Your Calendar is Not Your Self-Worth

You’re busy.

So am I.

There are weeks, especially this time of year, when it looks like a unicorn who devoured a bag of Skittles threw up on my Outlook calendar.

But the number of hours I work in a day and the number of meetings I attend don’t define the work I do. I can spend 14 hours in back-to-back meetings and contribute nothing to my campus. On the flip, I can spend six hours at my desk and make significant progress on a project that will benefit our students.

As a society, we’re in a love affair with our own busyness. It’s an endless topic of conversation in my social media feeds — another 12 hour work day, another string of meetings, another late night student organization meeting. And it’s easy to get caught up in world of competitive calendar comparisons. But it’s also dangerous.

Your self-worth is not tied to your calendar.

I get it. We work in student affairs, a field that can be nebulous in regard to how we define success for ourselves or our students. When I leave at the end of the day, I don’t have a standardized report of what I accomplished and how many things I fixed. I can’t compare my productivity day to day with a graph and I don’t have a sign hanging in my office that says, “Target met for XX days”.

We have to find ways to find meaning ourselves, to measure our own successes in a way isn’t tied to what’s on our calendar. For me, it means writing down three successes I had every day before I leave the office. My little yellow notebook is filled with things that may be inconsequential to others, but are victories for me. They are sometimes tangibles like completing a timeline for a project; they are sometimes intangibles like having a good conversation with a staff member. I’ve done this for three years now and while it occasionally feels like a chore, it reminds me to find my own meaning in what I do and to stop keeping score with calendar items.

It also means, for me, finding victories in little moments — like a great parent phone call, a refined process, a connecting moment with a colleague. While these things may appear on my calendar, they are surface level descriptions. It’s the depth of what happens in those time blocks that matters most.

How will you exit the world of competitive calendar comparison and find meaning for yourself?

  • Amma Marfo

    Stacy, I love this. I don’t buy into the busyness as a badge of honor philosophy. To that end, while my calendar does look like M&Ms spilled (Skittles aren’t my bag) all over the damn place, I center myself by making a color for “me”- my favorite, green. And in the madness of the day, if I haven’t had some time just for me, chances are (a) it has hurt my performance in some other area, and (b) I’m not doing what I need to do to be successful. Being able to step away for a bit is incredibly important- and to do so without guilt or shame, even more so.

    Thanks, as always, for the “brain squeeze”. Always nice on a Friday morning!

  • Kate Kinsella

    Yes! When someone asks how I am, I really try to refrain from simply saying “busy.” We all have a lot going on. We all have to do more with less. Just because you (I’m thinking of one colleague in particular) claim to be perpetually busy and let it define you, it doesn’t mean that I do too.

    I love the idea of writing down three victories at the end of the day. I imagine that’s wonderful to look back on at the end of the year. Being a field notorious for not telling our own story all that well, having a book filled with examples of the great work we do would help us to make strides in this area.

    Thanks for sharing this Stacy – I’m glad you blogged about it.

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  • Ryan G. Bye

    I very much agree, and this is a conversation I try to have with so many peers… Usually I leave out the vomiting unicorn ;)

    I like this idea of three things. This is similar to something my partner and I do every night. We share 1 thing we are thankful for that day, 1 thing we accomplished that day, and 1 thing we appreciate that day.

  • JenniferKeegin

    I get what you are saying – I know many folks like this. I actually pride myself in the lack of appointments that I have. I like to show on the flip how efficiently I can get things done without meetings which is, I’m sure, problematic on the other end of the spectrum.

  • Paul York

    Great post, Stacy. This really resonated with me in my current “place”. Having just started at a new institution there is a learning curve – as there is with any professional moving to a new institution. This can, at times, leave you feeling like you really didn’t accomplish much at the end of the day. I’ve had to keep in mind that I keep meeting people who will be important to the work that I do with my institution and that’s a success. I’ve also had to keep in mind that another success throughout the day is gaining an ever more increasing understanding of my institution, the student culture, and my colleagues here.