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Maintaining Balance

by Kristina Kauffman

Some might consider the litany of work the downside of this profession.  But all passions, pursuits and professions require the commitment of time.  It is how we balance that time commitment with the other valued aspects of our lives that helps us to feel comfortable with our choices, or propels us out of control.

One of the wonderful parts of the life of a professor is the opportunity to continued growth and renewal.  As with Biblical injunctions to let the ground lay fallow every seven years, we have opportunities for Sabbaticals.  If you can't take a formal year long Sabbatical every seven years, it seems prudent to take at least the summer or winter off and experience what your life is like outside the college.  Riverside Community College's Vice President of Instruction Emerti, Thomas Johnson, advised our new faculty this year to follow the seven year plan.  He suggested moving into college politics, or out of it, moving into administration, or out of it, coaching a team or club or leaving student activities, taking a Sabbatical or some other change of significance to one's career every seven years.  Much beloved and respected, he had taken his own advice and upon his retirement, after something like 40 years, announced that he had been most content with his life at the college.  

Many religious traditions place significant value on rest and renewal.  Click the shovel icon to explore references to these religious traditions. Religion & Rest. 

In conversations with faculty, it seems to me that two factors drive us to lose balance: fear and finances.  Many of us fear that if we don't take that overload, committee assignment, or other opportunity we won't get to do the things we value most at the college.  It is important to us to be needed and to be in the right place at the right time.  Others simply need the money.  Some perceive that they need the money in order to achieve some notion of financial security; others have three children in college and are temporarily truly strapped for cash.  Do give some thought to the choices involved here if you see yourself in these scenarios now or in the future.  You risk being out of balance.  If you are out of balance for some short term goal or value that is of great importance to you, you will likely weather the experience just fine.  If you are out of balance by habit, watch out - you are a candidate for burnout (more about that in Read Section 3).

Dr. Barbara Mackoff (1992) sites four primary reasons for resisting renewal:

  1. "I gave at the office":  If you've impressed people all day and feel exhausted and unable to give at home, this is you.
  2. "This is only temporary":  If you've been working yourself to exhaustion for weeks, months or years with no clear end in site, this is you.
  3. "The more I work, the more I accomplish":  Bravo, but will you live to see retirement, or having any family to spend it with?  Are you too busy to sharpen your saw and wonder why you can't get things done as easily as you once did, or why others are now more innovative than you?
  4. "Balance is for people who aren't serious about their work":  Many of America's most creative companies are learning that creative people (this includes faculty) are more productive when they have greater balance in their lives.  Just think about how many great ideas you had on the last day of that vacation.  

Teaching is a highly social activity; you may need more  quiet time alone than those in other fields.  Teaching is a knowledge field.  You may do some of your best "work" (planning that is) while driving, cleaning your house, gardening, exercising, listening to music, fishing, or doing things that do not appear to be work related but allow your mind time to let the ideas flow freely.  Be sure to allow yourself quiet time, even if you must consider this "work" time in order to justify the activity.

In Lives Without Balance, Steven Carter and Julia Sokol make these observations about achieving balance and the meaning of true success.  Success means:

  • Accepting yourself for who you are
  • Being able to be honest with yourself and those around you
  • That  you will no longer put off living
  • Knowing all the ways in which you are already a winner
  • Finding the time and energy to develop your own creativity
  • Not feeling as though you have to apologize for what you do, what you make, or what you're called
  • Taking time to relate to the people you love
  • Taking good care of yourself
  • Controlling you finances
  • Knowing that everything has its price, and knowing how much you are prepared to pay
  • Letting go of envy
  • Taking care of your own spiritual development
  • Putting balance in your life
  • Enjoying the process

I think success begins with living a life based on what we value.  This entails taking the time to discover what we value and revisiting and reinvesting in our own exploration of values each day, each year and particularly with each major change in our life (marriage, the birth of a child, the death of a spouse, a new job, etc.).  Most importantly, it is having the self confidence to model what we believe, to "walk the talk,"  to live the kind of life we would want for our own children and for our students.  

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