It isn't the time.
We never seem to have any time. Despite the numerous bank holidays, I’m having a lot of conversations about trying to fit everything in with colleagues and friends at the moment. The past two months, have helped me to re-evaluate what time really means and have helped me find perspective in a way I wasn’t expecting. Whilst I wouldn’t wish them on anyone, the past two months have changed how I perceive, time, work, the world and myself.
In my own struggles with time management, in the past I’ve sought help from colleagues whose opinions I value and respect…
When I spoke to a well-regarded academic about time management, they said to me, ‘it’s not about what you’re deciding to do. It’s about being conscious about what you could have been doing with that time… what you’re giving up… that’s important.’ That hit me like a ton of bricks. To be a school leader, parent and student all at once means that time I am walking a tightrope between three important priorities. How do you fit it all in? Where do you find the time?
I sought advice from a fellow senior leader who encouraged me to be a B grade student. “You can’t be brilliant at everything”, he said. “So be OK at everything.” For a while, this theory panned out. As I returned to work as a new mother, I intentionally gave myself the slack that new mums aren’t usually inclined to give themselves. I divided my time and my brain into three. However, the longer I tried this, I found that this theory doesn’t apply to a default parent and school leader. The things you are trying to balance are so important. I work to improve outcomes in a wonderful, complex and challenging context. I can’t let down the kids. I can’t waste a precious minute of time with my son, what if he grows up to be a psychopath? How do I get time on my side? How do I do it all in one day?
Then one Friday afternoon, time stood still as two lines slowly revealed themselves. A positive pregnancy test. My boy was just about to turn two and my first reaction was to worry about how we’d cope. Where would we be able to spend quality time with two? Would we be ok financially? What about my career? All the things you’re allowed to think and worried about. For weeks afterwards I could barely think about anything else. But then the symptoms stopped. I knew something was wrong.
A lifetime of love and worry for the child that could have been, compressed into a weekend of waiting before being told they were already gone on the Monday.
‘It just wasn’t your time’ they said. With tilted heads and comforting words. I realised then, it isn’t time at all. In the short window I’d thought about what it would be like to be a mum of two, my mind stretched for years ahead. Planning with vision and clarity. Subsequently, I lived what felt like a decade in the four days I took to recover away from work. The whole thing was over in two months and yet it has aged me.
Time isn’t a line (sorry fellow history teachers). It’s a ball of dough that can be cut and pulled. When we say we don’t have the time, we are saying there is too much that we could be doing with our time. Too many conflicting priorities. The last two months have taught me that if I can fit all these feelings, hopes and fears into a few weeks, then I can plan around the meetings, parents evenings, deadlines and play dates if I remember that I can control how heavily they weigh on me.
It's not that the day-to-day things aren’t unimportant, but they aren’t what time is really about either. This is what my lecturer has learnt in her own way. She acknowledges and grieves the version of herself she could have been, but decided not to be. The same is true for my colleague, who tames the hydra of responsibility by feeding each of it’s many heads equally in turn. For me, it’s about knowing my mind’s control over my perception of time. If I remember that time is mine to stretch and pull, I feel like it’s master and not the other way around.