Photograph by Satendra Mhatre

The best advice I ever received about living outside the USA and teaching in general: “Learn how to say no.” My dear friend Dawn reminded me that the culture of international schools is to encourage a huge involvement in the school community, almost at times at the expense of your own personal life. When she first told me this, I dismissed it thinking of course it is good to be involved in the community. But after some thought, I appreciate and understand exactly what she was thinking. What I should have noted from our dialogue was the phrase at the expense of… Really, anything that includes a phrase like that is something to be concerned about. I strive for balance in my life and saying no allows me to achieve it. I must admit this year was a year of yes and I have felt overburdened this year as a result. I love projects and helping and fixing and supporting (you name it), however if you give too much to all of these endeavors, what is left for you? For your family? Friends? Your art?

If there is a year I have felt a time crunch for art making this is the year. And I believe that is directly tied to my year of yeses. My personal goal for the next year is to limit my yeses and focus on one or two meaningful activities within the community so I can also maintain my creative and personal life. I will give more freely to all of the activities I wish to commit to if I am not feeling a time constraint due to my number of commitments.

Now, this will be an interesting journey as I transition my job in my current community to a role of greater leadership and time commitment. But that is exactly why it is so important to learn how to say no. I plan to be at as many school events as possible, but that doesn’t mean I can’t bring my camera and learn how to take more action shots or photos of my community to channel some of my creativity at the same time. I can make a day every week for my yoga, and my art. And with all of these activities I can learn to be more present and active and committed, but not at the expense of anything. If I allow myself that time for reflection, for creativity and for my health I will have more energy for the commitments I make and generate more ideas. Creativity is important to all aspects of our lives and I must do things to honor my creativity if I want it to infuse into  most of my life. And I want to model this balance to my peers and my students.

I had a wonderful conversation with my friend Kim today about exactly these things. We are both big goal setters and “go-getters,” which probably allows us to achieve many things, but can also hamper our mindfulness and creativity if we get too caught up in the “go.” And we both agree that you can get lost in these details of the too many commitments and forget why you are committed to any of them. Let’s prevent that burn out together and ensure our creative success! How do you create balance in your life?

BE COURAGEOUSLY CREATIVE: Find a friend who you can pair with and share all of your yeses and nos with. How do they respond to the number and quality of your commitments? Do they align with your respective goals? Having a friend you trust reflect with you can help assure your concerns or reinforce your decisions!