The school year is quickly approaching. For most people, that doesn’t mean much. If it means anything, it means that their kids will be out of the house again, and peace will reign. For us teachers, it is a nightmarish time that points out the fact that we were so exhausted at the beginning of the summer, that we didn’t really even do much of anything at all until about July. Then July flew by like the Frappuccino’s at Starbucks on BOGO days. Now it’s August.
When I was little, I had the weirdest misconception that the teachers loved school and that they were always super happy when school started and a little disappointed when it was time for summer break.
I was so misinformed. As a teacher, I can honestly say that I look forward to the breaks more than the kids do. I’m already counting down in my head until our next break- which is Thanksgiving.
The dread of going back to work has conjured up all kinds of flashbacks to the days when I worked in the corporate world and longed for work life balance. Back then, I had more money, but I had very little free time and next to no vacation time. Now, it’s the opposite. I have more chunks of time off, but I don’t make as much. So, I’ve been thinking.
There has to be a way to achieve work life balance even though most of us are restricted by time or money or both.
What is work life balance?
So, what exactly is this balance? I’m not sure that I ever put much thought into it before. When I was working as an engineer, I just assumed that it meant having enough time to do fun stuff. Now as a teacher, I have time, but I still don’t feel very balanced. My personal definition has started to shift a little. I think that work life balance requires time to do things not related to work, but it also requires actually doing the things that make you feel refreshed as a person.
We’ve all heard the clichés like, “if you do something you love, you’ll never work a day in your life,” but really? I’m skeptical that very many people are actually doing what they love. I’m also skeptical about most people figuring out their purpose in life and doing things along those lines. I think the majority of people end up in jobs that they may or may not like. They may be high-paying jobs, but just because a job pays a lot, doesn’t mean that it leaves you feeling fulfilled as a person.
Many moons ago, I worked at Continental Airlines (which is now United). The work was a little boring, but working for an airline, you can’t help but tip the work-life-balance scale a little toward the life side of things. I would work my shifts and then travel. I didn’t travel every weekend, but for a while I was going back and forth to France about twice a month, or Germany, or Puerto Rico…
The point is that even though I didn’t have a lot of money, and I didn’t have all that much time off, I was living. I was expanding my horizons, seeing new places, eating new food, meeting new people. Somewhere along the way I turned “sensible” and stopped doing those things. And now here I sit, my work life balance all out of calibration.
Here in the west, it’s easy to have your focus shift from doing things and having experiences, to just having things. We start out wanting good paying jobs so that we can afford to go do things and really live. Then we get the jobs, and the cars and houses that seem to go along with them, and next thing you know, we are working for the paycheck so that we can go out and buy more things. Vacations become things that other people take. We are much too dedicated to our jobs to bother with such frivolous things. Since we aren’t taking time off or going on vacation, you would think we would all be rich, but instead we spend the money we worked hard for on new gadgets, new phones, new stuff.
How do we fix it?
Out of boredom, I pulled up the Galveston webcam website This is what I saw.
My heart strings were instantly pulled in the direction of the beach. I grew up going to Galveston as a kid. It doesn’t have pretty clear water like the beaches in Florida, but it has soul. Galveston is its own being. It has a past. There were pirates, mafia, bootleggers, cannibalistic natives, and of course plenty of people who just liked being near the water. Walking down the street in the historic Strand district, it’s not hard to imagine people stepping out of horse-drawn carriages onto the super high curbs.
What does that have to do with work life balance, you ask? I think it is the key to the problem. You can’t feel balanced if you don’t spend a little bit of time in places you like, doing the things you like doing, or at least dreaming about them. The thing that kept me sane while I was working as an engineer was dreaming about setting out on a sailboat one day. I kept track of my grocery shopping- I even made a spreadsheet to track what kind of foods I ate most, and how long they lasted when I bought them so that I would know what I needed to buy. I subscribed to sailing magazines and read books about people who had dropped everything to go off sailing.
When our species was young, our lives were filled with a little too much adventure. Now that we’ve been around a while, our lives aren’t as exciting. I don’t want to go back to living in caves or having to hunt for all of our own food, but I think that most of us need a little more fun in our lives. We need to breathe in the crisp air on a fall morning after spending the night in a tent. We need to see the wind fill our sails as we set off across oceans. We need a little bit of adventure.
Not too long ago, I bought myself a small sailboat, with hopes of sailing around the bay on the weekends to hone my sailing skills while I save up for a bigger boat that will take me wherever my heart desires. Instead, I ended up with a never-ending string of projects. The line that raises and lowers the mainsail is jammed. I need to unjam it, but it requires figuring out a way to get to the top of the mast, and it is just to freaking hot for that right now.
I have four outboard motors for the boat, but all of them are old and crappy, and I haven’t been able to get any of them to start. So instead, my boat sits tied up at the marina. I have only spent the night on it once all summer because the Texas summers are just too hot. I have a little portable air conditioning on board, but it would mean spending all day just sitting inside in the small space with my three dogs waiting for it to be cool enough to go outside.
The point of all of that is to say that work life balance isn’t about just having things. It’s about doing things. It’s about storming the ramparts on your days off. It’s about sailing off into the sunset and then sailing back in time to be at work on Monday morning. My little sailboat isn’t doing me much good tied up at the dock permanently.
So, until it gets cool enough to work out on deck without bursting into flames, I am going to go back to what worked for me before. I am going to launch myself back into the planning phase of cruising. I think I also need to get back to taking pictures. I like doing that. It doesn’t make sense not doing the things that you like doing and that make you happy.
For me the key to the whole work life balance conundrum is figuring out what little things you can do here and there to keep you happy and recharged so that you can get to the point of being able to do the big things. Find what makes you happy. As Adriene on Yoga With Adriene always says, “Find what feels good.”
Be you. Do the things you like- even if it is just in short intervals. Keep yourself going so that you can really arrange your life in a way that works for you. To me, that’s work life balance.