I cannot tell you how many times I have been working when all of a sudden, I think, “It’s the end of the day! How did that fly by so quickly?” Or I am struck by this thought: “It’s the end of the week! Again! How did I miss the whole week?” I’m not going to make up some bullshit about having so much fun that the “week just flew by.” I do have fun. I do have those moments. But it took me a long time for the fun to outweigh the work. Those thoughts of “What happened to October?” kept coming up because I crammed so much into my day.
Did you hear what I said? I was the one who crammed it in. Yes, I have coaches and administrators overseeing me, but I was the one who crammed so much into my day. As an educator, I was the one who thought that “a good teacher is a busy teacher.” I was the one who thought “a good student is a busy student.” I did not start PLAYING with my students until my final three years of teaching. I. Taught. Kindergarten. I thought that to get those students to higher reading levels or oral presentation proficiency was more critical than their (and my!) well being.
I preached wellness, but true welfare isn’t well if it’s anxiety-inducing. True wellness isn’t well if I am biting my nails until they bleed because I’m so intensely in my head trying to plan every last minute out. True wellness isn’t well if I feel my blood pressure rising and rising throughout the day without a break.
But what happened when I did that? (Besides the whole bloody nails, high blood pressure thing? That was bad enough!) I didn’t experience teaching. I didn’t fully experience the Badassery of my craft. I didn’t fully experience the radicalness of my students. I didn’t fully experience anything because I was just skimming through life as I rushed to the next thing. (But I was on time damn it! I earned my productive mental stickers!)
I will not let myself get back there. I will not let myself go to that place.
When I start rushing, skimming, running (literally I used to JOG to the copier machine!) through the day, I declare, “No more. I am worth giving myself time. No more running. I am worth resting and being present with these amazing kids. No more. The high-stakes effects of living and teaching this way are too much. No. More.”
You see, dear Marigold, I was falsely associating all around me.
I was wrongly associating busyness with worth. I was incorrectly associating hard work with sufficiency. I was falsely associating great teaching with intense compassion and caring. Yes, students, families, , and I are resilient. But resilience is not an excuse or justification or invitation to push ourselves (or students, families, and communities) to the breaking point. It was getting to the point where I couldn't even remember what I did in the day. I was doing so much in the day that I couldn't keep track of it all. Or, I was doing such a great job of keeping track of it all that I wasn't allowing myself to be present.
I'm going to share something very personal and vulnerable with you. My brain is always flying, spinning, calculating, re-calibrating, and designing. Image a slot machine on speed. (I’ve never been on speed or any drug for that matter, so I will imagine with you.) My brain is pulling the lever of its slot machine again and again until it gets just the right calculation. But when the slot machine arrives at the precise calculation, celebration alarms do not ring. No. My brain quickly moves to the next slot machine and pulls the lever again and again. It happens at lightning speed. For many things, this excessive processing speed helps me profoundly. You should see me plan a lesson! You should see me break down an experience! You should see me figure out every nut and bolt of a lesson in rapid time. Yet for other things, this exceptional processing speed feels lonely because I can't just tell my brain to stop. It just keeps going. So imagine being in this simple thing like a meeting and talking about one topic and staying on that one issue. Not only is my brain spinning and craving being able to move on to the next thing, but also when it doesn't get its way it starts screaming at me.
When I first shared this with my husband, he laughed at me. And then, he realized I was serious. He got to see how my brain helped me profoundly and helped us out thoroughly. (You should see me plan an afternoon!) The more profoundly he got to know me, the more profoundly he got to see how my brain exhausted me. He helped me by letting me know that I was unconditionally loved and that I needed to do something about it. I started going to therapy to begin breaking down my thought processes. I started doing a guided meditation. I started taking cat naps. I commenced scheduling times to do nothing. I realize that the more I did, the more I fed the beast. If I didn't do anything, my brain might scream but it couldn't latch onto anything.
Once I started slowing down, I started noticing things.
I started seeing the beauty of my classroom. I started noticing the hilarity of my students. I started noticing what a fantastic group of families I work for and with. I started noticing a community of educators who are great at their job. I started noticing that my five senses were seeing new sights, savoring new tastes, listening to new sounds, smelling fresh smells (or stinky kindergarteners!), and touching so many textures. By giving up doing so much, I was gaining so far more. I was starting to feel again. It's like my brain energy start of transferring through my body. It's like I started showing up for the first time. You might not notice it if you have known me for a while. But I see it. I notice it, especially after a long day. I feel at peace. I sense a comfortable jacket of contentment wrap me up tightly without suffocating me. What a difference not cramming so much in (and in turn deep-frying my brain) made!
When I read the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I was struck by the simplicity of sparking joy. We could get into a debate over the spectrums of minimalism and maximalism. Nope. Not going to go there. I will say that once I started tidying up my life and only surrounding myself with joy sparkers, it did indeed change my life. People continuously came in my classroom just to breathe. It’s not that our class is minimalistic. Sure, it did not have random sh*t on the walls or random stereotypical kindergarten crap, but it was not just the lack of that clutter. There was a feeling that you get when you walk in the room. People called it very Zen, very spa-like, very comforting. I called it joy. There was a joy that you get when you came in our classroom.
By physically un-cramming our class, I could mentally and emotionally un-cram space. By giving my mind and heart space (I know I’m getting all cheesy and New Age wannabe-y but bear with me), not only did my classroom open up but also I instantly started seeing the results of the un-cramming. I was opening up my head and heart space.
What about you? What are you cramming into your day? What has got to go? Clear your head right now from all the excuses. “But if I don’t do this, then I will miss out on this.” “But I have to do this!” “But this is the expectation of my (administration, families, staff, community, etc.)!” “But but but but but!” After you clear your head, keep reminding yourself of the “and” that surrounds you. “And when I get rid of these things that I’m cramming into my day, I will be a different person. And I will be able to be the best Changemaker I know. And I will be able to show up for my community. And I will be able to be the best version of myself for my (fill in the blank). And I will show up for myself.”
You are doing this for yourself.
I know that that sounds tough. I know that that sounds overwhelming. I know that that will dramatically shift your life. Why? Because the moment you start decluttering your life, you give yourself space to think. Remember what thinking feels like? When you declutter your life, you give yourself space to daydream. When was the last time you fantasized? You give yourself space to do nothing. Yup, do nothing. You give your brain time to make connections and be present. You give yourself time to be present, notice new things, and make memories Remember what it feels like to have time for yourself and do what you want to do? That’s why cramming your day has got to go!