This may seem like just a random, personal story, but stay with me- there’s a point to it!
Tonight was one of those deceptively humid, early June nights, where it feels cool and comfortable until you start moving around. It seemed like a nice night for a walk. I didn’t want to be bogged down by texts and emails, so I put my phone on the dining room table and headed out for what would be a sweaty walk.
Despite having no specific route in mind, I somehow knew where I was going to end up. After meandering around for a mile or so and scaling a steep hill that lasted four blocks, I arrived where I knew I would. Kissel Hill Elementary School.
I had spent 22 years teaching music at that school, and took an early retirement in 2019, just months before Covid struck. I feel lucky to have gotten out before the pandemic. I feel lucky to have been able to retire early too. It was definitely time for me to leave, and I have no regrets or second thoughts about it even though it was not a smart move financially.
So why did I feel this pull to go there? I’d been feeling it for a few weeks.
When I first left the classroom, I was so ready to go that I had trouble seeing the good things about the job and my experiences in it. Now that a few years have passed, it’s easier for me to remember how much I loved teaching initially. Unfortunately, the school system evolved into something I didn’t believe in anymore.
That might not sound like a positive retrospective, but it’s much more than I could say a few years ago.
So did I walk 2 miles up a steep hill tonight to visit my former school because I miss my old job?
No. I admit that lately, I have been missing aspects of being a teacher. And I can remember what it felt like to love it. Even so, I don’t want to go back.
But as I walked around the building and grounds tonight, peering through the glass doors at hallways full of classroom furniture in summer cleaning mode, I realized why I had come.
I was looking for what I call a June bomb. That wave of freedom and relief that breaks the fever of a long school year. I wanted to feel that summer relief again.
I wanted to feel the untethered excitement of looking out over the calendar and seeing nothing but empty spaces and vacations for 12 consecutive weeks.
I wanted to feel reborn. I wanted to look forward to how I was going to spend my time now that the routine was shattered. That’s the way June felt as a teacher.
Now that I’m out of the classroom, each day is very different yet very much the same. They’re different in that I have the freedom and flexibility to work on whatever projects I choose, for however long is necessary or interesting. On the other hand, each day is the same in that they’re nearly all like that.
Is this bad? Definitely not. For me, it actually works very well.
But it’s easy to get tangled up with everything. Or to be constantly working on something. Or to not take breaks. It’s easy to feel impatient or agitated when long-term projects aren’t moving fast enough.
I didn’t retire from teaching with the intention of taking it easy for the rest of my life. My intention was to pursue other careers that inspire me the way teaching used to. The irony is that, if mismanaged, my post-teaching life has the potential of getting out of control and oppressive, just like my teaching career did. Except this time, June isn’t going to bring the freedom bomb I was seeking on my walk to school tonight.
All of this serves as a reminder that we need to pay attention to balance in our lives. Too much free time can be as detrimental as too much work. Too much freedom can be as problematic as too much structure. Too much food is as unhealthy as not enough. Constantly punishing workouts may weaken the body as much as being a couch potato. The list goes on.
It’s up to us to determine how to balance all of the ingredients that contribute to us having a healthy and satisfying life. It’s up to us to pay attention to whether or not those things are in balance, and to change them if they aren’t.
It starts with awareness. What are we doing? How much are we doing it? Why? Does it serve us? Are we happy with it?
When we fail to be aware of how our time is being spent, we give up control over it. This may feel like stress, suffocation, or a sense of imprisonment.
But if we stay aware, we maintain the power to rebalance our lives at will, changing our routine the way a “June bomb” changes a teacher’s schedule. And we can do it in any month of the year!
This post also appears on my personal blog, Five O’Clock Shadow.