Finding Balance


October 13, 2013 by Jean

For many years now, I have understood my well-being to be supported by four legs – connection to nature, connection to self, connection to others and meaningful work – but I have found it difficult to live a balanced life with room for all four. As long as I have three of my four legs in place, I am happy enough; in rare periods when I have had all four in place, I have been euphoric.

During my long career as a college professor, the leg I’ve paid least attention to has been meaningful work. Both teaching and research have been very rewarding activities that I take for granted as part of my life. I have been lucky enough to teach subjects (sociology and women’s studies) that have an immediate impact on how students see the world and understand their own lives. Their growth during the course of a semester is exciting; and it’s even more rewarding to hear from them years later about how I’ve influenced their lives. Research has been rewarding in a different way, allowing me to explore questions and life experiences that are meaningful to me and to others.

But my meaningful work can be all-absorbing, requiring intensive commitments of time and energy that make it difficult to balance with other parts of life. To some extent, I have kept my four legs of well-being in place by dividing them in time. When school is in session, I work long hours and use my daily walks to and from work (1 mile each way) as an opportunity for some minimal connection with nature and with self. Connection to others (aside from my students and colleagues) tends to get put aside during these months. When school is not in session, however, (especially during the summer months) I try to redress the balance, spending only a few hours a week on work and taking time to connect with friends and family. During these months, I also spend many hours outdoors connecting with nature by walking or working in my garden and taking time for quiet hours of solitude and reflection.

I am expecting my retirement to look more like summer than like the school year, with time for the three legs of connection with nature, self and others. But as the end of my teaching career gets closer, I am realizing that I can no longer take that fourth leg of well-being for granted. What will replace my current meaningful work? Answering this question requires figuring out what makes work meaningful for me. I think the answer has two parts – (1) feeling as though I am making a difference in the world or in others’ lives and (2) feeling as though I am being challenged intellectually and creatively. In retirement, it may not be easy to combine those two components in the same activity, and I will probably need to address them separately. Making a difference can come both through volunteer work and through taking time to attend more to the needs of family and friends. Meeting my needs for intellectual and creative challenge might come through research and writing, gardening, sewing, and taking courses (e.g., the Master Gardener certification course, classes in sewing and tailoring, and maybe some senior college courses in subjects I’ve long wanted to study).

Will there really be enough hours in the day or week to do all this? It will be interesting to see if finding balance is any easier in the years to come.


8 thoughts on “Finding Balance

  1. Jean says:

    My retirement was forced because of my husband’s stroke so in many ways I think my widowhood is bringing me the same kinds of questions that retirement is bringing you. Finding balance and answers to the question on what will make me happy consumes me. I love your four-legged or three-legged stool conceptualizing of ideas. I’m thinking everyone would name the same things to represent the four legs…or maybe it’s just that so many women would give that answer that I think it’s universal?

    Everyone I’ve ever known who retired says the same thing about not knowing how they found time to work, they are so busy. You will find your balance.

    • Jean says:

      Jean, I find it interesting that you think everyone would have the same four legs. I’m not sure either of my sisters care much about connection with nature. And when I think about connection with self, that connection depends for me on opportunities for solitude; but I know people who don’t seem to have any interest in or capacity for solitude. Hmm. My sociologist self thinks there’s a great empirical study waiting to be done here!

  2. I have been challenged with those 4 legs as work consumes my time and other things; the garden, time with friends and family all go to the wayside. And my work is no longer meaningful as it is not creative. I am looking forward to finding that meaningful work, and finding time with others. Nature and self are being worked on now. Great post Jean!!

    • Jean says:

      Hang in there, Donna. Do you have a date yet when you will be able to put your unmeaningful but draining work aside and take the time to regain your balance? I’m starting to count months and weeks. 🙂

  3. Nync says:

    I am so glad you are finding time to continue writing the blog during your busy fall semester, Jean. These posts are very helpful in others’ lives – mine, for example – and I eagerly look forward to reading about your next step into the future.

    • Jean says:

      Nync, Thank you so much for the encouragement. This kind of writing does fill the bill of challenging me both intellectually and creatively; if it also makes some kind of contribution to others, it could be a form of meaningful work for me in retirement.

  4. I could never imagine being old enough to ‘retire’ but after a successful business career I was somewhat mentally tired. Retirement is like everything else in life – some days are diamonds and some are stones. I love waking up when my body is ready and not when the alarm clock goes off, and I’ve taken up quilting in addition to sewing which is a whole new adventure. 🙂

    • Jean says:

      Judy, I am so much looking forward to retiring my alarm clock! I think I will be able to do it at the end of this semester, because I have a much lighter work load in the spring and will never need to be in the office before about 9:00 a.m. (as opposed to 7:30 this semester). Earlier this week, I was feeling grumpy about having to get up at 5:45 and leave home in the dark. As I walked to work, I started calculating dates in my head and realized that I have only 6 more weeks (ever!!) of getting up and walking to work in the dark. Yeah!!

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I am Jean Potuchek, a professional sociologist who has just stepped into the next phase of my life, retirement, after more than thirty years of college teaching. This blog is about my experience of that new phase of life.

Please join me as I step into my future.

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