A work in progress! That’s how I would describe my work life balance. How’s yours?
Last year on the lovely Barbara Kennedy’s twitter Piano Teachers Hour (Wednesdays at 12.30pm, school term time) there was a discussion about ‘Me Time’.
This was particularly timely for me, as recent events in our family had illustrated quite clearly that my work/life balance was most certainly out of sync!
Let me give you the background. I am a 47-year-old mother of three children (20, 16 and 12 years), I’ve been married for nearly 25 years, am the music specialist in a primary school (teaching from reception to Year 6), and until recently had 40 piano students (in two schools and at home).
Added to that I have written 17 publications over the past 5 years (with ABRSM publishing, Collins Music and Faber Music), and recently I wrote five books in just one year. I am a trustee for EPTA UK, and am on the BDA Music Committee. I write for Pianodao (where you find me here), contribute to Music Teacher Magazine and wherever possible support my friends in their hours of need.
Feeling tired reading this? Well so am I!
A few months ago, one of our children had to undergo major surgery. Even though the operation went well there were post-operative complications. They needed over an extended period of time to attend hospital daily (thankfully in the end just once a week).
I am a deeply committed Mum who loves her children. However, my husband does work away for some of the week, and has a pretty demanding role. With most of my own friends working (and family not living near or able to give support), I run our little family solo on occasion (single parents I think you are amazing). And over several weeks last year my usual ‘get up and go’ had dwindled to ‘get up and gone’.
The Day came when I was supposed to be teaching (students about to take exams), had to get my daughter to her Violin Exam (which I was accompanying for), and our son developed a medical condition where I had to get him to the hospital.
I was so stressed I felt my chest was about to explode.
As I frantically cancelled lessons, I had a small window of time to get my son to hospital, where I could leave him while going to play for the examination, all without passing on any of my anxiety to my young daughter. An absolute nightmare!
On our wedding day (nearly a quarter of a century ago) one couple gave us a gift of four glasses with lemons in them, with the message: “When life deals you bitter lemons try to turn them into sweet lemonade.”
Even though the last few months have not been the most difficult in my life, I did sense that things were not balanced the way that they should be. And instead of feeling sorry for myself (or worse, ‘stressed’), I decided something had to be done.
The lemons needed to turn into lemonade.
What did I do first?
I began by writing my main three life values, and then went onto list six.
What I realised that my main three values were not work (yes, work is in my six, but not my three!), I considered: why was I making it number one constantly?
I realise that I am in the fortunate position of being in a two-income family, so was able to cut my working hours, which I have done by resigning from one of my schools. I’ve consolidated my work to two full days, plus just one evening.
For the first time in many years I actually have time to do my writing as part of my working week, rather than in addition to it!
I’ve also learnt the ‘No’ word. Just because I could do something didn’t mean I should do it.
Recently a friend gave me some advice on whether to do some work or not. It was quite simple:
- Is it something that you would really love to do, paid or unpaid?
- Is it something you need to do for your career?
- Or is the money so fantastic that you can work less doing other things by doing the job?
I think these are helpful questions.
I’ve also started to spread my work over a longer period of time, and actually mark it out into my diary. I don’t put myself under the same pressure as I did.
Do I really need to get things done so far ahead of the deadline? Because when I do, I just fill my time with other things and work more.
Also, I now do 11 weeks in a term (at school), meaning I can book two weeks off in a term. When I’m having a very busy week I give myself an extra day off (as I have the flexibility to do so).
I am very lucky to be in a financial position to do this. However, I also feel that by me not teaching quite so much, it leaves work available for other teachers who may need the work far more than I. That’s a win-win.
In addition, I’ve also started having a monthly aromatherapy back massage, subscribed to Calm (the meditation app), and purchased a gravity blanket.
Giving myself some TLC is actually being thought about!
Time to smell the roses …
I think the most important thing, for me, was to stop and actually reflect on things.
Life can run us rather than us run life. I am truly grateful to Barbara on Piano Teachers Hour for getting me to actually consider, “do I have any ‘me time’and a good work life balance?”
It’s not perfect, but things are getting better. Next step is moving work into a wood cabin in the garden so there is actually some physical separation from work and home.
Since my new timetable I have started to have more time for friendships, been able to go away with friends on holidays, more time to spend with my lovely husband and children. I’ve also started playing the piano again for pleasure and joy.
Finally, I actually have time to …. well do nothing at all!
Let’s hope I can write about this topic again in a years time and things have got better again….
Karen Marshall is co-author of ‘Get Set! Piano’ and ‘The Intermediate Pianist’ with Heather Hammond, and The Foundation Pianist with David Blackwell. She has also compiled the ABRSM ‘Encore’ Series, and co-authored ‘How to Teach Instrumental and singing lessons: 100 Inspiring Ideas’ with Penny Sterling.
Karen teaches students of all ages and abilities as a peripatetic, private and classroom music teacher (primary) in York. She is a specialist in Music and Special needs.