I love this GIF. It’s taken from this video by my friend Giorgio, which is reminiscent of a sped-up scene from The Benny Hill Show my dad used to watch on TV in the early 80s. I love it because it succinctly captures a kind of balance in my life right now. Here I am on a see-saw in Mezzocorona, Italy with all my children (as well as a family friend). The way my kids are both balancing and anchoring me here is important, because it’s exactly how I feel right now. I spend a ton of time with them and Antonella these days, and it’s been really healthy for me to refocus my attention and let other things go. For example, I’m not caught up in the nonsense that comes with institutional culture and hierarchies. I never realized just how soul-sucking that element of work was for me until I finally left.
Leaving was important. I got lucky enough that I could walk away and not have to run to another institution. Without Reclaim Hosting I would have most certainly been in the position of finding a job at a another university (I love you Tim Owens!), and I’m not sure that would have changed much in terms of this balance. In fact, it would mean I needed to navigate a whole new institutional culture, and nothing seems less compelling to me than that at the moment. Being able to check out of institutional higher ed, while at the same time still doing what I love to do, has been a crucial part of this new found balance. While it was scary to think about leaving, once it was done I started asking myself, “What was I thinking?” “Why didn’t I do this sooner?” “How did I stay there so long?” While there were many good reasons I stayed at UMW as long as I did, the break was long overdue.
During the spring of 2011 I made the pilgrimage to visit Alan Levine in Strawberry, Arizona. I remember he was talking about the idea of taking a retirement year mid-career.* I was enamored with the thought, particularly given I’d just come off my first open, online version of ds106 which aged me about 15 years in 15 weeks. I needed a break. And when Tim joined DTLT that summer the work we were doing sped up exponentially over the following 3 or 4 years. I’m an all-in type of person which has its benefits (I’m #4life) and it’s drawbacks (sleep-deprived obsession).
By comparison, this fall has seemed kinda like a retirement year to me, but without all the AARP paperwork. Don’t get me wrong, I’m working hard for Reclaim Hosting. The differences are I am working for myself, my business partner totally rules, and my family and I are where we want to be. It’s a totally new headspace. It’s like the smog-filled heavens opened up, and there is a break in the relentless work mentality that began to sprawl like LA over my life: managing a group, doing frontline edtech support, teaching, blogging, freelancing, traveling, presenting, trying to be “innovative” (whatever that means)—and all of it became expected.
Doing one thing these last two months, namely running Reclaim Hosting with Tim Owens, is like being retired because it’s the first time in about 20 years I’ve had just one job. Only one thing I have to do. I was so used to working at least two or three jobs at any given time that doing one things seems like I’m somehow slacking. I think this mentality is a result of having been an adjunct professor since 1997. It’s increasingly apparent to me that working only one job, having time to spend with family, and doing something you care about will bring balance into your life quicker than any drug or exercise regime—I’ve tried at least one of these two latter solutions to no avail 🙂
For the first time in a long time I feel like I am working with a long-game in mind. I’m working to create something I am proud of professionally, while also preserving space and time to be with my family and experience my kids’ formative family years before they figure out how much of a loser I am. These are the “wonder years,” and I want to share it with them.
*In academia they call this a sabbatical 🙂 But I was never gonna get one of those.