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.”