I really try to be the kind of person who practices what I preach. I don't want to be sharing a bunch of stuff about being happier and having a great marriage and finding God if I'm not doing it myself. Sometimes, though, it can be tough.
I've written before about quitting activities that aren't providing you with what you need. And I've written about taking care of yourself above all else. But sometimes that's not as easy as it sounds, and in the spirit of matching my life to my advice, I have to add one more piece of advice: Sometimes you just have to suck it up and deal.
Here's the situation: I take programming classes. One a semester since last spring. I can take them for free through the college where I work. Knowing the basics of programming is helpful, though not essential, for my job, and will allow me to look at a wider range of jobs when I'm looking for another job in the future. My first teacher sucked, but the guy I had in the summer was awesome. So I signed up for his course on Database Design, since a lot of what I do deals with databases.
The conceptual knowledge has been fantastic, and I've actually been able to solve two major problems at my job because of what I've learned in this semester's class. The problem is that the homework takes about 4-6 hours a week, which is basically the entirety of my free time on Sunday in between church choir and dinner with my parents. (Saturdays and weeknights are not an option for various reasons.) My class is on Monday nights, which means that I have this anxiety in the back of my mind that grows as the week goes on, reminding me that on Sunday I will have to sit at Mike's computer for 6 hours and program.
But I have no desire to be a database designer, so doing the homework is only helpful to the extent that it reinforces the concepts in my head. If you know me, you know it doesn't take 6 hours for a concept to get solidified in my head.
Here are the conversations I have with myself:
Just drop the class.
I can't. It's past the deadline. It would show up on my transcript regardless, as an F.
OK, but you're not getting a degree. You're just taking class to learn, and you are learning. Stay in the class, but who says you have to do the homework?
But almost no one else in the class does the homework, and my instructor is getting increasingly annoyed about it. I'm like his star student right now. If I stopped doing the homework, he'd be pissed.
So what? You're done taking classes after this semester, right? So what does it really matter if he doesn't like you anymore?
What if I do end up wanting a job that requires programming skills? He's my only reference.
OK, so you've got him as a reference, but you still don't have to ace all the homework assignments. Your grade in this class doesn't matter anyway. At this point you could stop doing the homework and probably still pull a C.
[At this point my brain shuts down because I've always gotten straight A's and am basically used to having my self-worth determined by my grades.]
I could go on with why I'm staying in this class and making myself do hours of homework every week, but the point is, I am. So now my focus has shifted from arguing with myself to just getting through the last third of the semester.
So here are the things I'm doing to power on through a less-than-ideal situation:
- Reminding myself that it's a choice. No one is forcing me to take this class. I am choosing to stay in it because I value learning and my future career. This helps me to feel like my life is still under my control.
- Clearing my schedule as much as possible. What makes me most anxious about waiting until Sunday is that if other to-do items build up during the week, I can't do my homework and all of those things and get to sleep at a reasonable hour. So I devote the rest of my week's free time to making sure I have nothing hanging over me on Sunday.
- Drawing on my happiness arsenal. I make sure I eat before I start programming, and that I'm comfortable and warm. I make myself a cup of tea. If I find my mind wandering, I take a short break, get up, check my e-mail. I try to take care of myself as much as I can within the situation I have.
- Looking to the light at the end of the tunnel. Knowing that this class will last a finite amount of time keeps me going. I know that by Christmas break I will be done with the class, hopefully done with the big family project I've been working on, and ready to dive into some other projects I've been sitting on. I remind myself that I'm not a bad person for not pursuing some of these other big ideas I have, because I've got this thing I have to get through first. And that's OK.
I'm not looking for advice specific to my class, but I do want to know: How do you handle a less-than-ideal situation that you're stuck in for some reason? What helps you get through it?