It all started just 5 days ago.
I’m sitting at a table conducting a psych eval, and I feel a little bump on my chin. I knew immediately what it was. An ingrown hair.
Look, I promised my daughter I wouldn’t overshare about this because it grosses her out…like most humans. I’ll spare you the details. The details are irrelevant to the story anyway because this story is about the process.
So I feel the little bump. Then I can’t take my mind or my hand off the little bump on my chin. Within 30 minutes, I can’t wait to get back home to a needle and tweezers to get that thing out of there! I wrap up testing, clean up, and beeline it out the door to my car. I frantically pull up to my house and go directly to the bathroom, barely acknowledging anyone at home. I close the door and arrange my instruments for the procedure.
I promised to spare you the details, and I will. Suffice it to say that the procedure was unsuccessful, and I gave up after 30 minutes, leaving my bathroom looking like a a murder scene with my DNA as both the victim and the perpetrator everywhere. I walk into the living room, and my son says, “Whoa! What did you do to your face?!?” That’s comforting.
But it’s a fair question because what started as a tiny bump on my chin is now an open wound about the diameter of a pencil eraser. All I can do the rest of the night is think about my chin. I can feel it when I talk, smile, laugh, and chew, and I’m certain it’s all people notice when they look at me. All the while, I’m counting down the minutes to get my kids off to bed and get back into the bathroom to pick up where I left off. Rinse, wash, repeat through the next day (Sunday). What started as that little invisible bump now looks like a burn from road rash at least the size of a dime.
Fast forward to the next day at work, Monday. My wonderful colleagues are much more socially appropriate than my son, and say nothing about it, though their gaze wanders from eye contact with me to my chin as we talk. I’m sure they’re wondering what the heck happened to me this weekend. This damn ingrown hair consumes at least 90% of my attention and focus all day long. Yet as soon as work ends, I’m once again back at it in the operating room. I’ve now expanded my instruments to include fingernail clippers and small scissors.
To summarize, I have something on my face now that is the size of a dime that is consuming 90% of my attention. I cannot stop thinking about it, and I can’t leave it alone even though I know I’m making it worse.
Then I get to work Tuesday, and I get an update about a challenging situation I’m facing with a teacher. I find myself getting angry as I process this situation with a colleague. I am now fixated on this issue, and it’s making me angrier the more I think and talk about it. I know I’m getting angrier the more I think about it, but I keep thinking about it. Then my wise colleague says, “You know, it’s tough this time of year. We are in the mid-year doldrums. It’s that time when all the small things that used to just irritate us start to accumulate and feel bigger than they are.” What she’s really saying is, “Ben, you’re overreacting and being a big baby about this. Knock it off.”
I then realize that this issue is no different than my ingrown hair. It was a little bit of a bother at first that I could have left alone or changed with just a small redirection, but I allowed it to slowly consume my thoughts and energy, which made me feel compelled to do something about it. Then my actions made it worse, and I continued to hyper focus on it, letting it grow and fester until every small issue I hear about related to this situation feels like a catastrophe. Then I keep trying to come up with ways to fix it, which only continue make it worse. Just like the ingrown hair that takes up far less than 1% of my body’s surface area, but consumes 90% of my mental and emotional energy, I find myself viewing this issue the same way.
Of course, I must pose the obligatory rhetorical questions: What is your ingrown hair of the mid-year doldrums? What are you doing to make it worse? What do you need to let go?
Maybe it’s that student who will not stop talking. It was a nuisance at first, but now you are certain she’s the worst student you’ve had in 20+ years of teaching.
Maybe it’s the principal with such high expectations and never gets staff input on decisions.
Maybe it’s that parent who micromanages everything you do.
Maybe it’s the lazy teacher on your team you’re always picking up the slack for.
It might even be your own child, spouse, or other family member.
Whatever your mid-year doldrum ingrown hair might be, I challenge you to define it, identify what actions you are taking that could be making it worse and how you may have made it worse by magnifying it, identify what you need to let go, and hold yourself accountable to following through on letting it go.
We magnify so many smaller issues in these mid-year doldrums that could otherwise remain small bumps on our chins that would either come to head when ready (maybe that was TMI), or just fade away if we’re willing to leave them alone and keep them small. I thank my wise colleague who gave me some perspective.
Keep doing good work! We can press through these mid-year doldrums!