The constant pressure to achieve more, work harder, increase results, generate more money, and so on can be exhausting.
So, I wanted to share some things I’ve been mulling over in terms of holistic wealth and wellbeing, and what it means to use our time well.
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Holistic wealth: seeking a richness beyond money
One of the ideas that I’ve been playing around with for quite a long time is something that my good friend Jennifer Gonzalez from Cult of Pedagogy and I have discussed in our Voxer conversations, and she termed it holistic wealth.
If you are in the entrepreneurial world at all or have an online business, or a side hustle, you are probably aware of how much pressure is on entrepreneurs to be scaling, growing, and increasing in profits every single year. It’s exhausting and frankly, after the pandemic, it seems really silly and problematic in many ways.
So Jenn and I have talked about how we want to value other things in our lives besides just our work and things that bring income into the home. Personally, I have found myself in a place where I judge my days as being well spent if I got work done and I feel slightly panicky or behind or like I wasted time if I didn’t get work done.
That’s not a normal state for me because I’ve actively worked to counter that over the years, but I still have the programming from our culture which values work and making money above all else.
It’s actually a bit dangerous to do the thing you love for a living because getting paid to do something causes you to compromise on some of the things that you love about the work, you have to do things you don’t really want to do, and sometimes the thing that you love can become the thing you hate when you try to monetize it.
The danger of expecting perpetual growth and increase
One of the toughest parts for me is that I feel like I should be scaling and growing every single year. And I’m not. In the last couple of years, my income has been down from what it was before. But holistic wealth is about being not just wealthy in terms of money but in terms of satisfaction with your life and how your time is spent.
And in that sense, I am richer than I have ever been. I enjoy my life more now than ever before and I’m really satisfied with how I spend my time.
I want to resist the pressure to keep moving the goalposts on myself. If I accomplish X goal and achieve Y income, the expectation is that the following year I will double the goals and double the income. That’s really toxic and unsustainable, and it’s just a function of living in late-stage capitalism. The constant push to improve and grow is not only draining, but after a certain point, it becomes impossible unless you do things that are not ethical.
And I think there’s an interesting parallel that you can relate to as a teacher because the goalposts are always being moved on educators and students as well.
If you can get 95% of your students to meet grade-level standards, what would actually happen? Do you think you would be congratulated, given a raise, and allowed to just keep doing what’s working for the rest of your career?
Of course not. The powers that will decide the standards must be too easy if 95% of kids can meet them, and therefore, we need to move the goalposts and raise the standards. And if you have a problem with that, you must not care about kids. There’s nothing worse than a teacher with low standards, right?
And so every year we just keep expecting more and more from teachers and kids.
Accepting that there are limits to how much humans can do and accomplish in a given time period
I had a conversation with my dad over Christmas in which he reminded me that when he was growing up in the 50s, school was not mandatory for kids until first grade. He was seven years old when he had his first school experience. He did not know his letters or his numbers, nor was he expected to on the first day of school.
My dad, just one generation before me, stayed home and played until the age of seven, and learned the alphabet in first grade, and that was perfectly acceptable and normal.
First graders now are expected to be reading chapter books, and even kindergartners are expected to know at least some numbers and letters by the age of five. When I taught pre-K, we were required to introduce those topics to three-year-olds.
I’m not saying that schools didn’t need to change and evolve, and clearly more is expected from humans in 2022 than in the 1960s. It’s just a more complex world and you need more advanced skills to be successful in it. But child development has NOT changed that much in the last few decades.
My dad was able to be successful in first grade because the expectation was that he learn basic addition/subtraction and read simple primers like the Dick and Jane books.
The problem is that because he and others in his class were successful with it, some folks decided they need to be doing something more advanced and more advanced until you get to the point where we’re at now where what we’re asking of children is developmentally inappropriate and simply not possible for many kids.
I don’t think you’re really supposed to admit this as an educator because again, it makes it sound like you have low expectations which is one of the worst things that you can have, which is obviously not a good thing.
But there were many skills and concepts that I thought my third graders were just never ever going to be able to do really well until they were older and their brains were more developed.
For example, most of them were just not able to read the complex texts, which the year I left teaching there was a fifth-grade level text in our end of year standardized test, despite them only being in third grade and this test being a requisite for promotion to the next grade level.
I had kids literally crying because they could not understand what they were reading, and the questions they were being asked were so difficult I wasn’t even sure what the answers were without rereading the text several times.
This is goalpost moving. This is saying, “If we can get some kids to be successful some of the time at this particular goal, then we’re not being demanding enough. This is not rigorous enough. If ONE kid can do this, then we need to make ALL of the kids do it at the exact same time in their development.”
Resisting the pressure to rush on to the next goal
This sense of competition — wanting to be the best, and wanting to constantly improve — is inherent in capitalism as well as white supremacy culture. And that is exactly what we’re seeing play out in schools.
It’s not enough to be good. You have to be constantly getting better in every area at a significant rate. And if you master something and are at a level of expertise where there’s not much work left to do, then you as both a student and as a teacher need a new goal to work toward. We always have someone upping the ante and demanding more.
And what I’d like to offer are these questions:
- When do we get to enjoy what we’ve accomplished?
- When do we get to celebrate how far we’ve come?
- When do we get to enjoy the skills we’ve already built, and utilize the knowledge and wisdom we’ve already acquired?
- When do we get to take a moment to breathe, to look back on the past 2 years of this pandemic and say, “I’m still here, and that matters”?
