I was remarking to a classmate that I always envy those people who seem to have it all together, who are able to accomplish all of their duties so effortlessly. “Really?” she said - “I’ve always thought of YOU as one of those people.” First, I picked my jaw up off the floor (if that’s the impression I give, I must be an awesome magician). Then I thought about that old circus act with the spinning plates:
If you’ve never seen this one, a performer sets a plate spinning atop a dowel, then another, then another, until he has an astonishing number of plates in the air. At that point, he must run up and down the line, checking for plates that are starting to slow down or wobble, and he gives them another swipe to keep them going. It’s exhausting for the performer, and the plates will fall after awhile. The amazing thing is how long he can keep them going.
In many ways, this seems to be a pretty good metaphor for grad school.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed with hundreds of pages of reading each week, classes to take and to teach, papers to grade, students to mentor; sometimes I look at the week ahead and don’t know how I’m going to get through. But I get through as I always do - running up and down the line, keeping the plates spinning, praying that none of them goes crashing to the ground (and if it does, I try to clean up the mess before anyone sees).
I don’t think it’s easy for anybody to keep all their plates spinning, to keep all the balls in the air, day after day, week after week. Some may have more stamina than others, and be more nimble in running up and down the line. Some may have more experience in detecting which plates are beginning to slow down and wobble. Some may have help - magician’s assistants! - that the rest of us don’t know about. Some may be cleaning up their messes quickly enough that the rest of us don’t see.
My act isn’t flawless, and I’m running as fast as I can. So are you. And the idea that any of us have it easy - well, that’s just smoke and mirrors.