Thanksgiving: Binge or Break?

Kerry Ann Rockquemore reviews two approaches by academics to the holiday.

November 22, 2010

This week contains two reasons to give thanks: 1) the Thanksgiving holiday, and 2) a few days off from classes, meetings, and campus activities! How will you spend your holiday break this week? Are you planning a writing binge or a writing break? Will it be a time of enjoyment spent with family and friends, or will it be a time where you are the sole inhabitant of your department floor, working away on your writing projects? As always, there's no right or wrong answer. Instead I want to encourage you to make conscious choices that meet your needs, and reflect on how your approach to Thanksgiving Break is related to your daily work habits.

The Break-As-Binge Model

Many new faculty members view scheduled breaks in the academic calendar (Thanksgiving, Christmas, and spring break) as a time to catch up on writing projects that they planned to work on during the semester, but did not. These breaks are their hope for writing salvation because they involve large blocks of uninterrupted time, solitude (either at home or in a campus office without others around), and the leisure time to just THINK. Many imagine that they can finally go into a multiday writing frenzy and come out the other side with their goals met.

Unfortunately, that beautiful imagined break often gets disturbed by the reality that holidays include travel, family commitments, and/or various types of personal obligations, all of which require time and energy. For many people, classroom and departmental commitments are often simply replaced by equally time-intensive activities with family and friends.

When a break-induced binge is successful, we feel back on track with our writing projects and a sense of significant professional progress. But the cost is often physical and mental exhaustion, and (if family and friends expect our attention) some strain on our personal relationships. When the binge is unsuccessful and we don't accomplish all we imagined, we may experience guilt, disappointment and shame over yet another broken promise to ourselves. While I have binged on many breaks in the past out of necessity, it has always felt like I lost more than I gained. For me, binge writing is simply an unsustainable way to work over the long haul of an academic career.

The Break-As-Break Model

For those of you who write every day and make slow and steady progress, holiday breaks are real breaks (as in a time to rest from work). If you have created a semester plan for your writing, paid yourself first every morning by writing for 30-60 minutes, and made consistent progress towards your writing goals, then treating the break as a break makes perfect sense. In short, the Break-As-Break Model is possible when you have successfully shifted your inner stance from hoping for large blocks of time for writing to creating small blocks of time in your daily schedule.

Ultimately, how we understand Thanksgiving break speaks volumes about how we work on a daily basis AND how we understand the core of our professional identity. In other words, when my normal daily existence includes writing, then a "break" means a break from writing. But when my daily routine is spent serving everyone else around me, then a "break" means a break from meeting the needs of my students and colleagues and a time in which I can finally attend to my own needs.

If you read this column regularly, it's probably because you are trying to make that subtle but important shift in your professional identity from being reactive to the needs of others (and over-functioning in the areas of teaching and service) to proactively establishing yourself as a scholar (by carving out time for research and writing). I know it's hard and I know it doesn't happen overnight. I also know you WILL get there over time as you slowly but surely make adjustments in your daily behavior.

I encourage you to spend this Thanksgiving Break in whatever way your needs dictate. It's OK to binge and it's OK to take a break. And I also want you to ask yourself:

  1. What do my plans for Thanksgiving Break reveal about my daily work patterns?
  2. Am I satisfied with my work life and productivity?
  3. Is my current productivity putting me on track to get what I want (completing my degree, getting a job, tenure and promotion, disseminating my groundbreaking ideas, etc.)?
  4. Is it time to make some additional behavioral changes?

Your answer to these questions will help you to identify what is and isn’t working for you, and to think creatively about future changes.

This Week's Challenge

If you are unhappy with your productivity, I challenge you to:

  • Honestly assess where you are and how you feel physically, emotionally, relationally and professionally.
  • Based on that assessment, decide how you need to spend your break and do so without guilt, shame or judgment.
  • If you hope to be in a different place by Christmas break, take a few moments at your Sunday Meeting this week to start thinking what small changes you can make NOW to move in that direction.
  • Find some mechanism of daily support if you intend to binge through the break.
  • Thank the universe for all your many blessings!

I hope that this week brings each of you the strength to honestly assess your needs, the clarity to make whatever adjustments are necessary, and the rest you so richly deserve!

Peace and Productivity,

Kerry Ann Rockquemore


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