August 1. I circle this date on my calendar every year, and I dread its arrival. August 1 is the day that summer ends.
Not literally, of course; it’s still much too warm to bust out my beloved sweater collection (believe me, I’m tempted). But quite officially, it’s the day of reckoning for all my summertime hopes and dreams. And more to the point, it’s the deadline for any and all “summer projects” that have even the slightest chance of being completed. As August arrives, so do the days of nonstop meetings, the crush of high priority to-dos, and the many crises du jour.
This coming academic year marks my 19th in higher education, and I’m still clinging to The Myth of Summer. Legend has it that summertime on a university campus was once this magical wonderland where time slowed down and all those time-intensive, well-intentioned, “long-term” projects finally received the attention they deserved. So, for 19 years, I’ve had a list of “summer projects.” And every year about this time, I start alternating between a sense of sheer panic and a fast-paced downward shame spiral as I look at the same list with very few boxes checked off. What is supposed to have been a season of recovery and recommitment suddenly becomes a symbol of underachievement. Yet, every year, I still make the list – call me optimistic? A glutton for punishment??
This year, rather than giving into the disappointment, I’m tossing this myth into the dustbin of history. Instead, I’m celebrating all the things I accomplished that weren’t on the list of “summer projects,” and I’m discovering that perhaps I’ve just been making the wrong list for too many years.
I grew as a professional. From training with my team, to attending conferences, to not just starting, but actually finishing multiple books, I invested in my own and others’ learning throughout the summer. As a result, I’m entering the new year reinvigorated and ready to tackle some of the “same old challenges” with a fresh perspective.
I planned ahead, thoughtfully. Freed from the incessant drumbeat of what has to be done right now, my colleagues and I were able to engage in deliberate conversations about why we do certain things. Revisiting that purpose has set us on the path to a more engaging collaborative effort in the coming year and sparked spontaneous ideation sessions that not only feed my soul but also, ultimately, result in an elevated donor experience.
I was reminded that we are more than our jobs. My family and I were fortunate to take an awesome vacation, and I had some really amazing conversations with my teammates about their own summer travels. I took my kid to swim lessons and gymnastics class. We enjoyed a few spectacular Colorado sunsets with friends and family. More than usual, I ended my days reflecting on and humbled by life’s sheer awesomeness, not the size of my to-do list.
Now, as the clock winds down on these last days of July, I’m letting go of the panic, the frustration and the burden of The Myth of Summer. Instead, I’m feeling incredibly grateful for a list of summertime accomplishments that have me reenergized about the people I serve and the work I do.
How about you? Are there things you’ve checked off your list that really filled your bucket and left you feeling inspired for the coming year? Take a moment to celebrate these and join me in toasting the arrival of summer’s end. After all, this ending marks only the beginning of a whole new year of opportunity. And maybe some of these endeavors were meant to be “winter projects” all along.
DRG Group member Matthew Helmer serves as Executive Director of CSU Events & Community Engagement at Colorado State University. He attributes his long tenure to the amazing community of leaders, colleagues, students and donors at CSU, a truly special place to work, live and learn. Follow him on Twitter @ExperienceGuru or LinkedIn for more musings.