4 Steps to Work-Life Harmony as a School Leader

Over the last few years, there’s been a growing understanding that; “talking of a work-life balance is too simplistic” and that we have become “collectively exhausted because of our inability to hold competing parts of ourselves together in a more integrated way” (David Whyte)
This deepening understanding has come about as many have come to realise that the term “work-life balance” suggests that we have to split our time equally between our work and personal lives and in so doing barter one off against the others. The terminology forces individuals to think in terms of trade-offs and sacrifices – instead of the possibility for harmonising all aspects of our lives. The truth is all aspects of our lives inter-relate – work-life, home-life, personal-life, etc and they all have an impact on how we show up as individuals.
To quote David Whyte again;

“In the deeper hidden realms of the human psyche, work and life are not separate things and therefore cannot be balanced against each other, except to create further trouble.”

So instead of trying to create balance, David Whyte and others suggest that it is better for us to think about the conversations that we can have with ourselves (and others) to bring greater harmony and alignment to our lives as a whole. This is no easy task and this is perhaps another reason as to why when considering well-being in schools “Work-life Balance” has become the default term. It is far easier to think in opposing terms, to set one thing up against the other, than it is to think about integration and what this truly means for either an organisation or an individual.
Because when we think about integration we have to go deeper, we have to be prepared to be challenged and let go of old, worn-out ways of thinking and sometimes, it is just easier to hold onto the familiar, even when it is causing us harm.
We can begin these conversations, by asking ourselves questions that can help us to get a true sense of where we might be on the proverbial hamster wheel and then identify the steps that we might need to take, so that we can get off it and create the level of harmony that we are looking for.
A first step might be just to look inwards and sense where you are on an emotional level and ask yourself, “To what degree do I feel….
– Regret over the lack of time and attention I’ve devoted to important relationships or areas of my life?
– Frustration and dissatisfaction that I haven’t done the things I wanted to-do this month, year etc?
– Resentment about the time I’ve had to commit to one area of my life?
– Overwhelm and exhaustion from devoting too much of my time and energy – without opportunity for renewal?
– Out of control – feeling that time is just too short and I simply don’t have any spare to offer?
Your responses, will indicate to you the questions and conversations that you need to either stop, start or continue having with yourself, so that you can start to go deeper and begin the process of re-alignment, that will eventually lead to greater self-understanding and ultimately a more harmonious life.
Experience has shown me that there are four key conversations that individuals need to have in order to let go of the old and make space for a new wellness paradigm in their lives and create a shift towards living a more harmonious life…

Conversation 1 – Revisit your Purpose

If you want greater harmony in your life you need to first ask yourself what you want out of your life as a whole. As a leader, you know that if you want your school to achieve a key goal, you have to plan for it to happen. It is no different for your life. You have to make a plan for all of its constituent parts and do your level best to see your plan through.
So, take some time to consider in detail all areas of your life and formulate a plan that will facilitate you achieving your goals. Whenever possible have a conversation with your plan. Ask yourself questions – “How have I done today?” “What can I celebrate?” “How is this plan helping to shape the life that I want to lead?”
Note down your responses to your questions and overtime you will find that your answers have become your road map, leading you further on in your journey towards creating the levels of harmony that you seek.

Conversation 2 – Tell Guilt to Get off the Bus

One of the biggest obstacles preventing School Leaders from developing a deep sense of ease about their lives is guilt. You feel you have to be there for others all of the time. As crazy as it sounds, it is not enough for your waking hours to be filled with thoughts of school, for many, if the night time hours aren’t as well, they feel guilty!

Work becomes all-consuming and guilt encourages them to adopt ways of thinking and behaving that keep it so. If this applies to you – it’s important to remember that in the words of Parker J. Palmer:

“Self-care is never a selfish act – it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer others. Anytime we can give our true self the care it requires, we do it not only for ourselves, but for the many others whose lives we touch.”

So, tell Guilt in no uncertain terms “To get off the bus” so you can start giving yourself the attention you need, and move ever forward towards a more harmonious life.

Conversation 3 – Tell your inner “People Pleaser” to say “No” (and be comfortable with it too!)

Your inner “People Pleaser” is very often best friends with Guilt. Together they force you to adopt behaviours where you sacrifice you own needs and find it incredibly hard to say no to others. Your “People Pleaser” and Guilt make it hard for you to say no those you serve and care for without feeling guilty.
Quite simply, if this resonates, you need to end the relationship! It’s too detrimental to your own health and wellbeing. When your People Pleaser learns to say “No”, Guilt will eventually get the message. You have re-claimed your sense of agency and purpose. You recognise that Guilt need no-longer be the driver of your behaviours and instead you have learnt how to really listen deeply to your own inner needs.
Realising that when you do so, your saying, “No” allows these deep inner needs to be met, so that you can be of greater service to others. As a result, you find there is less conflict, internally and externally, because there is a deeper alignment that allows for a greater sense of harmony and well-being.

Conversation 4 – Answer the questions that rise from within

 As a School Leader endless amounts of time are spent responding to external questions. You don’t need me to tell you that these conversations, the rapid responses that you are expected to give, seldom bring peace or a sense of harmony.
However, if you consciously take time to be still and answer the questions that arise from within, when you face these challenges, you wil find a sense of meaning, peace and purpose, that you might hitherto have thought impossible to find.
To end with the words of David Whyte, when we do:

We find a robust edge between ourselves and the world and an ability to look for help and an increasing ability to hold a conversation with what comes to find us”

In your life as a School Leader, it is your ability to make space for and welcome in these conversations that will determine the path you create towards leading and living a more harmonious life.

For many, School leadership has become a 60+ hour job, one that can consume their whole life, at the expense of their personal lives & their well-being.
It’s incredibly easy to lose yourself in the role of being a Head, to the point that your private life simply drops off the schedule as you work on autopilot, just getting through the day. But this is dangerous, not only for your health and your relationships, but for your school life too.
It is an issue that has become more and more pressing in our profession, with growing numbers of School leaders struggling with burn-out or other stress-related issues. As a result, we’ve seen more and more great Heads being signed off or leaving the profession.
As when we begin to neglect our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs, our ability to meet the needs of others can also be affected and we can find leadership begins to feel (if not become) unsustainable.

Particularly, given the challenges of School Leadership today, I believe it is therefore vital our leaders devote equal time and care into their personal lives and their professional lives, and establish a work-life balance that works for them and allows them to continue to lead and inspire in their schools.
That’s why I’ve decided to make our Complete Guide to Work-Life Balance for School Leaders free to download to support Headteachers and senior leaders to find greater balance in their roles, as they seek to deliver the best possible outcomes for our children…

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