What is balance? Where has it gone, and did we ever have it to begin with?
I struggle daily to find balance in my life. Balance between home and work, balance between what I give of myself and what’s left behind once I do. The struggle is real to find the right amount of effort for each compartment of my life. And that’s how I cope with issues – I compartmentalize my life. Little sections of family, work, friends, church. Each section is important but as odd as it may seem, they rarely mesh.
My daily battle is somehow equalizing the compartments, and I have to honestly say, there are times when some of my compartments are totally ignored. There are days when one or two areas devour the other parts of my life. Can you guess which areas those are? I bet the same ones you struggle with, too.
As with many jobs, mine tends to devour. If I’d agree to what it wants from me, I could work from dawn to bedtime every day. If I would just give in and let it have me, I would eat, breathe and sleep work. Many people I work with do and have. They work incredibly long hours, every day of the week, just trying to somehow keep their heads above water.
Here’s the thing, I refuse to let any compartment of my life completely rule over the others in a negative way. Especially work. I work my tail off while I’m there, but I’ve learned the hard way that I must have downtime at home. If I don’t, my family and home life suffers. My children suffered when they were younger because work zapped me so fully and completely that they were left with a grumpy momma. I learned a little too late that if there’s no downtown, there’s no energy for friends or church or anything else.
So where’s the balance? How can teachers find balance in a system that demands more every year, sometimes every month or week? How can school employees (because our principal, secretaries and staff work just as long if not longer than we do) continue at this pace? I know my body and psyche and I know that this pace can destroy my gut. It can wreck nerves and fray the senses. It can change once kind, jovial humans into fussy, irritated grumps.
How can we fix it? What can teachers do to regulate their time, to find a balance that keeps them healthy while providing all that is expected? I wish I knew all the answers. I wish I had a magic wand.
Here is what I do know (and granted, it’s not much):
- Don’t be afraid to leave work when your work day is over. If the work is still there, guess what? It will still be there in the morning. The world will not have stopped turning and somehow, you’ll get it done the next day.
- Your children and spouse come first. Period. End of story.
- God gave us all a job to do on this earth, but I believe we’re still expected to take care of our internal selves. If we don’t care for the tender parts of our soul, no one else will. We have to ‘tend the garden’ of patience, love, kindness. If we ignore them, weeds will take over.
- “Don’t sweat the small things” – man, nothing is more truer than that statement. Let the little stuff go. Out the door, out of your mind, out of your gut where it will turn into an ulcer the size of the moon if you’re not careful.
- When you get tired, STOP! Stop, walk, run away from the building. Go home, rest, cook, read, zone out in the recliner. Just stop.
- Be kind. Smile at somebody at least once a day. Give a compliment.
- Sleep is awesome. Downright magical, really.
- Share the good – like when you figure out this balance thing. When you figure out the answer, let the rest of us know.
- Never forget the reason most of us are there. I have heard so many teachers say over the years, “If I didn’t love the kids so much, I’d be gone.” I guarantee you, every teacher in the world has thought that. I know I have. Sometimes, when I slow down enough to really look at my students, to look into their eyes and see the churning of their minds, I remember. I remember that these little people are just little people. They need us to love them with all we’ve got. THEY are what keep me there.
Told you it wasn’t much, but it’s all my weary, work compartment can manage. And I’m serious about number 8. There has to be an answer to balancing our lives, to keeping our focus on what is real and important. I’m expecting some really smart educator to figure it out. That’s what we’re good at, by the way. That’s why they pay us the big bucks!