I am on sabbatical. I have been for 134 days.
It took me until passing the halfway mark to admit this idea wasn’t going away. Everyone told me I should just enjoy the time and not take on anything extra. But I’ve learned that if I can’t get an idea out of my head, I should just give in. And besides, I have all kinds of things to tell you.
When I started my career at Illinois as an instruction librarian in 2006, I never imagined I would get to this point. There was too much work to accomplish to get tenure. Librarianship. Service. Research. The days blended together and I lost sleep, didn’t eat particularly well, abandoned my exercise routine for precious time with my family. As I settled into the routine of academic life, the only thing I could think about was, “How am I possibly going to be able to finish everything this week AND do email?!?”
And the rumors are true – working at Illinois is stressful. My colleagues all work at a very high level in their areas. They are successful in securing high profile grant funds, are recognized by awards at astonishing rates, and set the highest bar for all areas of librarianship. I am frequently bombarded at conference with questions about our collective work. The expectations are extraordinarily high.
I wasn’t prepared for a research agenda and I didn’t know how to say, “no.” I didn’t know how to ask for help or even who to ask. I realized pretty quickly that my highly rated graduate education didn’t take me far enough in being prepared for my first position. And to make matters even more complicated, instead of reassuring me with practical application my graduate assistantship taught me just enough to be perpetually unsure of myself and overwhelmed for the days to come.
Anyone who knows me knows that I compensated by taking on too much. I overcommitted in my daily work, I volunteered for too much service, and my aspirations for my research far exceeded my capabilities. All the while trying to be a supportive wife and mother. And daughter. And friend.
No one was more surprised than me when my dean called to say I had been promoted to associate professor. I mean, I knew I had made it. But I was still surprised. Not because my colleagues supported my promotion dossier but because looking back over the past ten years, I couldn’t recount for you how I made it. But I do know that I took it one day at time and I plugged away. I asked a ton of questions. I leaned on a few of my amazing colleagues. And my family.
Here I am. More than halfway through a six month sabbatical (with a month of vacation tacked on for good measure!) and I have so much to say. Maybe it’s the result of too many days by myself, circling an empty house with too much on my mind. Someone told me just before I left that you want your sabbatical to be long enough that you get bored. I’m reasonably sure that’s not going to happen for me, especially since Maura and I have decided to start a sabbatical blog.
So, what now?
I don’t have all the answers. I never have. But I do like to reflect and I do enjoy sharing. And I have learned that I enjoy writing. I used to keep a journal in my teenage years and throughout my twenties. I’d like to explore that part of myself again.
Maura will be here in the next week or so and I will see you again in a few days.
Merinda Kaye Hensley
Next time :: Outline of Merinda’s sabbatical project and how it came to be