Except when it’s not.
Every year, I look forward to summer. Not being a fan of cold weather, I welcome the warmer, longer days (even if the Mid-Atlantic is often more hot and humid than “warm”) and the sense of freedom, possibility, and relaxation that is supposed to come with them. As a child, my parents were both educators and had the majority of the summer off, and, accordingly, we spend the months of July and August (and the latter part of June) at my grandparents’ small cabin in upstate New York, where I was free to roam, swim, daydream, read, ride my bike, without the constraints of school or even camp.
As an adult, I find I want to embrace that same feeling and am typically optimistic about doing just that…until a week or two into my kids’ summer break. We have traded the hectic, yet predictable, school schedule for a much less consistent mélange of camps, vacations, trips to the pool, and cramming in every doctor appointment/house project/etc. we didn’t have time to do during the school year. It’s a different kind of crazy, and it can wreak havoc if we don’t put mechanisms in place to help manage it.
Much like in the Netflix show “Stranger Things,” summer can sometimes feel a bit like the upside-down - without the Demogorgon, of course. We feel like priorities have flip-flopped – or, worse, like our priorities *should* change and yet we stay the course. No matter how we each feel individually, the key is to recognize and name the feeling. In many cases, it is Overwhelm. But it could also (or additionally) be Wistfulness (for times past), Frustration (for not having completed the to-do list), Guilt (for not spending more time with our kids while they are off school), or even Fear (of being left behind if we take breaks that others don’t). Whatever is it for you, putting a name to it will help in how you manage it.
Now that you have named the feeling, what are you going to do? One of the key principles we discuss in our workshops is Intentionality. Being intentional allows us to focus our efforts more efficiently and effectively, and the first step is self-discovery. After naming the emotion or emotions that have come up for you, spend some time with them and ask yourself why you may be feeling certain ways. What might be the triggers? You may or may not know the answer just yet, but simply sitting with the question can help you eventually uncover root cause(s).
The next pieces are to consider what shift you want to make – not only to reduce the negative emotions but to consider which positive ones might replace them. For example, you might be able to shift from a mindset of Wistfulness for times past to Gratitude for the wonderful memories you will always have. Or from Frustration over not completing all the tasks to Accomplishment for what you have been able to complete. Once you know where you want to go, you can then put actions in place to make it a reality. Consider the small adjustments, both in what you do and how you think, and then start to put them in place. Perhaps some time to look over old photos from carefree summers past and journal about them in a way that makes you smile because it happened, rather than cry because it’s over. Or maybe a way to break down that big “summer to-do list” into more manageable chunks, knowing that you also want to incorporate some (guilt-free!) down time into these months.
A Fresh Start
Of course, summer is now nearing a close, but that doesn’t mean you can no longer apply this approach. In fact, late August/early September can often be a good time for a fresh start.
Think about all of your own beginnings of new academic years during that time frame, whether you were setting off excitedly for your first year of kindergarten or feeling a combination of trepidation and relief as you entered your senior year of high school or college. This can be an excellent time to harness that exhilarating mix of joy, fear, sadness, hope, and start anew.
I often like to begin with – literally – a clean slate: a blank sheet of paper or a blank screen on my computer. And then I just start writing down my intentions. I don’t try to organize them right away, I just write. What are the things that bring me joy that I want to be sure to incorporate into the months ahead? What are the emotions I want to foster in my personal life, my work, with my family, with my colleagues and clients? I then try to sit with these thoughts a while to see if they spark other ideas or if there are areas I want to dig deeper.
Once I’ve done this self-discovery, I can finesse the definition of my intentions and come up with small shifts I want to make to meet these goals. The actions can be as small as feels manageable to you. It’s best not to add too much upfront, to give yourself room for both necessary shifts and everything else life throws at you.
What will you do to be intentional for the remainder of the summer and to start fresh this fall? I’d love to hear.