8 January 2019 • Dave van Ginhoven
(Trying to) Start Me Up
I don’t know about you, but even though I love my job, I always have a hard time getting started again in January. I think it’s because I keep going about it the wrong way.
Even after two decades in this country, I still run into cultural differences that I’ve never fully adjusted to. One of them is the way Dutch people always give you their best wishes for a new year the first time they see you after the 31st of December. Even if it’s actually been several weeks since you swallowed your last oliebol while checking to make sure your kids had all their fingers and dodging shrieking shrapnel during our nation’s annual re-enactment of the ending of Apocalypse Now.
I always struggle with this, because I’m already stressed out on the first day back from seeing my cliché resolutions turn out to be as credible as the promises students make when they swear on a Friday morning that they’re never going to touch tequila again. Every time a good-natured colleague reminds me of the new year or asks about my good intentions for it, my stress level rises and brings me back to worrying about having enough time to get it all done and done right. Then I start to miss my kids and the laid-back life afforded by the long vacations we’re so lucky to have and it’s enough to make a grown man cry.
I usually snap out of it eventually, but it takes me a few days to remember something I should always remember when I feel too much work pressure: the fact that I’m doing it to myself, and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one.
We work in a stressful business, but I think a lot of the pressure is an accidental consequence of our good intentions. We come back to work in January hoping to finish one semester and prepare another while keeping up with meetings, trainings, events and e-mail inboxes that seem to be the instruments of angry Greek gods and sometimes it’s just too much.
Lots of us do this – teachers and students. We swear we’re going to work and study harder, eat better, go to the gym more often and finally find our passions, while cutting back on booze, binge-watching and other bad habits and striving to be more sensitive, sustainable and stylish. It’s a quixotic quest and it sets us all up for inevitable failure and frustration. Is it any wonder that we’re able to pinpoint the most depressing day of the year to exactly three weeks after New Year’s?
We all want to do our best and be our best and end up taking on a little too much, and like over-enthusiastic Scheveningers building a bonfire, we don’t realise until it’s too late that maybe we bit off a little more than we should want to chew. Maybe we’re just aiming too high and should just try to do “better,” instead of “best,” while we’re starting up, and maybe, when giving each other our best wishes, we could also try to give each other, and ourselves, a little bit of a break.
But that’s just one guy talking.
Dave van Ginhoven is a senior lecturer at European Studies, which he’s happy to promote to anyone who will listen. Before that he used to be a journalist and a Canadian. He loves to talk, but don’t take him too seriously. He’s only one guy.