I was leaving school on Wednesday last week when I ran into one of my professors in the parking lot.
She politely greeted me, and I politely responded. Then she asked, “How is everything going?”
I paused, then answered honestly: “I don’t feel like I have time to be creative anymore. I don’t feel like I have time to be me.”
She put her bags down and looked me in the face. She said, “Active compartmentalization. This is a skill and you have to learn it.”
She went on to explain the difference between “active compartmentalization” and “inactive compartmentalization.” In the active (conscious) kind, you remain present. You understand that there are other things on your to-do list, but you look directly at them and say “Not right now. I see you, and I’ll get to you later, but you do not get my energy right now.”
The inactive kind is a coping mechanism. Your brain tries to compartmentalize because it is overwhelmed and unorganized. You forget things and you’re unable to pay attention (when you try to focus on everything, you’re effectively focusing on nothing). If you do not take control of compartmentalization then it takes control of you — leading to stress, frustration, and helplessness.
I went for a walk today and came upon this street of fire-engine red trees. It reminded me of that spontaneous parking lot conversation. In this moment, I was present. I was thinking of nothing else except how stunning they looked; the way the sun lit them up at a perfect angle; the way some leaves had already fallen to the ground.
The moment was fleeting: My thoughts naturally redirected to the fact that it is fall, which means the semester is almost over, which means there is homework I should be doing. I snapped back to my usual internal monologue.
But the moment had happened, and it was impactful. A genuine mental disconnection from the daily monotony of studying, studying, studying.
I want to learn to tap into that space on command. I want to be better at active compartmentalization. Like my professor said: It is a skill, and I have to learn it.