Academic Writers Studio logo with lotus and ink pen

Or … you could start with That One Thing

One of the reasons I love what I do is that, frankly, I could really have used the kind of support I now provide when I was an academic … and I still could.

Strangely, I have accumulated wisdom on this topic over the years. People of a certain age may know what I’m talking about. I hear myself saying things and I think “wow, that’s actually insightful. When did I learn that?” or “dang, I need to cut my list of solutions short here because I have like 17 ideas.”

So last week, when I found myself totally overloaded with work and in the middle of a full-blown anxiety attack, I very deliberately paused and asked myself what advice I would give myself if I were a Studio Scholar in this situation. Picture me pacing, kind of wringing my hands, going “okay, think, Laura, think …”

Soft re-entry? It’s what I’ve been plugging all summer.

Nopity nope nope.

A world of nope.

Just pondering it ramps me up. It turns out that an overload-related anxiety attack is not a good time to be contemplating a soft re-entry approach. Next option. What else do I have?

Oh … how about That One Thing? Hopefully that will do the trick, because I can’t think of any other options.

Okay. I know how this works: What’s the scariest thing, the thing that I balk at confronting, that’s buried the deepest in my current mental vortex? The thing that I feel like I can’t even begin to face until I’ve finished like 5 warm-up tasks?

I go through the questions, but really, I knew what That One Thing was the second I turned to the topic. It’s a conglomeration of to dos from last summer—things related to recruiting and starting the program that we need to do again this year, but also things we didn’t have time to do last year in the frenzy of starting up the program—that I had to pack up around October 1 because the moment had passed and I had other things I needed to deal with. These to dos have turned into a beast. I honestly don’t remember what’s on the list, even, just that it’s a really, really long list that includes things that I only remember as spectacular failures—despite, paradoxically, not knowing what they are.

(I’m telling you all this and being very specifically confessional here because this kind of situation will be familiar to many readers, and I think the specificity will highlight the familiarity.)

I find myself externalizing my own voice in coaching mode giving advice to someone else, and I experience that moment of taking a leap of faith, of telling myself that despite what is basically terror, the next step is what I need to be doing.

Just making that decision starts calming me down. So it’s not all that hard to go open the document.

You probably know what happens next: the list is totally long, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not as long as I thought it was.

Also, a lot of the things on it aren’t as critical, and weren’t as critical even at the time, as I remember them being. Then there’s another big chunk of items did seem critical last year, but I’ve learned a lot since then and I recognize that doing them in the way I imagined them in August 2018 wouldn’t have been the best approach. (And in August 2020, I’ll probably see that this year’s approach could have been improved on, too.) Finding myself able to make these assessments calms me down further.

This whole thought process leads me to another recognition, which that my little meltdown gave me a gift. The gift was that I was so very, very freaked out that by the time I actually looked at The One Thing, I had kind of burned off my freakout and was prepared to look at the document in a pretty linear and systematic way. Now the list is still scary—and, honestly, I’m still way behind, but aren’t we all?—but I have shut down that avoidant response and I’m seeing that I just have to start doing the things on the list.

There are 3 main points I hope you’ll take away from this story:

  1. Virtually all of the advice we provide through the Studio comes from our own experiences with the same kinds of stuff our scholars are dealing with. It’s not that we’ve transcended these things or are just super calm and together all the time; it’s precisely that we haven’t and we aren’t.
  2. When your brain feeds you up incredibly unhelpful things like anxiety attacks, see if you can find a corresponding gift. (This is no easy task, and it took me 50+ years to have that experience, but who knows?—maybe me saying that will end up being what it takes for you to grab onto that idea next time you’re in that kind of situation.)
  3. There are lots of ways to get yourself unstuck. One of them, it turns out, is to have a huge anxiety attack and then pull up That One Thing. 😉