Stop and Figure Out What’s Yours

It starts with checking your phone in bed. You wake up at 5:30AM, because it’s a habit you never really learn to let go of, even over summer vacation. Your eyes blink open, and your brain shoots a rapid fire message to all channels: “HOLY CRAP WHAT TIME IS IT AM I LATE?!”

You ignore the warm body stirring next to you and reach over. Grab your phone. As blue light bounces off your face, you get not just the time, but a reminder of the million other things you could look at right now. Your twitter notifications, what email came in over night. You decide a quick peek won’t hurt.

The peek turns into just answering an email or two. Then maybe a tweet. You chuckle as someone replies, begin to reply back, then try to quiet down so as to be considerate. You decide to quickly skim the news. It’s all important– an email from your principal, outstanding actions from fellowships, requests to host this chat or read this piece. It’s all good stuff. This is what it means to be a 21st-century educator, right? You’re always on. You’re always up-to-date. You’re always connected. You have to be ready to go at any time, because the world is still turning when your body is in bed.

All of a sudden, it’s 7:00AM. The person next to you kisses your cheek. “I love you,” you say, blue light bouncing off your chin as you look up. You don’t want them to forget as the rest of the world gets your attention.

“You too.” They patter off to get ready for their day. The shower runs. You find an article to share out. A witty note to add before the link. Scrape the meat off so it’s at 140. Good to go.

You put your phone down while your partner gets ready. You take a second, ask them about their day. You’re on summer break, so they don’t really ask about yours. Not because they don’t care, but because they can probably guess: gym. work. Summer can be a time to recharge, but you’re amusedly surprised to find out that constantly trying to better everything about yourself— your practice, your writing, your understanding of the world, your body– takes up a lot more time than anyone realizes (you included).

They have to go, you kiss them goodbye. “I love you,” you let them know, almost desperately. They know, and you know they know, and you trust that they love you too. The desperation isn’t that love isn’t there, but that it’s the only thing about yourself that feels constant and true anymore. It’s the knowledge that the sun rises in the morning. Everything else is a series of hop-skip-jumps along a path you’re trying to figure out as you go and that you’re pretty sure you’re going to screw up at some point.

They leave, and the phone is right back in your hand. You respond to a message, there’s another email. It should be made clear that none of this is drudgery, you love what you’re doing right now. It’s what fuels you. It’s the main part of you that feels talented, strong, smart. 

Before you know it, another hour has gone. You hop a bus home. You go to the gym for a few hours. Write, email, tweet in between sets, at stoplights. You’re never not-available. You’re never disconnected.

You get home. Write, edit, read a new piece (you’re a teacher, after all). Suddenly, it’s 4:30P, and you know that the day is rapidly coming to a close. You wonder where the time went. You wonder if you used it well. Didn’t you want to try and go on a hike today?

Now, you’re a little annoyed. At what, you’re not sure, but you are. You have to figure this out.

You get up. You look in the mirror. The contents of the apartment you’ve been in for less-than-a-year are still scattered about, so you never really moved in. It barely feels like yours anyway– no more so than the last less-than-a-year apartment, or the one before it. You’re always looking for something better, and when you think you’ve found it, something else always pops up.

You stop looking at the apartment and back in the mirror. Your face is there. Nose, eyes, mouth. You like your face, generally, but some days when you actually look at it, it’s a shock that it’s yours. It doesn’t really feel like yours.

It takes a second, and then you realize what’s been frustrating you for the past hour, day, week, months: when did you stop taking a second to quietly revel in ownership of yourself? When did your actions become a reaction to everything you thought you needed to do to be yourself?  Did you actually ask yourself what “you” (in all senses of that word) looks like right now? 

You tilt your head– one way, then another. Put your hand your collarbone, feel the body stretch and grow beneath the skin as you breathe in. Breathe out again. Your chest collapses. Your heart beats. Yours.

The mark of the modern educator may be connectedness, but if the mark of a great educator is being authentic to yourself, I should probably take a second to figure out who that person is. That process doesn’t end, and it doesn’t need to be public. If anything, it needs to be in the quiet moments of my own breath, or the soft spaces with people where the walls are down and my own existence feels like enough.

I’ve been beating myself up all week because I didn’t have anything to say here. I realized that I’ve been so focused on authoring myself for other outlets, I lost sight of my own center.

I don’t have a lot of time left, but I think it might be enough to stop and make sure I understand where I am right now. So when the real work begins, I know exactly who is in the classroom with my students, and not the approximation of who I was trying to create.

3 thoughts on “Stop and Figure Out What’s Yours

  1. Dr. Damian Bariexca (@_drdamian) says:

    I feel you here. A couple years ago I had to consciously and deliberately fall back from my social media involvement. My need to be connected (and, perhaps more accurately, participating) 24/7 was taking me away from my family, and ultimately spreading me too thin for my own good in general.

    I kind of miss being as involved in this conference and that chat as I was years ago, but that balances out against being more available to my wife and children, and how could I regret that? I’m not totally disconnected, and I’m the first to fly the flag for the benefits of connectedness, but I try to be more ‘present’ in the physical world these days. It’s something about which I’m constantly trying to be mindful, and it’s something I think is very personal – one person’s ‘balance’ may be another person’s ‘way too much’. Figuring out who you are with respect to that connectedness is an ongoing process, one I’m still navigating and one that, if I’m honest, my perspective on changes from time to time. Know you’re not alone on the journey.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Christina Torres says:

      Wow, thank you so much for this. Dr. Bariexca. You totally touched on something I didn’t bring up in my piece, but considered as well: what that feels like when you don’t have a family (yet). Balance is so hard to figure out, and it’s good to remember both those last pieces: 1) things change, 2) we’re not alone. 🙂


  2. Sherri Spelic says:

    Thanks, Christina, for adding further nuance to the “connected educator” conversation. Like you, I love my social media engagement and it can make me feel “talented, strong, smart” too. That can make it incredibly difficult to resist. Like Damien, I am also always in the process of recalibrating my definition of balance between the multiple external signals I am creating, responding to and processing and finding my center. How present I feel for my family is often a good indicator that I am pretty out of balance – too much screen time and not enough face to face, listening deeply time.
    So I can assure you, you are in good company in this struggle. There’s plenty that most of us are still learning to navigate in this brave new world of hyper availability and visibility. Pressing pause is a good idea on several levels.

    Liked by 1 person

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