Woman Exhausted

The Receiving Life and the Giving Life

The Sponge and the Fire Hydrant

Written by Casey Gregg

Hillsdale life is a life of absorption in the best way possible. Classes abound with inspiration and bring us to tears, to wonder, and to engagement with ideas that delightfully outsize us; our community pours into us with unmatched support, generosity, and humanity; our peers invigorate us; our churches ignite us; our families back home continue to shade us with the comfort of continued participation and belonging. Hillsdale life is like an uncapped fire hydrant, we with our meager little sponges mopping up all we can from the vast sea in which we find ourselves. We come to Hillsdale to be filled, to receive, to expand our vision of who we are.

But they forget to tell us there’s a brutal change coming. Most Hillsdale graduates follow a trajectory that looks something like mine: a transition from a world of Jackson lectures, Somerville stories, and Smith papers to a chaotic whirlwind of marriage, first-year teaching, and establishing a new life far from Hillsdale. And many graduates, I think, experience the same shock of role reversal that I did:

Suddenly, we become the fire hydrant.

It took me a few months to pin down why I felt so literally drained, so changed from my life of just months earlier. And then it hit me like a ton of bricks: in every arena at Hillsdale, I was in the receiving position. But in every arena of my new life, I was in the giving position. My new family of two depended on me to establish culture, set habits, and plan for the future; my nonexistent community would only take shape only if I worked to create it; all 122 of my students looked to me the same way I had looked to my professors, for knowledge and energy and inspiration. It was terrifying. On too many days, I felt I was standing in front of my classroom desperately wringing out my damp little sponge in the hopes of watering all those souls, only to return home later to find I had nothing left from which my own parched soul could drink.

There is no way, I think, to ease this transition except to expect it. And also, perhaps, to recognize that Hillsdale life is essentially selfish.  It is appropriately and intentionally and wonderfully so. But none of us actually wishes to live that way forever, and our very education implants in us a longing to serve, to create, and to give. Life after Hillsdale, when faced well, is essentially selfless. It asks much of us. This is overwhelming and exhausting, but also deeply refreshing and deeply healthy.

In the meantime, as you look your transition in the face, consider a few tips for survival from someone who’s been there:

  • First and foremost, find some source that continues to fill you. It might be a great church or a fast group of friends or frequent phone calls home or a few trusty books that never let you down. Your time for watering may be sparse, and you probably won’t be in the midst of an ocean anymore, but a little rivulet goes a long way.
  • See your investment in others as an investment in yourself. As you teach or love your spouse or do honest work for your company or reach out to someone in need, there is always a reciprocation in giving that comes back to us.  Whatever you do, don’t think of it as utilitarian production, but as creating a wellspring that you yourself can drink from when life gets dry.
  • Remember that it gets easier. Few times in life are as drastic as the post-college transition, when you sweep your life’s slate clean and start from nothing. The seeds you sow in those first couple of years will continue to reap a harvest in years to come.  And we really are adaptable—if the pace of your new life exhausts you, give it time!
  • Take joy in the chance to give. Every season of life has its challenges, but also its unique blessings. It is a gift to be able to give, especially after a period of rich receiving. Take it as a challenge, and not for granted.