Sunday, February 21, 2016

how a $5 whiteboard is changing my life

Last semester, I had a slight crisis: I thought I was over teaching. I understand that many, many people feel dislike toward or neutrality about their jobs. However, in my 8 year career, I always felt a pretty strong sense of satisfaction. I felt like what I did had substance. It mattered. It was about more than me or my paycheck. And that mattered to me. A lot. It was why I could hang in there even when things were tough-- either at work or outside of work.

But last semester, I was very seriously wavering.

I worried that I no longer found meaning in my work.
I worried that I no longer believed in the function of public education.
I worried that I no longer felt passion for the subjects I teach.
I worried that it might be time to look for Plan B Plan C, after all, teaching was Plan B.

Plainly put: I worried.

It was only after our 4-week winter break, which was relaxing and refreshing, and one week back at work that I had an ah-ha moment. You know, one of those moments in which everything suddenly has perfect clarity?

I was sitting in my office at my desk, engrossed in The Handmaid's Tale, and realized that I got paid for the last three hours I spent reading a novel and devising discussion questions for my high school literature class. I was absolutely in my element. And I was excited about the novel and its rich opportunities for reflection. I had an acute realization that teaching was not the problem.

So what was the problem?

I have always believed that work is work and a job is a job. And that is even true of teaching. There is no way I would sacrifice so much of me-- my time and my energy and my creativity and my emotions-- if I didn't need money to live. I have always felt a little sorry for people who live to work. Sometimes, I want to shake them and ask: don't you know you only live once? Don't you know that your job doesn't love you or care about you? Don't you know you don't get days back, or time back or experiences back? Don't you know your job won't stand over your grave at your funeral and tell the world about how productive you were, how many hours you put in at the office, how on top of things you were?

Sitting at my desk, The Handmaid's Tale in my hands, I saw clearly my problem. My life needed some serious restructuring. I was balancing a full time job, five classes, 80+ students and my own household. I took on the cooking, grocery shopping and most of the cleaning. I did this for my husband so he could find his feet at work in a brand new profession.

As much as I was sinking, he was too.

I put everything that was not crucial to making it through the day aside. Most of the time, that was myself. The things I did for me, because they felt good. And that was why I felt dissatisfied with everything.

You only live once.
I will only live once.

It is not a choice for me to say: "Hmmm, this work thing is inconvenient. I think I am just going to not do it anymore". I actually know a few people who did this, but literally just a few: 2 people. The rest of us, instead, say: "How can I make this work?"

And that is when I went out and bought this $5 whiteboard. To me, it's a contract, a commitment.

At the beginning of each week, I look at what has to be planned: meals, so I know what to buy at the store. Chores, so I know they will get done. But then I look at what I want my life to look like, and then I create that life by scheduling in: runs, tennis, date nights with the husband and date nights with friends, outings. 

Last week was the first time I used this whiteboard, and I have to tell you, I feel good. I feel like a real person again. I work and I work hard. I take care of my little family and I do a good job of it-- our meals are healthy & yummy, our house is tidy & cozy and we always have clean clothes. I grab dinners with friends and watch movies with my man on the couch. Is my day absolutely packed? Yes, but it is packed with things I have to do and with things I want to do.

I may someday question my career, but I hope it won't be because I neglect myself and my life. I would rather stare into the eyes of the real problem so I can fix it rather than treat a symptom of the problem and expect major changes.
This might be the best $5 I've ever spent. 

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