What “Work-Life Balance” Actually Is and How to Find Yours

In my 8 years of teaching, this one has been one of the toughest. And yet, to my complete shock, this is the first time I’ve been able to consistently and thoughtfully pursue other things that bring me joy and fulfillment.

How did this happen? It doesn’t really make sense, and so I’ve been turning it over in my head for a while. So, I realized something: this illusive but all-important idea of work life balance is one I’ve finally achieved. And it’s all because I stopped teaching like my life depends on it. 

I want to break this post down into a few pieces of advice. I’m excited to share with you, and I hope it helps you think a little differently about the role of your job in your own life.

What I Thought Work-Life Balance Was and Why It Didn’t Work for Me

I thought work-life balance meant carving out time to do things unrelated to teaching–going to the gym, cooking a nice dinner, writing, shopping, spending time with friends–and that was that. But I still found myself with the Sunday scaries, my mood souring around 5pm, my brain swirling with all the things I said I’d get done but didn’t, and finally, resentment that my job made me feel like I had to do these things at all.

None of that felt very “balanced.”

I know now that leaving stacks of grading on my desk and fleeing campus at 3pm on Fridays isn’t enough for me to feel like me. On the contrary, it makes me feel anxious all weekend and annoyed to see it on my desk Monday morning.

What I’ve Discovered Work-Life Balance Actually Is

Instead of a series of actions, I believe now that work-life balance is more of a mindset. Maybe it’s because this year has been so hard, but I’ve naturally gravitated towards doing things that make me feel genuinely happy just being me. This blog is one of them. My cobbleandbrick Instagram account is another. And I’m writing again more seriously and have other ambitions I’m excited to pursue throughout 2019. And those things have very little, if anything, to do with my day to day life as a high school teacher. It’s not so much about neglecting or abandoning our work responsibilities, but changing the ratio.

How This Realization Impacts My Work 

I do believe I’ve arrived at this place thanks to the number of years I’ve been in the classroom, my diverse experiences throughout this journey in education, and just being older. I’m 32, and I see myself more completely than I did when I was 22 and starting out. In summary, time has gotten me to this place.

I don’t believe I’m any less passionate about teaching and education these days, but I am certainly less passionate about teaching being central to my identity. My value and self-worth are no longer attached to how well a lesson goes or what my professional reputation is. 

So what does this new perspective look like when I’m in front of students? 

  1. Easier emotional constancy: No matter how tense the situation, I recognize that I’m only seeing one side of a student in that difficult moment, and I trust and believe that there is much more to them than what they’re showing me.
  2. Slowing down in my instruction: I’m not teaching like I’m running a race to get my students closer to understanding. I cannot control every element of my day at work any more than I can control the weather.
  3. More faith in myself in general: This might sound silly, but I like who I am and am proud of myself for reasons beyond being a teacher. This helps me teach happier.

What I Think Could Help You, Too

If you ever struggle with balancing your work and life like I have (and still am working on!), here’s what I’d try!

  1. Invest in figuring out what brings you happiness outside of your work. Write them down somewhere and write down how you feel when you’re doing those things. It could also be helpful to write down times in your work day when you feel that happiness or where there could be space to create it!
  2. Do those things frequently, and if you’re ready, more than your responsibilities for your job. That might sound crazy and counterproductive, but if you give your all while you’re at work, that is enough. Period.
  3. Get to know yourself, however you want to do that. Each of us have things so special to share with the world, and I always believed that for me teaching was it. But I know now that teaching is just one thing I have to offer the world and I’m learning what the others are bit by bit.

In the end, being kind and patient with ourselves is the most important part of finding balance and sustaining it. No journey is linear.

As always, thank you so much for coming by and reading!

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