Reclaiming Work-Life Balance

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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.

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*In academia they call this a sabbatical 🙂 But I was never gonna get one of those.

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12 Responses to Reclaiming Work-Life Balance

  1. Your photos the last weeks have said everything thats in this blog post. I could not be more excited for you and the family and this time on your life to be living in a different mode.

    It was not said but I would like yo be careful not to cast a negative tone on our colleagues who are inside the institutions, especially the ones who fighting to keep them vibrant. Let’s not set up any dichotomies. You, I, Tim, and others would not be able to make these jumps without years of being inside. After 3 years of being off a paycheck, I find it hard to think of going back in, and have pondered it, but would not rule it out. It just seems unlikely.

    And lest anyone think it’s all see-saws, bocce balls, and wine, it’s worth reminding folks of dealing with the ever running background worry- WHAT IF I GO BROKE? There’s having to pay or find ways to get things like healthcare. There’s having to figure out taxes (oops, I did not know about paying quarterlies). There can be crazy juggling of commitments, and taking stuff because you need to. There can be isolation too.

    Still would not trade it. That visit in 2011 was just about 2 months into my own sabbatical having left the biggest paycheck I will ever see. And peaking of sabbatical, it was my time in Maricopa that provided a 6 month sabbatical in 2000; at the time they provide it for admin staff too- that was rather progressive. I would not have the perch I do now without the support and opportunity I got working there.

    No matter we were are, we should not feel that tied we cannot make a change to find a new perch or balance.

    But here’s to you and that fine mountain view you got. That’s something to cherish.

    • Reverend says:

      Alan,

      Oh, do you mean those prisoners trapped in institutional higher ed? Are those the folks who you are talking about? Those suckers pretending to fight the good fight, but in the end are simply pawns for the man? Those people? 🙂

      As for no wine, bocce balls, and see-saws, what can I say—you’re doing it all wrong! I think it is because you stayed on the rat-infested continent of North America!

      More seriously, I find I am going through a kind of re-examination of the way in which institutions use you. This is no surprise, and no real great revelation either—nor is it specific to UMW. CUNY was just as bad. I think it is endemic to the way in which those cultures work. What’s more, you learn to use them in many of the same ways, and anyone who has worked within them understands that dance to some degree. But, at the same time, it has been eye-opening just how much energy that dance demands without even realizing it. You premise your sense of security and relative freedom on an unspoken subjugation that is everywhere present but no where articulated. The bava articulates 🙂

  2. Erika says:

    Wonderful Jim. Glad you have made that leap into a different sphere for you and your family.

  3. Cole says:

    Bravo. I love the new you!

    • Reverend says:

      Thanks Cole,
      And who knows about these changes better than you? You’ve been through more than a few yourself these last few years. What’s more, you’re managing them like a champ-as usual. Hopefully I’ll get to Chicago sooner or later to check out the new digs, and vice versa!

  4. Clint says:

    Living la dolce vita! Really happy for you & your family, Jim.

    • Reverend says:

      Thanks Clint, though it’s only sweet cause it’s so different. Soon I’ll be complaining I’m a bit isolated here at the Overlook Hotel. All Play and No Work makes Jim a dull boy.

  5. Man do I know what you’re saying. I felt the same way when I was on sabbatical for a year and finally, finally got a chance to spend some real quality time with my family and focus on a couple of things instead of 5,000 at once. I love that you’re able to have this balance. And I love the gif because (a) you look so happy and (b) whoever that kid is who looks like s/he is about to fall off doesn’t fall off.

    I say over and over that I love my job, I just wish there were less of it. This business of working 60+ hours a week during the teaching terms takes its toll. And then trying to make up for it with your family between teaching terms (which doesn’t really work because they’re like…oh, who are you?).

    Our travel plans are maybe changing for the summer, but if we are still getting over to Italy I’ll be contacting you to see that mountain view!

    • Reverend says:

      Christina,
      It takes a toll is right, and some of that is my fault because I can;t balance anything. But some of it is the nature of work in institutions that is premised on constantly proving your value. Exhausting.

      We’d love to have you all, and the mountains are much more impressive in person 😉

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