It was my first year of teaching, and I stood in my classroom the first day after winter break. The teacher from one door over popped her head in and asked how my break was. I opened my mouth to tell her about the glory of family time and the magic of the holiday itself, when much to my surprise, I began to sob instead.
As tears rolled down my face and words refused to make their way out of my mouth, I thought to myself What is happening here? How did I get to this point?
Myriad events can lead us to junctures like these in our careers - the moment we simply cannot take anything else, the moment we give in and break down. For me, it was the endless grading, the stress of wanting to do what was best for my students, the loneliness of my first year in the profession. Over the years, I expected this to improve. I imagined I had to put my time in, dig deep, and make it through.
But that wasn’t the case.
My schedule didn’t seem any less busy in year three of teaching, or four, or five. In fact, it was just the opposite as I took on layer after layer of responsibility. In my journey as an educator, I spent many years in which school was my savior and I lived inside my classroom walls for 10-12 hours each day. During this time, I lost major pieces of who I was as a person. What I have found to be true, through working with teachers and women in general these past eight years is this: my story is not unique to me, but rather my experiences are shared by many others.
I was in my sixth year of teaching when I made a decision that forever changed my life. My decision was simple - I will leave this building by 4pm each and every day. I will not crowd my life at home with my work, in essence pushing out any opportunity to live a life separate from my identity as a teacher.
In short - I made the choice to take care of myself. Because it is always a choice. We get to choose what we allow to consume our days and weeks and years. We have this awesome opportunity to live a life we truly want, yet many of us walk through our days as if they are happening to us.
Identifying this issue is one thing, but finding a different way of teaching and living in healthy ways is something completely different and infinitely more challenging. So how do we go about this work? Here are a few practices that have helped me along the way:
- Be careful with your yes.
I am a yes person at heart. As a recovering people-pleaser, I never wanted to seem as though I wasn’t grateful for an opportunity or that I wasn’t willing to help others out. Over the years, though, it has become increasingly apparent to me that every yes I say is inevitably a no to something else. In my early years as a teacher, every yes I said to join another committee was a no to planning time and lunches with my students, a no to downtime at night or sleep in the morning. Here’s the thing: if I say no, the world will keep turning. If I say no, someone else, perhaps someone more equipped in this season, will say yes. If I say no, I am saying yes to caring for myself.
- Be intentional with your time.
Perhaps you’ve said no, you’ve cleared pockets of time in your schedule - now what? Now, we must be intentional with that time. It is so easy to let issues that pop up on a daily basis crowd out what may have been free time. We walk through life putting out fire after fire, when if we were more intentional with our time, we might just find space to take care of ourselves. I get up an hour early every morning. In this season, I go to school full-time and work part-time. There is truly not a single moment in the day when I’m not doing something or thinking about what I should be doing or making lists about what I should be doing. So I get up an hour early every day, and this is my hour. This is my time to write and read and pray. I have created this space in my schedule for me. I don’t check email, though there’s inevitably twenty or so waiting in my inbox. I don’t read for school or work on assignments, though there’s always one looming in the near future. In this fast-paced, chaotic world, we must find time for self-care and be ruthless in protecting that time. For me, it’s my mornings. What could it be for you?
- Begin to change the narrative.
The narrative we live in tells us each and every day to rush, to push forward, to keep going. We must hustle all day long, working several jobs and raising kids and building our marriages. In order to be successful, this world tells us, we have to work harder than the thousands of other people who are also striving to start their own business or write their first book. Sisters, self-care is simple, but it is not easy. It is not easy to fight against the narrative of the world and take a stand for our minds, bodies and souls. It is not easy. But. What if we create a new narrative? What if we communicate a story to our children and students showing them the importance of slowing down and taking time to care for ourselves, people who were created so beautifully? And above all, what if we choose to give ourselves grace along the way?
YOU are worth it.
Abby Weiland is an educator, coach, wife and writer. She loves straight-up black coffee, preferably in a mug, and cannot wait for the day she gets to enjoy said coffee on the deck of her future lake house. She believes in the power of stories, vulnerability, and changing the narrative around self-care in education and for humans in general.