The ancients such as Socrates believed that there was great value in following the creed “everything in moderation, nothing in excess”.
When is it time to say “enough is enough” at the job and take time to feed our souls with the things that sustain us?
At one time in my life, I quit my career.
I was tired of the rat race, tired of living the life of a workaholic, and tired of forming my identity around what I did for a living rather than who I was as a person.
I was exhausted from spending my weekends correcting English essays and research papers. Burned out. Ready for an adventure. So, I worked in a book store for while, and then I packed my tent and sleeping bag in the back my Honda and traveled across the U.S. from the East Coast to the West. I landed in Taos, New Mexico, where I lived in an intentional community. I learned more about myself there than I did in the years I was an English teacher. I discovered that I was a drummer, a dancer, a writer. I realized I was a mystic, a poet, and a gardener. I was a conversationalist, an artist, and a seeker, fascinated by cosmology. Those two years of stripping myself of my former identity shed new light on who I was and how I function in the world. I sat with myself, only myself, and I realized that even without my career, I still liked who I was.
Eventually I returned to being an educator. But I had changed. Vowed and determined that despite the pressures at work I would not become the workaholic that I had once been, I’ve made an effort to seek a more balanced life.
For me, a balanced life involves meaningful work, play, exercise, healthy food, spiritual nourishment, intellectual challenges, and a social life outside of my job. Unfortunately, the life of a teacher (especially a teacher at an international school) often doesn’t allow this balance to exist. Often it is hard to say, “no” to the many demands that are placed upon us. Unless we fight for it (really, really fight for it), it’s easy to get caught up in what I call (imagine booming voice echoing down a long, empty corridor): Educational Obsession.
Educational Obsession in the academic setting is when teachers and students create an environment where all activities, conversations, and time revolve around the school. Exercise is coaching a team. Conversation is about students and school. Social life consists of teachers hanging out with other teachers (which is natural, I know) rather than exploring other relationships in the community. All focus is centered on the school. Weekends, evenings, and yes, even our precious mornings are spent in school-related activities.
One of these days I’m going to have a faculty party where there is one rule: No one can talk about school. Anyone who does must drink a shot of tequila.
I imagine there would be long bouts of silence, and in the end, we’d have plenty of drunk teachers stumbling home, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. :-)
It’s hard to remain balanced when the work environment doesn’t support the nurturing of a rich life outside of work.
This week, for example, I had to make six choices:
- Stay for a meeting after school that lasted for an hour longer than what was intended, or meet my tennis coach for my weekly lesson?
- Stay at home and correct the essays that are piling up or go to the Chinese temple with friends to bring in the Chinese New Year?
- Be on time for an evening facilities committee meeting (on which there are a couple of school board members) or stay out on the peaceful lake, rowing?
- Be on time to work, or sit with my sick kitty for an extra few minutes?
- Eat my lunch at a teacher committee meeting and chew my salad while listening to teachers create a new cheating policy or sit in the sun with a good friend and talk about art and film and writing?
- Go to an evening parent meeting that our school director insisted all teachers attend or meet a good friend for dinner?
In reading these choices above, I know which ones support a balanced life, but unfortunately, in most of the cases, I chose the “workaholic”, “Type A personality” choices. It doesn’t appear that I’m really making any progress.
All I know is, I want to be more like a Dragon Queen, who takes time to listen to anyone- a student or teacher- even if she might be late to a school duty. I want to seek a balance in my life by pursuing the behaviors of a Type B personality. I want to put people before work and students before meetings. I want to listen more than act; I want to be available and approachable. I want to work AND lead a healthy, balanced life that supports myself and others. For inspiration, I often visit blogs like Lifestylism, because I realize that I’m not alone in my quest.
Over at careerdaze, Bonnie writes:
The new generation of workers is saying HOLD ON! NO MORE of this! They want a balance of life and work AND in that order.
Research has shown that some will take a lower salary in order to have that balance. The new generation wants their careers to match their values.
One of the first steps is to determine… values. I have found through the years that when someone is unhappy in their job, most of the time it is because there is a value that is not being met.
Employees will be able to identify their strengths and their values and then match that to an employer's value system. This synchronization will lead to a more meaningful culture and each person's role and contribution will take on a new importance. The end result is happier employees who want to stay.
So, maybe I’m back to square one.
Maybe it’s time for me to switch careers: pursue my Ph.D. and teach at the university level or go to art school.
Maybe it’s time to take a year off and finish my novel.
Maybe it’s time to find a job that’s a better match with my values of living a balanced life.
Or maybe this teacher with a Type A personality just needs to learn to “just say no.”
Wow, this is powerful stuff. Thanks for sharing these insightful reflections.
Posted by: Jeremy | Friday, 03 February 2006 at 12:23 PM
Hi, Jeremy. Thanks for the shout-out at your blog! :-)
Posted by: shamash | Sunday, 05 February 2006 at 10:54 AM
...and thank you for the shout-out here.
Posted by: Jeremy | Monday, 06 February 2006 at 12:54 PM
I hear ya. It's like that with parenting too. Finding time for myself is hard. It's more like saying "yes" than saying "no" though. I've said "yes" to my life lately and have finally been taking care of myself. It seems so many things cost money that involve taking care of myself. Pilates with Ivy is $37.68, childcare with Candice is $25.00, yoga at the gym is $5.00, a trip to the store without kids is about $12.00. I feel a commercial coming on..."A mom taking care of herself...priceless."
Reading your list of choices, it seems like taking care of ourselves doesn't have to be a financial burden; it can occur in our daily lives with every act we perform, every bite we take, every breath we breathe.
Posted by: Lamamamajama | Thursday, 09 February 2006 at 10:05 AM
I loved this post! You write so eloquently what I feel! Why do you think I love my job much more this year?! It has allowed me to step back. Keep writing, being balanced, and saying YES to life!
Posted by: Sparrow | Thursday, 16 February 2006 at 11:18 AM
Thanks for dropping by and dropping a link, I moved computers and still have to rebuild my favourites list. Thanks also for having had a 'here's one I prepared earlier' post which absolutely reflected the frustration I was feeling in mine, and with some practical approach to balancing it. I'm working on it chica.. honest!
Posted by: Amellia | Tuesday, 11 April 2006 at 11:18 AM
Good to hear from you.
I'm re-reading this post, and realizing that I STILL haven't reached my goal of living a balanced life.
But, I, like you, am working on it.
Why does it have to be so difficult?
Posted by: shamash | Thursday, 20 April 2006 at 07:40 PM
Finding the balance is an ongoing process, I think, one that we're constantly struggling with. Your comments make it clear that each of us has a choice... and each choice has the potential to bring us closer to (or further from) our true selves. Thanks for the thoughtful meditation. (Hope the link on Wordswimmer brings more readers your way!)
Posted by: Bruce | Sunday, 23 April 2006 at 07:09 AM
Thanks for the shout-out, Bruce. The links at your blog are great for writers in all genres.
Posted by: shamash | Sunday, 23 April 2006 at 09:16 AM
The key to all of this is to find the job that you LOVE, a job that is part of who you are and understand that soemtimes the job (even though you love it) will be a bummer and you have to get through it but that most of it will be doing what you want to be doing. The job will be fullfilling and challenging and boost your creativity or boost what other things you do creatively. There is no job in the world that is all good and that offers a balanced life. the trick is to CREATE balance and enjoy every monent (even if it is grading papers on a Sunday afternoon or cleaning up the vomit from your kid who is sick). Have the tough moments in the job be the creative fullfillment you crave.
I KNOW easier said than done.
Posted by: catmommer | Thursday, 13 September 2007 at 04:56 AM