I have a reputation as a workaholic. It’s not something I call myself, or attribute any value to (positively or negatively) but ever since I was a trainee teacher, colleagues, and even close family members, have attached this label to me. The very word itself suggests it is a bad thing -an addiction which needs to be kicked or a state of being which is unhealthy. This blog is going to be pretty self-indulgent, and I appreciate that people will have different and conflicting views. I am also aware that there may be some who will probably level the criticism that in drawing attention to my take on work-life balance, I am somehow perversely encouraging it. Then again – perhaps I think too much.
A recent conversation got me thinking again about this whole issue. I am someone who thinks very much, at times, in absolutes – this black and white, all or nothing thinking is not always helpful, but what frustrates me sometimes about conversations in relation to work-life balance is the assumption that there is a particular (and correct) balance to seek out. That in order to achieve this mythical balance, the scales must firmly fall down on the side of life, and if they don’t, this is a problem.
I am not a stranger to people making assumptions – or even saying outright at times – that they think I ‘neglect’ my children…that I need to spend more time with them, playing with them, taking them out…that I need to spend less time thinking about work, engaging on twitter, writing blogs, undertaking my examining roles…It’s no surprise therefore that I am sometimes left questioning whether I ought to feel guilt or shame at the way I balance different aspects of my life. But I don’t. Because I am not afraid to say that I am a far better mother to my children when I am working full time. I love my profession and it motivates me daily, it keeps my brain ticking over, and in the words of Daniel Pink, it gives me a sense of purpose, mastery and autonomy that drives me.
I value hard work and always doing your best above almost all other traits. I am not ashamed that my children see me working hard, that they see me talking about and engaging with a job that I genuinely love, and one which intrigues and interests me daily. I don’t see work as a means to just earning money to enable me to live my life outside of school. My approach to work is part of who I am, and I would be the same regardless of the profession I had. However, as a school leader, I am acutely aware that my approach to my job is not the same as others, and just as I wouldn’t want others to make judgements about me because of my particular balance, I am appreciative that what works for me, might not work for others. As a leader, I will always look to protect and support my colleagues’ work-life balance – and that requires me to adopt a different approach to each and every one of them.
There is only one person I have met in my life who I think genuinely understands the way I am in relation to my attitude and approach to my job – and that’s because he is the same. And that’s probably also why I have never met anyone who I respect and admire as much. And you know what? It works for us. Just as I am an advocate in the classroom of “what’s good, is what works”, I apply the same philosophy to my life. I love my job and I love my family – and at different times, I love them in different proportions. This is one situation where it is not just black or white to me, and I feel strangely comfortable with the shifting priorities and demands on my time that both my job and my family expect of me.
Balance is not something you find. It is something you create – and most importantly, in a way which works for you.