My grandfather had been a postal worker for years. He didn’t dislike his job exactly – didn’t love it either. He definitely was not passionate about it. What he was passionate about was carving and drawing. I remember him sitting in his workshop for hours with his magnifying glasses on with his burner tool crafting a bird or fish statue out of what had just been a chunk of wood. He’d smooth them down or paint them. Sometimes leave them in their natural wood grain. It didn’t matter which way he decided to create, his carvings were absolutely beautiful. I would go to craft fairs or stores and see carvings available for hundreds or thousands of dollars that were nowhere in the same hemisphere of how good his were. I would say to him, “Bupa, I don’t understand why you don’t quit the post office and just sell your carvings and drawings. You love doing it so much and you could probably make way more money than you do at the post office!” And he would reply, “I won’t do that because I love to carve and I want to continue loving it. The second that I must do it for money it’ll become work and I won’t love it anymore. You need to have work and then you need to have the thing you love doing.”
I used to cite my love for my profession as a reason that I could declare it both my job AND my hobby. And how lucky I was to have a job that I also considered a hobby! What did that mean for me? I could work more and I had an excuse. My workaholism could continue unchecked because I had myself convinced that I was so in love with education that I literally couldn’t think of a single thing that would be more fun to do.
Too much of anything, no matter how much you love it, is still too much and this was nothing more but a lie I was telling myself to cover up the fact that I didn’t want to deal with other pieces of my life. It was a lie that I told myself that made all of my obsessive-compulsive behaviors seem okay because they were tied up in something that seemed productive and necessary. I had my own identity wrapped so far up in being an educator that I couldn’t see beyond it, and if I wasn’t doing everything I could to be the best I could be I just wasn’t good at all. I had no problem abusing myself into believing that I couldn’t be as good as the others I saw unless I was consumed by what I was doing.
Because I work in a profession that is traditionally giving without receiving in return, this seems “educationally socially acceptable” and necessary when in reality it was a cover-up for a lack of boundaries and an unhealthy view of who I am as a human. I surround(ed) myself with people who are like me to perpetuate the okay-ness that I feel when I hear how much they work.
So what happens? I work. I say well, I don’t know what else to do with myself so I’m going to continue to work and oh, by the way, I love it so much! I put more on my plate and then the parts that were “hobbies” or “passion projects” begin to wear on me. They then also turn into work and before I know it I’m on multiple weeks of having nearly 40 hours in by Wednesday morning and I still have five days ahead of me and all this work…all these former passion projects that turned into a job. And now, I have no hobby, no extra time, nothing but working and ultimately, burning out. Rewind. Repeat.
And the whole time the ultimate problem is that I have buried my identity so far into being an educator that I don’t know what to do outside of education that I would enjoy. It’s a vicious cycle.
I say all this because I’ve heard other educators voice similar statements to the lies that I’ve been known to tell myself. Like when I was on that podcast awhile back and they asked me what I do for a hobby and I told them I work outside in the sun. That was a pivotal moment for me. It showed me that I had nothing. I had not a thought in my head outside of education of something that I might do for a hobby. It floored me and scared me.
I’m still processing through this because the pandemic has brought about new lies I tell myself. Things like, “I need to work more because people are counting on me to do my job so they can do theirs.” While this might be true to a point, I am not important enough to hold all the cards to someone else’s success and my inability to find the wherewithal to draw a boundary between my work and anything outside of work is still an issue. I may discuss setting boundaries but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. It’s not easy for anyone. But the first step to making a change, for me, is to recognize what needs to change and the separation that needs to be between my work and my personal life. I need to have more interest in who I am as a human instead of who I could be as a professional. I need to understand that even if I enjoy my job it’s still work and I need to have an outlet outside that allows me to replenish myself so I can be better as a professional AND keep enjoying what I do so it doesn’t all turn into work.
My grandfather passed away before he could officially enjoy retirement from his job. Had he had no separation between his work and his hobby, he would have missed all that time he had enjoying his carving. We have a life outside of our jobs. We are the only ones who can figure out how we want to live that.