Those who spend time with me enough to know how extremely uncoordinated I am are probably laughing out loud, but it is true. I have found balance – or at least more balance than I may have ever had before in my adult life – and it is awesome. I am still not physically coordinated and I am often extremely busy but I have worked very hard this semester to achieve some balance in my life and I am pretty happy with what I have accomplished. Believe me, if I can do it then there is hope for you as well. This is my hope that you will make finding balance one of your resolutions for the new year.
This time last year my job was killing me. I was bone-tired and stressed to the limits of human endurance. Then in May my body sent me an urgent message to change or else! In May and June I wrote about the need to find more balance and my initial struggles with it (see Rising From the Ashes and Have You Got Balance). Six months later I can report that I am doing great physically and emotionally. I must say that the life changes I enacted this summer were the best decisions I ever made. Of course it is one thing to make changes during the summer, but another to keep them once the school year gets underway. The simple fact that I can report that I am happy and healthy now tells me that I have kept on my path and that is good news.
Perhaps the most important part of this new life plan was changing the way that I work. In the past my flexible work schedule meant in reality that I was working seven days a week, morning, noon, and night. Now I rarely work in the evening and while I still do some weekend work I try to restrict it to a few hours. It isn’t always easy but I accomplish this by following two strict rules:
· You can’t and shouldn’t do everything
· Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize
That first rule is a tough one. It is so often easier (or so we think) to simply do something ourselves rather than to let someone else do it. Worse, it is often easier to do something ourselves than to find and convince someone else to take on a task (and then to provide the support they need to do it without micromanaging). However, I have delegated and divided a number of tasks that have made my life easier. Other jobs I eliminated altogether by reasoning that if no one else was interested in taking on that program then it was time to let it go. Quite simply it was about not doing anything just because I had always done it. I reevaluate regularly before putting a job on my list. Is this something that needs to be done? Really? If so then am I really the best, the only, person to do it?
I have always been the Queen of the To Do List, but I have learned to readjust my thinking there as well. I still use them to plan and manage my time, but now I make sure to spend time not just writing down the millions of things I need to do but also sifting and sorting. If this is a job that I need to do then I ask myself when it needs to be done. Does it need to be done today? What happens it if doesn’t get done until next week? Next month? Similarly, the tasks that don’t get done are not simply moved from one day to the next without asking the question – why didn’t this get done? It is about prioritizing every day and every week. The first week of classes means that course planning and management are top priorities just as last week was mostly about grading. However, there are other weeks when program planning or report writing might be the priority and my students drop to second place. Not everything can or should be top priority all the time. A hard lesson but I think I have it now!
Putting Me First
Changing my life has meant making a lot of hard decisions, and even more difficult, sticking with them. Now my priority list includes doing things for myself. Every week I make time to write because this is something I need and want to do. I make time to exercise regularly not because I want to (still waiting for that promised energy boost) but because it is important for my health and I have found I can get some good thinking time in on the elliptical so that is a plus. I make time to spend with my friends (although I still need to do better with this) because I need to laugh and vent and celebrate life. These are things I need to do for my mind, body, and soul. Carving time out of a busy schedule and putting off my real work to attend to my writing, my health, and my relationships is not selfish. OK, maybe it is, but being selfish is OK and even necessary when it comes to a balanced life. After all, if I don’t look out for me then who will?
Another difficult decision, especially after the fact that my job nearly killed me, was taking myself off the market this fall. I knew that I could not afford to devote the time and energy to an academic job search plus I knew from past experience how time-consuming, stressful, and soul-destroying such a search can be. I wanted to devote my time and energy to maintaining my new-found balance as well as the development of new projects and possibilities. I knew I was sacrificing opportunities and I still torture myself by reading the job ads and wondering “what if” but as I end the semester tired but not empty I know that I made the right decision. I am looking forward to the work currently on my list and I am satisfied with the work I completed this fall. My current job is not perfect. I am underpaid and under-recognized and under-appreciated. But I am doing important work that makes a difference. I am teaching, I am supporting practicing teachers on my campus as well as in my region, I am mentoring pre-service teachers and new teachers, and I have the opportunity to influence educational policy on my campus. That’s a pretty good gig so I’m not dwelling on the “what ifs” too much. Instead, I am focusing on celebrating and focusing on the positives.
My life and career path choices are not for everyone, but now I can look back over the past semester and know that I made the right ones for me. I am excited about the changes that 2013 can bring and happy that 2012 is wrapping up much better than I could have forseen back in May. If there is one gift that I would give to you (well after world peace) it would be for you to find more balance in your life. Happiness will follow I promise. Now ask yourself: What can you do to find more balance and happiness in your life?