“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” Mother Teresa
At the beginning of a group coaching session, I’ll often ask the scholars I’m working with to take a single, shared breath. Folks are sometimes running from one meeting and skidding into our coaching call, the decisions and to-dos from that previous meeting clinging to them like invisible vines. We take that breath together so we can settle down. Let go of what came before. And focus on supporting each other through challenging times.
In November, we often need two breaths. Cause we’ve all put a bunch of things off until later in the semester, and “later” has become “now.” So even though we’ve got no juice, we all have to keep going anyway.
One way to approach this moment is to run and hide from it. A second way is to beat yourself up about it. As someone who has used both those approaches many times, I propose a third way: You could treat the moment like a messenger. Act like this situation is someone desperately trying to convey something to you, and it’s your job to figure out what they’re saying.
To do that, you simply need to listen to your life. Are you busier than you’d like, but basically getting progress and pleasure from your writing and life? Are you blessing yourself right now, for saying no to that talk? Have you got a lock on everything, but only because you gave up exercising? Maybe it’s the reverse: you’re so behind and overwhelmed, you’re basically just responding to whatever’s at the top of your inbox—but at least you’re making it to the gym—Every. Damn. Day.
Whatever your messenger is telling you, the hardest part is to take it in without judgment. Your messenger is offering precious information to your current self, information you can use to make decisions on behalf of your future self. If any of those messages involve searching for ways to make life more manageable, then let me remind you about the Easy Way Out.
Veteran InkWell folks will remember this doc—an open-source collection of ways we can do less, but still do work we can be proud of. It’s chock full of amazing ideas, but that’s not the best thing about it. The best thing is that 99.9% of those ideas came from you all. I plunked one or two in there, and you all took it to a whole nother level. The Easy Way Out Doc isn’t just a set of suggestions; it’s a community of kind people, coming together to say it’s ok to lay down your burden and find a better way.
I created the doc and video in August of 2020, to help scholars deal with the question of how we could return to writing given everything that was happening in the world at the time. What’s amazing—and slightly scary—is that the ideas I shared then still feel so relevant today.
I called this approach The Easy Way Out, cause I wanted to say to you, unequivocally, that excessive demands for productivity are the heart of academic life, so there’s nothing shameful about looking for ways to lighten your workload. But I think the more accurate name for this way of working is “The Easy Way In.” Because when we make decisions that protect our time and attention, we’re actually better able to find ways to do our most essential work as writers and scholars and human beings.
So, if your messenger is saying you need some relief, check out The Easy Way Out Video and Doc. Then share the doc with someone else who needs a release valve. The more you share it, the more you’ll get from it: You’ll learn new strategies for finding an easier way to work and write. You’ll remember that you already have great ideas of your own for finding an easier way. Plus, you’ll help someone else out by sharing those ideas—proof positive that you’re not the hot mess you may think you are.
I know you feel worn out. I know you feel there’s no time to consider what you’ll do differently next time. But listening to your messenger, heeding what they’re saying, and sharing what you learned with others—well, it’s like taking a single shared breath. With people you’ve never met. People who, somehow, you can still count on to help you through challenging times.