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Schuck: One of those years when just getting by is good enough

Guest writer Eric Schuck holds a Ph.D. in economics from Washington State University and a professorship in economics at Linfield University. He’s twice been honored with Fulbright Fellowships to work and study abroad, once in South Africa and once in Lebanon. An officer in the Navy Reserve, he’s also served two active-duty military tours in the Middle East. A proud Scandinavian by heritage, he makes his home in McMinnville with his wife and three children.

The cursor blinks at me from the computer screen, tauntingly immobile. Try as I may, each sentence I write turns into an academia-themed “Festivus” rant.

Lord knows it’s an honest reaction. The last few years have been brutal for educators, especially at small colleges like Linfield.

Each new group of students brings a different hole in its education, a different gap based on when and where its members were in March 2020. Realistically, we’ll be confronting these challenges for another decade.

Add in staffing shortfalls pushing me to do the work of two, sometimes even three, and the job is hard — harder than it has ever been. It makes me tired.

As for the larger world?

War, famine, and plague seemingly stalk every corner. And while I’m not exactly sure what qualifies as “pestilence,” it’s probably out there, too.

Blended together, the universe offers up a pretty long list of things to potentially complain about, and that leaves me feeling profoundly frustrated. In so many ways, I sought for this year to be better. Perhaps that’s why I’m struggling to create a positive, uplifting end-of-the-year review.

Then again, nothing says I actually have to do that. No universal law requires it. Truthfully, the only issue here is a sense of disappointment in myself for not being more cheerful and less grouchy.

Maybe I’m missing the point. Maybe what is lacking here is not a sense of joy – admittedly hard to muster under the circumstances – but rather a sense of grace.

I feel spent because I am spent. I feel exhausted because I am exhausted. Those are facts, and both are forgivable.

Recognizing reality is no sin. Acknowledging frailty, particularly our own, reflects not weakness, but humanity.

The fact is, some days successfully slogging onward creates a victory all its own. Fighting the good fight and running the good race should be enough.

Yet I struggle to embrace this.

 

By our very training, economists seek more, better and best. Indeed, “more is better” is literally one of the first axioms of economics. Consequently, both culturally and professionally, championing “enough” does not come naturally.

Luckily, the world has Swedes as well as moderately grumpy economists. A defining trait of Swedish culture is the concept of “lagom.”

Translated (very) loosely, lagom usually comes out as “moderation.” But it is more than that.

Best expressed in the sentence “lagom ar bast” — “enough is best” — lagom communicates a whole worldview of magnificent adequacy.

There is a value in accepting our lives, and our world need not be perfect to be successful. It just needs to be lagom.

Embracing a healthy dose of perspective benefits all of us as we close out one year and head into the next. We can and should embrace this: What has been need not be flawless to be sufficient, and that sufficiency has a beauty all its own.

Over the last year, while I may have wanted “more” out of life, the fact remains I received “enough” — enough for my family, enough for my students and enough for my sailors. There’s something great in that, perhaps even a little joy.

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