If you’ve noticed that my writing has dropped off a little bit in the past few weeks, you’d be right. I’ve always believed that I should be writing about my life, not just feel-good theories about what it means to live better. For the past few weeks I’ve been fairly mired in a strange funk as I tried to figure out what is going on in my life. Luckily, I’ve made some significant progress recently and I’d like to share how a simple shift in my mindset has made an incredible difference on my level of happiness and satisfaction.
As I’ve written about a couple times already, I’ve been working as a full-time high school teacher since the beginning of January. This is what I went to college for so I should have been overjoyed to get this opportunity. I wasn’t. I’ve become fairly disillusioned with the prospect of being a high school teacher, but that’s a post for another time (actually, probably next week).
At first I thought I just hated teaching. I dreaded getting up each morning and going to work. Yet, a funny thing happened. Every day at the end of school I found myself thinking, “Wow, well that went by pretty quick.” As soon as I removed myself from the teaching environment, the stress and anxiety would begin to build again until I was absolutely dreading getting up again and going to school the next day. It was weird. In fact, I even woke up one day, called in sick (even though I wasn’t), and begged my mom to go to lunch with me so we could talk about life. It’s the closest I’ve ever come to having a “breakdown.”
Lately, I’ve come to realize what my problem actually was. I had a lack of focus. Usually, when I think of the concept of “focus” I imagine working on something without distractions (like how I’m writing this right now). That’s one type of focus, but that wasn’t the focus I was having trouble with. Instead, I was having trouble focusing at a macro-level.
Prior to accepting the teaching job I was essentially already working full-time for myself. I wrote and worked on my blog all day, everyday. It was my job and I enjoyed it. The problem was that I tried to put two full-time jobs on top of each other, and then wondered why I almost had a mental breakdown. Everyday at 2:30 when the final bell rung I’d feel guilty for not spending the previous 7 hours working on my blog. I’d get home and not even know where to begin with my blogging efforts because I felt so far behind and out of the loop. Plus, if I did sit down to work on my blog the pile of ungraded papers would leer at me from across the room. Or I’d start thinking about the planning I had to do to prepare for the next day of classes.
No matter what I worked on, it was the wrong thing.
TAKING MY OWN ADVICE
I couldn’t continue like this for the remainder of my teaching assignment so I finally did the intelligent thing. I reduced my commitments. Reducing my commitment came in the form of scaling back my output to one article per week. But more importantly, it was a matter of being completely okay with the fact that I’m not a full-time blogger right now.
As soon as I kept putting the unrealistic expectations of a full-time blogger and all the work that entails on top of my already hectic schedule of teaching, my mental condition improved 100%.
The best thing is, both aspects of my life have improved dramatically. I can commit more of my energy to teaching without feeling guilty about everything I’m not doing for my blog. I can take the time to really lose myself within the job for a couple months and see if this is truly what I want to do for the rest of my life. Frankly, I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity to get a taste of “real” teaching as a long-term sub and not as a contracted teacher that is essentially locked in for a year. I’ve started to enjoy it much more and it has allowed me to decide where I should direct my energy in the future.
QUALITY TIME WILL TRUMP QUANTITY OF TIME, EVERY TIME
Consequently, even though my decision resulted in less attention and energy being directed at my writing, coaching, and speaking — that area of my life has seen improvement as well. My time may be more limited, but it is much, much higher quality time. A small amount of high quality time allows me to create much better work, even if it's in a lesser quantity, than I was accomplishing in my earlier unfocused state.
The simple act of adjusting my focus at the macro level, on a specific area of my life at the “expense” of another, has allowed me to enjoy both to a much greater extent than I had been lately.
ADJUSTING YOUR MACRO-FOCUS
Where can you adjust your macro-focus? We all have multiple roles, commitments, and responsibilities that are always pulling us in different directions. What if you shifted your focus from some of those requirements and centered your focus on just one area of your life — even if just for a week? Or a couple days? Maybe just an hour or two?
The tendency is to view a shifting of focus away from an area of your life as an admission that it’s not as important to you. Baloney. You should give every commitment and responsibility that you have your complete and utter focus… but not all the time. You can shift focus and you can come back to something later.
I’m going to take my own advice and kick some serious ass for the next 3 weeks of teaching. Then, in early April, my website is getting some undivided attention. If you can stick around that long (come on now, the Archives should keep you busy for awhile, right?) then I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
Focus, work hard, focus on something else, work harder. Repeat as necessary. Reap the rewards.