I’m not really one for making New Year’s resolutions, but in December I decided that I needed a year off. A totally unrealistic desire, so, I set about thinking exactly what it was I needed a year off from. After much deliberation and meditation, I realised that my life is always so well organised: a weekly timetable of classes, two daily routines, one for weekdays, one for weekends. My diary is colour coded with the various events set up for the months ahead and oh how my Mother wishes my personal and home life were as well organised.
What I needed a break from was planning. Over the years, planning had become my mantra: “I’m not going to work on Sundays”, “I’m going to go to the gym three times a week”. My greatest mantra was “work got in the way” or “life got in the way”, but then I realised life didn’t get in the way at all, because I was fitting my life around all of my very well planned out professional activities. There it was, the lightbulb moment, that bulb shone so brightly it almost exploded! I have to stop planning in order to make room for my life!
So, how was I supposed to do this? Even the thought of it was turning my hair grey. “What if I start saying no to stuff?” Well, that is exactly what I needed to start doing. Don’t get me wrong, I consider myself extremely fortunate to have the work I do-it has always been and continues to be the love of my life and I have the same passion and energy for it as I did when I started out. I would just like to have the same energy to enjoy my life as well. Did I also mention that I am equally grateful for the wonderful people I have around me, especially my friends? They are the ones who keep me sane and also the ones I feel I have to let down the most, at times. In fact, just before I started writing this, I cancelled a day out with the girls due to last minute deadlines (yes I have slipped back into my old ways at times but tomorrow is another day). One of these special people, in response to some of my plan related questions, often states that she doesn’t plan that far in advance, and I realised I needed to adopt the same approach.
I started small; saying no to the things I knew I would be doing to ultimately please someone else, with little satisfaction or reward for myself. It was initially hard to deal with people’s obvious disappointment but I soon got used to it and started to feel more relaxed. I then moved onto the financially rewarding possibilities and started asking myself whether the money I would make for that particular job, against the investment of time and effort, was worth it. Basically “Do I really need the money?” Of course, there were other considerations to take into account such as whether it was a good business contact etc. but you get my drift. I said no to private students, little one- off jobs I knew I could recommend someone else to do and slowly I began to feel more empowered.
I also became selective about who I allocated my free time to, often waiting a few hours or a day before committing myself to something, to see whether I really wanted to or not. This might sound strange but I soon realised how often I just agreed to meet someone or answered the phone to someone I didn’t really want to talk to, while ignoring that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. I basically started listening to my intuition-my emotionally honest self.
Just as I was getting used to it all, we went into lockdown. This brought an increase in workloads for many but I was determined not to let it get in the way of ‘my year’. In many ways it was a blessing in disguise as it obviously took a LOT of planning out of the equation. I then turned my full attention onto myself. I remained systematic in my approach to my teaching (I don’t think I need to change this) but I made sure I had my coffee in bed at least 3 mornings a week (I’d love a three-day weekend, wouldn’t you?) and I made sure I closed my laptop at 6 pm at the latest and always took the weekend off. What didn’t fit into a working day was an unrealistic expectation by the one who had imposed it.
I fell in love with listening to the radio, I mean, really listening, not just having it on in the background, BBC Radio 2, 6 Music and FM4 are a few of my passions; I often felt my eyes were almost bleeding from the screen time and I couldn’t cope with looking at anything. As teaching petered off (I’m a university lecturer so our semesters are shorter than for schools) I fell back in love with reading. I never fell out of it but I could never devote proper time to it as it was often hard to get into a story when you only manage a page or two a night. This means I have often gone to bed to read very close to the end of my working day. My bed is my sanctuary so, yes I have been in bed by 6.30 on days I haven’t had to cook.
I created a permanent yoga space and practise regularly (I did, at times plan to do it every day, of course, but they were ‘old ways’ days ).
It’s still a work in progress but I have learnt to let go of so much small stuff and not to beat myself up when something doesn’t go accordingly. Primarily, I have finally found a healthy work life balance, I intend on keeping to in the future. I remain honest to myself and love letting life just happen. Why not give it a try?
Claudia Molnár has been teaching EFL/ESOL for over 20 years and she holds a CELTA, DELTA, PGCE and a Master’s in Education ( TESOL). She is a PHD candidate in Multilingualism through Instruction with the main area of her research being developing confidence and learner autonomy in a teacher training context. She is the current President of IATEFL Hungary.
Since moving to Hungary from London, Claudia Molnár spent five years teaching in a secondary grammar school and she is currently the head of English Language Pedagogy at the English and American studies Institute of the University of Pannonia in Veszprém. She also works freelance as an ELT trainer and author.
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