I remember being a freshman at the University of Texas in Austin and how it felt the first week of school when I encountered syllabus shock. Syllabus shock comes from laying out all the work for an entire semester based on the syllabus for each class. Although I knew better rationally, I felt as if I had twenty books to read, fifteen tests to take, seven papers to write, and three labs to do—right then! I had to force myself to imagine spreading all this work over the next fifteen weeks.
Most of us live our lives in syllabus shock—constantly putting before us every assignment from every course in life. That pressure induces guilt, stress, and condemnation. We need to learn how to envision longer rhythms of time, such as a semester.
We will find more peaceful, enjoyable, and fulfilled lives if we can identify appropriate frequencies for our regular activities. “Today” may not be the day for Scarlett to think of a way to get Rhett Butler back. When we try to balance all our obligations every week, we ignore the benefits of longer rhythms. When our lives are in a good rhythm, we can relax about the pressure of “imbalance” in a given week because we know we are achieving a healthy pace over the course of a year, though it may not be evident in one particular week.
We need to find the best frequency, the best pace, for each activity and appreciate the flow of our cycles. Last week, my daughter called from Baylor University. She said she was disappointed in herself because she was not getting any studying done on Tuesdays. She was expecting that she should study the same amount every day (a balance mentality), but Tuesdays were throwing her off because she had classes all day and into the evening. When we discussed various rhythm strategies (to free her from the burden of balance), she realized that Tuesdays should not be a study day; Wednesdays, when she is done with her classes before noon, could be a major study day. By releasing expectations and bringing her study schedule into harmony with the rhythm of her class schedule, Melanie was able to relieve stress and frustration and get all her work done in a timely manner.