Saturday, February 25, 2012

It's True, I'm Not That Important

I like giving advice, and I like getting advice. Leading up to my sabbatical, I asked my colleagues for their advice with respect to being on campus. Should I disappear? Come around occasionally? It's not as if I'd be travelling to another country. Realistically, I knew I'd be local, so I'd be inclined to come to campus once in a while. The general advice I received was to stay away. The advice didn't have to do with negative attitudes about our institution. Rather, it was practical advice to maximize time away from campus. It was basic advice to actually take a rest from all campus activity. Walking with a colleague about a month before my sabbatical, he said: "Don't worry about not being here. You're not that important." And he was right. We're so used to being on committees, going to meetings, advising students, and most importantly, teaching, that we come to see ourselves at vital to the lifeline of the institution. In fact, we're not that important. Campus life goes on without us. I'm two months into my sabbatical, and only one student has e-mailed me to end my sabbatical. But even my one fan will survive without me!

I haven't entirely followed the advice to stay away. I actually like dropping in once a week or so to change up my work space. I can only write at my kitchen table for so long. It's nice to stop in, grab mail, chat with colleagues, say hi to students, do some work, and scamper back home. Last week I took my four-year-old for a campus stroll, something I normally don't have time to do. And it's nice talking with people without being in a hurry. Stop and smell the academy, I guess!

As my sabbatical continues, I plan to go to campus sporadically to grab lunch with friends, talk with students and colleagues, and do work in my office or at the library. In my experience so far, I haven't felt like staying away entirely. But my colleague was exactly right: I'm not that important. So I will continue to do what's worked for me: mostly stay at home, write and read at my kitchen table, and enjoy a mix of productivity and relaxation.

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