The longer the vacation, the tougher it is to get back in the swing of things. The end of summer break is brutal. I dread receiving the first email about our upcoming professional development days. I cringe when I pull up Google Reader, bracing myself to read about other people’s back to school preparations when all I want to think about is sleep and relaxation. I groan as all my real-life teacher friends in ‘early start’ states regale me with tales of back-to-school woe and remind me of what’s in my very near future.
The weeks fly by as my husband and I travel extensively, visiting friends and family, attending weddings, and celebrating our second anniversary. I try to pretend like school and work do not exist. I avoid my blog and website like the plague for almost the entire summer. I return emails when I can put it off no longer, but serious reflection and work? Not happening.
I go through this same phase every summer. I want a break– no, I deserve a break. So I take one. And then after a reasonable week or two or three of activities that are blissfully education-free, I find it nearly impossible to get myself back into gear. The break no longer feels like a well-earned indulgence and morphs into a persistant avoidance that hangs over my head so that I can’t enjoy my freedom. I know it’s time to dip my toes back in the work-related waters, but just can’t bring myself to exercise the necessary self-discipline.
You’d think after 12 consecutive summers of experiencing this phenomenon, I would have figured out how to mourn the end of vacation time and transition smoothly into fall. Yet somehow, each July and August, I am always stunned by my own inability to face reality.
After a particularly unproductive couple of days reading celebrity gossip and fashion blogs while lying on the couch and eating Snickers Peanut Butter Squares, I realize that avoiding work is only going to make things worse. Relaxing is not all that fun when you haven’t done anything strenuous in between. The only way to feel good about the way I’m spending my time is to face the tasks at hand.
I remind myself that I love what I do. No, I won’t enjoy getting up early in the morning when the sky is still dark and there’s a chill in the air. But I know that I’m fulfilling my purpose when I do it anyway. I’m changing lives. I’m helping kids and teachers. My efforts make a difference.
This summer has been all about pleasure: a time of indulging the senses and doing what I feel like doing. But the reward for pleasure is only immediate. Its effects fade quickly.
Gratification is something different. An honest day’s work spent meeting the needs of other people produces true gratification, and is satisfying in ways that linger on long after the discomfort is a distant memory. Truly gratifying acts create a sense of purpose and productivity that sustain us through the hard parts of life and leave us with a deep sense of contentment and meaning.
It’s time for work. I know it won’t always feel good in the moment, but it will feel good at the end of the day, to know that I’ve used my energy for something that lasts and means something. I am embracing the work.
I’m telling myself that I’m ready to create change. I’m ready to make an impact. I’m moving forward with purpose instead of resisting the change. I’m focusing on things that matter and loving the opportunities I have to use my gifts and talents.
Summer is short. And that’s okay. If we can keep focused on the big picture, we’ll remember that the season for work doesn’t last long as long as we think, either. More opportunities for relaxation and pleasure will sneak up on us, delighting us with a break from the routine just when we think we can’t go another moment. And until then, we have the gratification of meaningful work to sustain us.
The feelings of contentment don’t have to disappear just because the summer is ending. Those feelings are always possible…if we choose to stop and pay attention to the meaning of the present moment. We can rush our lives away, waiting for the next instance of short-term pleasure, or we can find satisfaction in whatever is happening here, right now.
I still have a long way to go in the areas of mindfulness, gratitude, self-discipline, and contentment. But the end of each summer always brings another opportunity to practice, and more and more, I find myself valuing the things that bring gratification rather than mere pleasure.
How are you feeling during these dog days of August? What are YOU doing to gear yourself up for another school year?
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