The Responsibility Hiatus

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Being a graduate student, whether in a clinical stream or a research stream, is not your typical 9 to 5, corner cubicle, and water- cooler- gossip type of job. Especially in the past two years, since my clinical work has increased, I spend each day of a week at a different office: the hospital, the university clinic, a private practice, or my home office. The typical day of a graduate student in clinical psychology will be subject of another post, but on this beautiful Sunday, I want to talk about the typ­ical day off – or I should say the untypical day off, because sightings of this endangered species are rare.  

Graduate school does not adhere to the typical workday or the typically workweek. I do not go to bed on Sundays thinking, “ah man, another week starts tomorrow”, and am I am not excited when I wake up on Fridays, because it is not synonymous with “last day of the week”. Weeks in graduate have no beginning and no end: they are a never-ending cycle of bright and dark. I calculate time based on project milestones: “I’ll take a break when the Smith report is finished” or “I’ll take the afternoon off if I’m done score this protocol before 3pm”.

In reality, I cannot blame anyone but myself: I am the one who takes on more clients, more assessments, and more extracurricular activities. The result is a week that is not defined by days and evenings. Instead, it is a string of meetings, assessment, and writing. There is no definite end to the day because I have the option of working from home. There is no clear end to the week because participants might want to come in for their appointment on Sunday morning.

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This Saturday I took a break. Admittedly, it was not a planned hiatus from my responsibilities (more on that later) but I decided that I would take it easy, let my hair down and put my feet up. In order to satisfy my Type A personality evil twin, I agreed to accomplish two things that day: The clean my winter boots and make granola bars for the week. No other expectations.

I tackled the boots first, taking my time, listening to Quirks and Quarks in the background. I learned about how toddlers develop the ability to lie. Without the time pressure, a task that I typically dread turned out to be calm and educative.

Fine I am a nerd.

I then ventured into the kitchen to make the granola bars. I let my imagination run wild by adding and substituting ingredients.

Full disclosure: I pretended to be a cooking show host, teaching my viewers to make this deliciously easy, and healthy snack.

“You can add whatever you like to the mix. You want make sure that the quinoa sticks – so don’t be afraid to add more peanut butter – or honey if you have a sweet tooth! Ahahahah”

Once the items were checked off my list, I enjoyed the first season of Homeland. Nothing else. I drank tea and cookies, and played with my dog. My brain was grateful. It is as if someone dialed the intensity of my active brain down to a low moderate. I was floating, almost trance like through a day of calm.

By 7pm, I got itchy, my palms were sweaty, and the walls of my apartment started to sink in. I was short of breath. Something was wrong.

I had not checked my email in 6 hours.

I missed work. I got a quick fix by checking my email, but soon realized that nothing needed my immediate attention, except for the Banana Republic online sale. I acknowledged the presence of the outside world and let it go.

This morning I was ready to tackle the report that has been marinating on my desktop for two weeks. I finally started marking and caught up on my emails.

Taking a hiatus from my responsibilities revitalized me. I am working better as a result. Most importantly, I do not feel guilty for tuning out the working world. Once in a (very) while, taking a day of complete rest, without expectations allows me to remember that I enjoy my work, and I look forward to go getting back to it.

It is not laziness, its self-care.

What does your day of rest look like?

Do you feel guilty for taking it?

Averagely yours,

the candidate.

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