I went to school yesterday because that’s what adults do. We go to work every day, do the things, and then come home to relax with something cold to drink. I’ve been doing just that since I was 17 years old. Get up early, go to work, do the things, come home when the things are done, and then relax. Days off are to be hoarded in case something terrible happens, and vacations are something other people get to have. If I’m not at work, I can easily be replaced. (I know this because it’s happened. I got sick with the H1N1 flu for seven days, came back, and someone else had been given my job. I am definitely replaceable.)
I have two whiteboards in my office with lists of things that are to be accomplished. Things to do. Some are of my own doing, and others have been assigned to me. When school was out, I looked at the calendar and said to myself that I have approximately seven weeks to complete all of these things and began plotting how I would chip away at each one every day to ensure that they are all finished by the time our lead team meets up again at the end of July.
I went to school yesterday because that’s what adults do. No other cars were in the parking lot. No lights on. The hallways were quiet. I walked down the dark hallway to my office, unlocked the door, flipped on the lights and my two little fans, and began to work. Chipping away at this thing or that, listening to an audiobook of my summer reading work about resilience and self-care. I figured others would show up eventually…it’s summer and others prefer to sleep in.
I sent a reply to an email that I hadn’t gotten to last week and got an auto-reply from my director who’d been copied on the note back saying the office was closed and she’d begin working through emails in July.
JULY? The hell is this JULY business? My whiteboard is full of THINGS that need to get done! June and July are the only times they have any hope of getting completed! Had she lost her damn mind?
In a polite panic, I sent a text.
“So we aren’t working for a month?”
Knowing I’d seen her out-of-office message, she replied, “Office officially closed Friday. Still have a few things to do, but trying to downshift.”
“Um…uh…<string of apologies for not knowing how this is works and advising I’d be taking work home so I’m not in the building and in the way of the custodians to clean…masking protests>”
“winky smiley. just enjoy a downshift yourself.
A smiley face. She had lost her damn mind.
On the verge of tears, I looked at my list on my whiteboard, sighed heavily, and began thinking of what I’d need to accomplish those things at home. Files, books as reference and for reading, supplies… I piled them neatly on the corner of my table, rearranged my bag, and slid them inside, making sure to take extra Sharpie pens and a pad of paper just in case. The daughter of a secretary is always prepared with the right office supplies.
I set my own out-of-office reply for my email…begrudgingly. I’d trust her.
I messaged my boyfriend before I closed my computer to slip it into the bag too
“Apparently we aren’t working for a month. I’m going home.”
I felt like I’d been fired. He would understand. He was brought up the same way I was and owns his own business, so time off is hard to have, if not impossible, and separation of life and work is even more complicated because the two are so intertwined.
I went to Target and bought new athleisure wear. If I wasn’t going to be working, I may as well get back to running or yoga or something that looks like this “self-care” stuff everyone says I need.
$102 later, I drove home, still sick to my stomach. When was all this work going to get done? I can’t get it all finished in two weeks mid-July when everyone else is back and my priorities get pushed to the back burner. People will be livid that I haven’t completed the things I said I would, and I wouldn’t be prepared to roll out several projects I had in the works, and I’ll be behind and even more stressed than I already am.
I spent the afternoon still in disbelief, sitting in my quiet house, watching the cats follow the sunbeam across the floor, snoring softly. I looked up Pure Barre classes, yoga classes, books at the library I could read, and recipes I could try.
A month. I have no idea how to downshift. My entire life has been spent working, and while I’ll take an odd day off here and there for an event like Comic Con or a concert, or a day trip to the hot springs, there’s a lot of guilt associated with any of that…
As teachers, many of the comments we get from those not in education involve the words “Must be nice to have summers off.” To justify my pay, my existence, and my profession, I’ve never taken a summer off save a random day here or there for something special. I’m always working on this project or that, going to classes, reading books or watching webinars on how to do my job better and more effectively. I have never taken a vacation because it’s seen as taking advantage of my job by the public. I have never gone out of town for longer than a few hours or an overnight, and even then I try to figure out ways to justify it and tie it to my job…can we go to a museum? an attraction that ties to Colorado’s history somehow? The public already looks down on the profession I chose, so I’ve always fixed it so that they couldn’t look down on me for taking advantage of that time “off.”
Downtime is hard. You look around your house and see all the unfinished projects, the walls that need new paint, the TV that should be hung, the carpet that needs replacing, and the kitchen you never use because you’re never here. You run through the list of things you didn’t get done all school year for lack of time. You see highlight reels on Facebook and other social media about trips others take to exotic locales, or simple staycations in town, and envy their ability to drop everything and go somewhere. You flit from one part of a to-do list to another, never quite finishing anything because you fear there won’t be enough time once you start a project. You must do all the things, not just one of them. This explains the baseboards in my house…and the entirety of my spare bedroom. I won’t even begin to discuss the storage closet on the deck.
I woke up this morning still annoyed and unsure of what to do and sorted through my personal email as I drank my lemon water, still in my pajamas at 8am…which never happens. One of my emails was titled “Sabbatical.” (click the word to go to the link) I listened to the podcast while I was in the shower, and emerged less annoyed and seeing a little wisdom in my director’s use of the word “downshift.”
While I don’t consider myself a leader by any stretch, what they said made sense. People who do jobs like mine need to separate altogether for a while sometimes in order to do those jobs better. EVERYONE needs time to separate from work for a while, and Americans as a whole are awful at it, existing in the state of panic and constant stress and wearing it as a badge on their chests, but those whose positions are so intertwined with who they are need to separate more often, for longer periods of time. The idea is that you come back recharged and with a clearer mind to tackle the work you’re tasked with and to be a better leader. I thought about the idea of not being able to afford it…my pay doesn’t stop during the summer, thankfully, but a sabbatical isn’t something I’d planned for at all this summer so funding is quite limited. I began thinking about what I could do next year or the year after…what it could look like.
So I’ll give this sabbatical thing a shot. My bag hasn’t moved since I came home yesterday. I’ll see how I feel about things next week.