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Don’t Let Space Be Alien in Your Life!

December 31, 2009

In 1955, David Sarnoff wrote an article previewing what he believed would be the developments of the next twenty-five years. He predicted increased technology and automation, and also stated that “a much shorter work-week will no doubt prevail in 1980. . .not labor but leisure will be the great problem.” Other experts predicted similar challenges for those of us living and working in the new millennium, wondering how we would entertain ourselves and live productive lives once the marvels of technology took over our work and left us with little to do.

Hah! Here’s what I know about my life. I have less leisure time than ever. My job has intensified. Expectations are racheted up. My machines have made me accessible 24/7 and it is difficult to escape the expectations of 24/7 response-ability, even if they exist only in my mind. There are fewer people to do the same—and sometimes even more—work. Changes in expectations and shifts in duties and ever-evolving systemic changes make it difficult to get things done. I don’t know who to ask for what anymore and I spend quite a bit of time figuring out how to get something accomplished before I can even begin doing it. Mandateering* (mandatory volunteer work) is increasing—there are many things that need to be done and someone has to do them. Everyone who needs her or his job is aware of the fragility of employment and few of us can afford to say no (and many of us were never any good at this anyway).

If you’re a student, you’re affected by all these realities in your own work and personal life. When you’re at school, you’re challenged by them too. Teachers who used to be able to direct you quickly to sources of information may be as baffled as you are by institutional and informational changes. Lines are longer, hours are shorter, and finding out what you need to know can be more difficult even though it seems it should be easier. Instant access to information via technology is only updated as often as there are people to do the updating. Changes sometimes don’t appear until months after they happen. Offices shift and combine and the people you think will be able to help you are gone or doing different work. Just about everything takes longer to accomplish than you may have thought it would or should.

So what? Despite these realities in your life or in mine, we still need to make time for the things that matter to us and refuse to let the constant demands of life keep us from our dreams and possibilities. I’m hoping that next year you’ll promise yourself not to become so mired in passing courses and doing everything that needs to be done that you forget the other things that matter to you too.

Don’t let space be alien in your life. Write a note to yourself about one thing you can do to make room for fun, joy, passion, or something else you want to accomplish for yourself in the coming year. Put it into an envelope and tape it up where you can see it to remind you. Open it in six months and see how you’re doing.

Even the wildest dreams have to start somewhere. Allow yourself the time and space to let your mind wander and your imagination fly.
• Oprah Winfrey

* Mandateering is a term I coined in my doctoral program after doing a study of faculty/staff volunteer work and being told time and again that people didn’t have time anymore for their volunteer involvement because they’d been pressured into doing other things without any real choice.

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