Being a college professor, at times, is about a lot more than teaching.
Teaching of any stripe, in fairness, is about a lot more than teaching.
You juggle administrative tasks. You serve as part-therapist for all of your students, and when you are teaching many courses, that is a lot of students. You receive the same questions in threes and fives every day. They email you a few more times if you don’t respond quickly enough for them, even if 24 hours hasn’t yet elapsed.
You explain assignments. You explain assignments again. You offer book recommendations to your high-ambition students even though the books in the course are really fine. You reach out to the eight students who have fallen off the face of the earth because you want to make sure they’re okay. You grade. You explain the grades when people are unhappy. You send out announcements and memos. You encourage discussion. You lecture with your bright professor-persona turned up to 11 because you want to convey welcome and warmth and passion about learning through the flatness of video chat. You review next week’s content and get ready to do it all over again.
I have been juggling some version of the above along with my full-time job for quite a while now. The resulting workload, the endless email processional of other people’s needs and requests—both students and colleagues—has taken a toll on my mood and my demeanor.
My mother has noticed it. My husband has noticed it. I am a happy, cheerful person. But I do not feel happy and cheerful at work. I begrudge and resent and silently seethe. I worry and fret. I am not exactly a shining example of the Christian spirit right now, and I have felt helpless to alter it.
I have never understood Romans 7:18 better. “For I have the desire to do what is good,” writes Paul wearily, “but I cannot carry it out.” Although I am learning to better manage the stress and anxiety that comes with my job—I actually wrote about that just recently—I find that the days still wear on me. I go in prayed up and ready to respond to all situations with calm and grace: two hours into the day a stray email, a snide comment, or an unexpected project catches me off guard and throws the wheels off. I complain a lot and justify it as venting.
I want to be a person shaped by God, and not my job. I don’t like the person my job is making me. And as I thought about this last night, I had the epiphany that while I might hope that eventually my circumstances change—that my workload lightens a bit, that I get some help—they are not changing right now. The only thing I can control is myself.
Except, well, I’m not great at controlling myself.
Nor am I meant to be. This is God’s business, the shaping of a soul. If it could be done by will and determination and intention alone we wouldn’t need the Spirit’s help. My abject failure to turn around my attitude in the office is shameful to me, but it is also very human of me. “I will never betray you,” Peter says, and betrays. “It’s going to be different today,” I say, and it isn’t.
But God always steps in to transform.
With that in mind, I’m taking five different actions to give God some room to work on my heart. If work stress is overwhelming you, too, maybe this will help:
- Pray for the spirit’s direction before opening my work email. My work email is a cesspit and I hate it. It is an endless pool of demands and requests. I get frustrated just thinking about it. Asking for God’s help before I touch it seems wise.
- Avoid the frustration-spikers. Receiving snide or demanding work requests on the weekend sets me up to sin, so I’m just…not going to look on weekends. Ditto for listening to people rant and gossip about whatever at work is bothering them. If it takes me to a bad place and I can cut it out, it’s out.
- Mirror the right response. When confronted with difficult or intense people, work to mirror calm, peace, gentleness of spirit. Choose the ancient way, walk in it, and see what happens.
- Give up on guilt and 100%ing everything, all the time. Give your best effort. Leave the rest to God.
- Make the step away. At the end of the work day, thank God for what happened, ask forgiveness where required, and then tell God – and yourself – that you are walking away from it, and into the rest of the day. Remind yourself of this when your thoughts stray back.
I wish all of you peace this week!