too hard on yourself.  By not getting bogged down by the whos, whats, whens and wheres that life throws at you, you are winning the fight against Syllabus Week Blues.  You understand that you don’t need to plan every minute of every day and that you’re going to spend your time doing things you really like, like eating Fruit Loops for dinner.  Fight Syllabus Week Blues not necessarily with an army of sticky notes but with the mindset that freedom is about making your own plans, then letting yourself break them.

Original Author: Rebecca Lee