Murray: Change the pressure pushing down on you
“Pressure pushing down on me.” For the last couple of months, I have had Queen’s “Under Pressure” on high-rotation on my playlist. I know the pressure is bad because I actually enjoy my morning run when no one can talk to me, and I can’t answer any texts or emails. Under any normal conditions, I hate running.
I hear Queen’s words “These are the days it never rains but it pours” as I watch TikTok videos of teachers who are much funnier than I am, working in much harder contexts than I am in and who totally get what I am feeling. One of my favorite lines is, “Are teachers burned out? All that’s left is smoke!”
I turned on the calendar analytics that Weber State so helpfully offered us and realized I had made a terrible mistake and turned it right off again. Perhaps the best manifestation of how all that’s left of me is smoke is that I discovered the week of Oct. 25-29 does not exist in any of my syllabi for this semester. I had to explain to my students that because I am not God, I cannot just randomly decide a week doesn’t exist, so I had to adjust my entire semester schedule. I told a co-worker that I wasn’t even treading water. I am not going to say I am drowning yet, but I am under water.
“It’s the terror of knowing what this world is about.” I pivoted my entire teaching style on a dime to a Zoom environment and delivered on that for a full year. Teaching in Zoom is doing stand-up comedy while not being able to see your audience. You can’t ask students to turn on their videos, because that may violate their privacy. The amount of energy I brought to those hundreds of little black boxes with names in them could have powered Ogden for a decade. This year, I am back in the classroom bringing Zoom-level energy. But in a class with students, that pretty much exploded the room, so now I am recalibrating to dial it down.
“Under pressure that burns a building down.” My father called, and I sent his call straight to voicemail. Later, I apologized for not answering, and he said, “I understand, you are doing the people’s work.” He gets it. He was a public servant for his entire career, doing the people’s work, which meant 16-hour days during budget season, which meant always having his phone on him. And before a phone, it was a Blackberry, and before that it was a pager, which meant letting “the people” yell at him about his job, which meant never getting paid what his education level merited, which meant having his career be a political football. My father now lives as far away from people as he possibly can without being a total hermit.
“Watching some good friends scream let me out!” This past year and a half has been especially hard on public servants. My friends who are police officers, postal workers, elementary school teachers, high school teachers and elections officials have all been doing the people’s work and catching nothing but flak about it. And we are all tired. My friends who are health care workers are all also tired. I imagine people who work in the flight industry are also exhausted. There is a very good reason there is not enough staff in the service industry across the board. We are all under pressure, pushing down on us; every day it’s pouring, and it’s terrifying, burning us down and making us all scream, “Let us out!”
The other night, I was in hour 13 of my eight-hour day in month 17 of my 10-month contract, walking out to my car really late. A good friend pulled up and complimented me on a panel where I had been a presenter. We chatted for a few minutes, and I laughed really hard. I got into my car feeling better, and the next day, which was also long and hard, my smile was more natural. I figured out my answer to the pressure pushing down on us, which echoes my colleague Adrienne Andrew’s advice in her editorial column from last week. Adrienne, who is Weber State’s assistant vice president for diversity, reminded us that we should take care of each other. When you see someone you know walking out to her car at 8:30 p.m., which means you are both still at work after a really long day, pull over and compliment her on the job she just did. When you see someone you work with burning out, stop them in the hall and tell them how great it is to see them. When you are out in the world, be kind.
Leah Murray is Weber State University Brady Distinguished Presidential Professor of Political Science and the academic director of the Olene S. Walker Institute of Politics & Public Service.