Friday, September 26, 2003

Break Time

Yesterday, Daniel Drezner posted on the value of the social lunch. A key graft:

"University study is not a wind sprint, it’s a multiyear intellectual marathon. The students who thrive are the ones smart enough to pace themselves. Letting one’s mind wander playfully at the noon hour is excellent preparation for the mental rigors that are sure to come in the post-meridian hours. The mind at play is often able to generate the counterintuitive ideas that would never occur otherwise."

I used to say that when I came to grad school, the thing I missed most was the meals in the common dining room of my small, liberal arts college which guaranteed a spot during the day when you could touch base with people and let go of whatever projects might be taking up your time. Now, as meals become something to be consumed in an apartment while blogging or hoping there's something on TV, I would extend it to breaks in general. As predicted, I took most of Wednesday night off, reading only during the commercial breaks of a baseball game. It was almost as if the tension were physically draining out of me, and after a few hours of literally doing nothing, my entire outlook on life had changed as I saw beyond the issues of the moment. I also went to a "meet your neighbors" gathering a couple of people across the way were having, and it helped, as well, so that when I woke up Thursday, I was basically able to put in a day of solid accomplishment in an optimistic way rather than just "to get it done."

Obviously, people may have different learning styles, and if you're someone who really can do nothing but work, more power to you. But everyone has an effort ceiling, and they shouldn't be afraid to acknowledge it when the time comes. For me, I need to see the context of life beyond my work before I can get really into it, and when work is stressful, there's nothing quite like sitting and talking with similar people dealing with the same sorts of issues, finding laughter in our different situations and offering advice that at the very least let's you know you have friends. Without that, I at least would become a burned-out hulk of some kind filled with countless facts about the Islamic world that I neither knew nor cared what I should do with.

Tuesday I ate sitting at my desk reading Title VI stuff. But if I tried to do that every day, I really believe I would have left school long ago. In life, there's always a bit of some project you could be working on. But if you always did them, what would be the point?


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