I don't think that my own exhaustion is especially apparent to my students, since I tend to get more manic and more enthusiastic the guiltier I feel about being underprepared (I'm also more patient on account of that same guilt: what right do I have to be short-tempered about my students' not remembering an obvious plot detail, or not being able to decipher a metaphor, when I barely completed the reading myself and have nothing so much as resembling a lesson plan?). But although I do believe that my guilty, half-assed classes are sometimes much better than the ones I've really thought through, teaching this way for any length of time is its own kind of stress; worrying about being the lamest and laziest fraud on God's green earth isn't exactly a productive use of my energy.
So I'm ready for summer. But as I approach that long, lovely vacation I'm also approaching Year Two on the tenure track and in this location, and I'm more concerned about those things than perhaps I ought to be.
Make no mistake: there are no actual hurdles that I anticipate in Year Two. What I'm worried about is the kind of sophomore slump I'm afraid I'm prone to. Consider: my first year in college was busy and exciting; I wasn't homesick and I didn't really question my abilities, or at least not too often. My second year? I was completely miserable. I remember starting to cry one day as I was walking across campus and realizing that not only did I have no idea what I was crying about, but that I had no one to talk to about whatever that something might be. Similarly, my first year in grad school, though certainly stressful, was also pretty exciting. . . but my second year was beyond miserable (and things didn't get better for a long while after).
Those examples are both drawn from my schooling, but even my second year of post-collegiate adulthood felt somewhat aimless and disappointing after the fun and novelty of that first year.
So you see the pattern. I think that I tend to throw myself into new situations hopefully and enthusiastically, and either genuinely enjoy myself or am too busy to wonder whether I am, in fact, enjoying myself. But after a year there's not a lot that's new, and I either get bored or realize how stressful or less-than-fully-satisfying my situation actually is.
Maybe what I need, then, is something to focus my energies and attention on for the next several years. For a long while, that something was finishing my dissertation and getting a t-t job; I had other interests and goals, sure, but those were the defining ones, the ones that directed all my other ambitions. But now I'm not sure what The Next Big Thing is supposed to be:
Is it my first monograph?Not all of those are things that I care about equally (or even necessarily care about, period); the point is that while any one of them would be a reasonable short-term goal, they're all short-term goals: reasonable and entirely achievable. Most of them would present certain challenges and produce certain pleasures, but none is all-consuming. And I wish, I think, to be consumed.
Is it getting tenure?
Is it working toward getting a different kind of job (or a job in a different location?)
Is it buying a house?
Is it getting married?
Is it developing some kind of sideline identity? (As, I don't know--a journalist? a novelist? a Wise and Famous Blogger?)
Maybe this is just what it means to be an adult, or to have found something that one truly enjoys: from there on in, the challenges and the changes are much more modest and incremental, without the seemingly revolutionary potential of every decision made in one's early 20s.
I love my profession and I'm relieved to have made it to a job that I like in a city that I also like, with a good salary and benefits. Unless I started sleeping with my students, I'd almost certainly get tenure here--and I could stick around for the next 30 years, publish some books, and have a perfectly pleasant life.
And yet. . . the prospect of being here or anywhere for thirty years--even doing things I enjoy and am good at--feels strangely more like a sentence than a reward.