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On being a workaholic

The other day, Michelle mentioned that she found an interesting cruise to do this summer. But it’s the same week that you’re doing the AP reading [1], she said, and I know you’d rather be at the reading. The sad thing is that she’s right.

Why is it that? I’ll use this musing to think about it.

Spending time with family is wonderful. I love sitting with Michelle and the kids and playing games, or arguing about something, or even watching TV. And, when possible, I prioritize those activities above all [2].

But I also really enjoy being in environments in which I can take advantage of my particular skill set [3]. It’s nice to know that I’m useful in the world. I also like environments in which I build that skill set or in which I learn new things. So, although the AP reading may feel like a week of grading [7] and the worst kind of grading [8], it’s also an opportunity to learn about how others think about CS, to meet new people who care deeply about CS education, and perhaps even to shape some national conversations [9].

When I’m in Kansas City [10,11], I get to visit the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, which always has a few pieces that I want to sit and study for longer periods of time. The last time I went, I also found myself making plans for my next large-scale art project [12].

But what about cruises? Let’s see. They have a lot of eating and drinking. I certainly enjoy eating and drinking, but eating is something I am currently trying to cut back on. Cruises encourage socializing. I’m an introvert; I don’t like making casual conversation with new people [14]. The cruise Michelle is planning on involves a lot of interesting stops. I like visiting new places. But I also don’t like being a prototypical ugly American. I’m very large. I don’t have a good sense of the space I take around me [15]. So, whether or not people judge me, I feel like I should be judged. Some cruises have shows. I love live music. But I find cruise shows to be canned entertainment and, well, that’s not so entertaining [16].

If I look at the two opportunities, it strikes me that whether I go on the cruise or go to the AP reading, I’ll come back exhausted. The AP reading will exhaust me from too much work. The cruise will exhaust me from too much interaction with people and too much anxiety about how others view me. I’d prefer the positive kind of exhaustion.

I must admit that other aspects of my personality get in the way. When I have downtime, I’m always thinking about other things that I can do … start another project, improve some teaching materials, write up work I’ve done in the past, catch up on grading [17], etc., etc. If my vacation emphasizes work, I’m not thinking about what else I could be doing. If my vacation is just unscheduled time, I worry about the other work [18].

So, how do I take a more successful vacation with my wife or my family? I should look toward vacations that don’t require broad socialization, that give us time to talk and to play games, that potentially give me a bit of time each day to work [20], that provide access to the arts or nature, and in which I don’t worry as much about my self-image. If I think about the vacations that worked best for me, they’ve included going to Scout camp as a family [21], our family road trip [22], our family trip to Cancun [23], and even some things we’ve called staycations. Maybe something more like one of those would work. Or maybe a music cruise or train ride. But is that what my family would like? We should talk and find an appropriate compromise.

Postscript: This musing, like many, reflects the privilege of my position in life. I have a skill set that allows me to be invited to interesting places and get paid to work [24]. And I am fortunate that my skill set also provides me with the income in which I can consider a variety of vacations.

[1] More precisely, the second full-scale reading for the new AP CS Principles examination.

[2] I say when possible because there are real work things that interfere: Making sure that exams are graded for CSC 151, finishing a required administrative document or the review of a scholarly paper, meeting some other deadline.

[3] I think of my skill set as that I know a lot about computer science, I know a lot about computer science education, I can think well on my feet (as it were), I have a strong work ethic [4], I have a broader worldview that is not limited to CS [5], and I’m rarely intimidated by people in authority. I have other strengths, too. Some people find that I help empower them, that I’m kind, and that I can collaborate [6].

[4] Since I make fun of students for choosing I have a strong work ethic in response to some interview questions, I probably shouldn’t say it about myself. But it’s true.

[5] For example, I think carefully and care deeply about issues of writing and the arts.

[6] Stop laughing. There are many circumstances in which I collaborate well.

[7] Previously identified as one of the things I like least about my job.

[8] The best kind of grading is the kind of grading that helps students learn. Grading that is intended only to assess, and in which students have no real potential to reflect and respond, seems less useful.

[9] I plan to continue to push strongly for very clear guidelines on citation on the CSP exam and on enforcement of those guidelines.

[10] Missouri.

[11] The location of the AP reading.

[12] I’m not sure when I’ll have time for that project or what I’ll do with the project when I’m done. But I enjoy the creative planning.

[14] I don’t mind socializing in professional situations; if the conversation is about, say, CS and CS education, I’m fine. But social situations sap energy.

[15] I know I’m large. But my self image is still smaller than my physical body, so I do run into people without realizing it.

[16] I would not object to one of the cruises that involve a band or genre of music that I like, such as one with Jason and the Scorchers or Dan Navarro. That kind of performance feels very different.

[17] Only during the school year.

[18] Okay, I’m also worrying about other work when I’m on a workation [19]. But I worry more on a traditional vacation.

[19] Hmmm … is that a useful new term?

[20] Or pretend to work.

[21] Being in the middle of the woods is a great way to avoid socialization.

[22] Most of the time was together as a family and not with other people.

[23] In spite of some crappy weather, one bad day of resort salescritters, and getting caught in quicksand.

[24] Or at least to get invited to interesting places to work and have my expenses covered.

Version 1.0 of 2018-02-10.