I was speaking to a colleague the other day, and suddenly I realised that I can now start talking about Samuel. About his death, about the lessons I've learned since then, and about the improvements that I've made, to myself and to my life.
If you'd asked me three and a half years ago what positive things would have come about from Samuel's death, I reckon I probably would have told you to get stuffed. Probably with the addition of slightly more colourful language! Don't get me wrong, I'll never completely recover from it, and I'll never see it as a positive event, but I now have enough distance that I can reflect on it all.
I've talked before about the personal improvements that I've made, and I probably will some more, but in the end, I don't think they are the kinds of stories or lessons that people are interested in. What I'd like to share are the lessons I've learned. The lessons that I had to learn the hard way. The hardest way.
And the one that I spoke to my colleague about is work-life balance.
Before Sam died, I was pretty happy being a teacher. At least I thought I was! And I was doing that job pretty much the same way that all teachers do: busy days at school with lessons, duties, meetings, marking, extra-curricular activities; as well as extra work done at home, on weekends and in the 'holidays'. And I was one of the less 'organised' of the breed! My classroom was sometimes messy, my planning and marking wasn't always up to date, and my displays were occasionally tatty (or completely created by the kids!). The teachers that did all these things worked even harder than me! But that's another rant.
Before Sam died, I was OK with that. I loved teaching and I loved the impact that I had on the kids every day.
Afterwards, when I finally went back to work, it wasn't the same. Of course, there was the concept of spending a good deal of my time looking after other people's kids, that to this day is one of the reasons that I haven't gone back to a school. But I also realised just how much of my life I'd missed while I was working so hard. There was so much regret about the things I hadn't done with Samuel because I was exhausted, or busy marking, or on camp/concert/whatever.
About 6 months after I returned to school, I had the opportunity to apply for the job I'm in now. Moving from a school to an office based position was hard in one way, as I was not working with children any more. Plus I was leaving the wonderful community environment that a school is, but it was also a revelation! I could leave when my day was done. And if I didn't get it all done, that was ok, because the work was still there the next day. I didn't have to abandon it because it was time to organise the next day's work. Best of all, I could go and watch Oliver in an assembly or actually sit down long enough to digest my lunch. I could leave in enough time to get to the gym before dinner, and I could get home with enough energy (and time) left to cook a nice meal and relax for a while (without falling asleep on the couch!).
It was this realisation that helped me make the decision that I won't (at least for the time being) go back and work in a school. It means that I've turned down some great opportunities, and I do miss certain aspects (camp!), but I'm generally pretty happy with that decision (for now).
And I find myself becoming almost evangelical about work-life balance. Because lots of people (especially teachers!) don't have that. They spend too long working and miss out on too much LIFE.
As I said to my colleague (who actually does have a good work-life balance), coming to these realisations shouldn't be the result of a life-changing and traumatic event. Wouldn't it be better if people figured it out before they were forced to?
And that's why I've decided it's time to speak up. I don't want to shock people or dump my issues on them, but I would like people to know that there's more to life than working yourself into the ground. It's cliched, but we only get one shot at life, and it's a shame to waste it. If I can share my experience with others, then maybe I can help them.