Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Do Better: Thoughts on My First Semester of Full-time Tutoring

The end of December marks the end of my first semester of full-time tutoring.  Ooh, boy, was this one a wild ride!  I wanted to take some time before the next semester is in full swing to take stock of this one, to mark the victories and hardships and to make notes about how I’m going to strive for an even better spring semester.

This semester was not what I thought it would be.  I thought that I would struggle to find work, that I would have a lot of time on my hands as I waited and hustled and prayed for students.  Instead, I had plenty of students and struggled to manage my time.  In the spirit of list-making, let’s walk through my victories and hardships, shall we?

Victories! are as follows: 

* I had as much business as I could handle.  I didn’t quite hit the weekly average for billable hours (I’m aiming for 20), but my monthly income was satisfying (and, quite frankly, much higher than I anticipated during this first semester).

* The students and parents with whom I worked were awesome.  I consider this such a blessing and one of the best parts of the work I do.

* I was able to pass my driving test in late October.  For the rest of the semester, I drove myself to my tutoring appointments.  I think my driving has improved a lot, simply because I needed to get better at navigating to new destinations.

* Paul and I were able merge our finances.  Even better than that, we’ve been able to find some common ground to make our financial conversations more peaceful.  Compromises were made for the greater good.

* As a reward for hitting 100 hours of tutoring on WyzAnt, I bought my first piece from Anthropologie!  I think this will be my new tradition for every 100 hours I bill on that site.  (I should snap a photo of myself the next time I wear my new top!  It’s super cute.) 

I had some real low points, too.  My hardships included:

* I struggled with the amount of commuting that I did for tutoring.  On some days, I would be in three or four different locations to meet with students, which was hard.  I don’t like spending that much time in the car or on the bus.

* It was a big challenge for me to have so many new subjects on my plate, including algebra, geometry, and science club for elementary students.  Overwhelmed was how I felt for most of the semester.

* In December, I had a major meltdown.  It was a combination of stresses that led to a pretty spectacular blowout—finals, supporting our still-unemployed roommate, feeling time-starved, our messy/dirty house.  I consider myself very lucky that Paul didn’t break up with me.  During December, I had the intense desire to live by myself, to be done with roommates and their messes and their problems.  That desire has now faded, only to be replaced by shame and self-loathing.  I’m trying to forgive myself, but it’s hard.  I will, however, be taking some proactive steps next semester to avoid a meltdown in the future.  

I learned a lot this semester, which is why I’ve got a list of…

Spring 2015 resolutions:

* Friday will be my official day off.

This idea seems super obvious (duh!), but it’s not something I scheduled deliberately.  What I learned is that I desperately need a day off from tutoring each week to recharge my batteries.  Teaching takes a lot out of me.  I love it, but it can be very draining.  The good news is that Friday is a low-demand day for tutoring, so I’m unlikely to lose much business and now I can count on getting that day off each week.

* I will schedule time for preparation and creating course materials.

I felt like I had NO TIME for this work, which is sad because I really enjoy it.  My best chance for doing this prep work is in January because the beginning of the new semester will be the slowest part of the season.  I’ve been pretty unmotivated enjoying my vacation for the last ten days (I needed it!), but I’m slowly starting to get excited about new students and new projects.

* I will strive for each of these things daily: meal preparation for my house, a chore, and exercise.

I felt like I had a breakthrough when I realized that my daily essentials can be summed up in such a short list.  I’m not including the basic self-care that I always do, no matter how busy, but I am including stuff that I know I neglected and that makes a huge difference in how good I feel about my life at the end of each day.  The exercise is especially important.  Part of my rationale for taking Friday off is to make sure I have a day when I can do a long run and have no pressing commitments afterward.

* I am allowed to say no if I’m feeling too much work fatigue.

This one is more of a permission slip than a goal.  When you’re a freelancer, there is the temptation to take on too much work because oh my god, what if there is no work next month?!?  It’s too easy to let panic make all your decisions for you.

I do think that a regularly scheduled day off will help a ton with the fatigue.  But if it doesn’t, I am giving myself permission to say no.  Not every student or tutoring inquiry will be a good match for me.  If I’m feeling overwhelmed or overbooked, I can seek balance by saying no.  It will be okay.  And honestly, when I have said no, it’s been a relief.  I am learning my limits, and I’m learning that it will be okay.

How about you?  Any victories or lessons learned in 2014?

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