The constant rushing on to the next goal, and pushing to be better and faster and do more in less time and be the smartest and make the most money is frankly exhausting.
Seizing moments of enjoyment, relaxation, and pleasure as part of holistic wealth
That pressure permeates every aspect of our society. I started off with this episode talking about how it impacts me and my business and the pressure that I feel to always be growing and scaling, and impacts education, and every other industry that you can think of.
It so important for us to resist this pressure, and I want to share a way to do that.
It’s the idea of holistic wealth, which I’ll extend here into holistic wellbeing.
I’m using that term to refer to wellbeing as something in which the things that you produce and accomplish are simply one part of your life that is no more valuable than the parts of your life that do not generate income or result in a specific product or outcome.
I created a list of things that make me feel balanced, and I try to hit all the things on that list at least once a week. The list includes things like yoga, going for a walk, creating art, and reading a book.
Let me tell you about that last one. I find reading a physical book in the daytime to be a great luxury. I often read on my Kindle before I go to sleep but I rarely get past one page before I’m knocked out.
So the luxury for me is reading a stimulating or enjoyable book in broad daylight when I could be folding laundry or emptying my email inbox or any other little task that’s nagging in the back of my brain. And choosing instead, to sit down in the rocking chair and just read a book. Not for a long period of time — frankly I don’t have a long attention span anymore for things that aren’t on the Internet. I’m talking about like 10-15 minutes.
The best is when I put on a jazz playlist on Spotify, light a candle, and have a cup of tea while reading a book. That feels like living to me. It is so indulgent and relaxing and luxurious and I just love it … 10 to 15 minutes of that just makes me feel like I’m really living my best life.
It’s not the only thing that makes me feel like that, but it’s on the holistic wellbeing list, because it’s very simple and quick, and if I’m intentional, I can do it pretty often. It’s certainly not hard to find 10 to 15 minutes to scroll through social media or watch TikTok. But I feel so satisfied when I close that book after 10 minutes, like I just took a beautiful moment in my day to do something I love.
So I keep a book or two on my coffee table as a reminder to grab it — one is about the history of the Pocono mountains and one is about moss because I love moss gardening — hardcover books on the coffee table, and I just grab one and I sit and I read.
That is holistic wealth and wellbeing to me: getting to read a book during my waking hours when I feel like I should theoretically be “getting things done”. It’s an experience that makes me feel rich in so many ways that matter apart from money. I’m not just rushing from one event to the next, or checking off mundane tasks on a list which brings me no real satisfaction. It’s choosing to do something that makes my life feel rich and fulfilling
And that’s something that I invite you to practice as well. Make a list of a handful of things that if you were to do them each week this month, you would look back at the end of the month and think, “There was a lot of hard work and mundane tasks and caregiving, but I also had some moments of pure enjoyment and indulgence.”
This could be physical movement, or participating in a hobby, or doing a fun family activity. Just list out some things that when you are able to find time for them in a week, you feel really happy. These are things that make you feel like your life is more than just working, more than just teaching.
These are things that help you look back on the week and think “Yes, I worked a lot, but I also had these wonderful moments of drawing and taking a dance break and having a glass of wine while cooking dinner and listening to my favorite album.” Whatever it is that makes you feel like you have holistic well-being, holistic wealth, holistic health, that you are rich in a way that goes beyond just money.
Activities that produce measurable goals are not more valuable than activities that don’t
The secret about this that has made it so powerful for me is that it helps me to value all the things on that list equally.
So I block off time for work on that list, because I feel good when I get work done. Like you, I enjoy my work and the field I’m in. I feel like I’m making a difference, and I like feeling prepared.
You might not particularly enjoy writing lesson plans, but that could be included under holistic wellbeing, because it would feel crappy to show up to your job completely unprepared and have no idea what you’re going to teach your students. Getting that done is an important part of feeling like you’re in balance and you’re living a good life.
I do block off time for work in my holistic wellbeing goals. I don’t list out specific tasks — so you wouldn’t need to write “grade papers” or “lesson planning” or anything like that — but it’s blocking off sessions. So maybe try two hours twice a week that you get things done at home, or whatever you need to do to feel like you’re balanced.
Maybe you’ve gotten to a point where you don’t bring any work home at all and that’s great, but if you’re working too much, see if you can factor this into your holistic wealth and wellbeing. You feel better when you feel on top of your job, so you could put that on your list.
Here’s the thing: those work blocks are on the list of things to do that are not work-related or productive, which means they now have equal weight. And that’s been the game changer for me.
Because I used to have a list of the things that I felt like I HAD to do and then once those were done, I could do the things that I WANTED to do. Whereas now, because I have this holistic wealth checklist in addition to my to-do list, I feel like the things that make me feel like I have a rich and satisfying life are all equally important.
For example, I did not get a lot of work done yesterday, however, I checked off several other things on my holistic wealth list. I went for a walk, I read for a couple of minutes, and I watched an old black-and-white movie on TCM, which is the only screen-related thing on my holistic wealth checklist because those old movies are so relaxing I almost always fall asleep in them — they totally down-regulate my nervous system, it just feels so good.
So that’s three things that I know I will look back on at the end of the week and be glad that I did. They were good for my mind body and soul, they allowed me to feel like I’m actually living my life, and not just fitting everything around work. They allowed me to feel like I’m making intentional choices about how I use my time instead of just doing the easiest thing.
The easiest thing when you have free time is to sit or lay on the couch and scroll on your phone or watch TV. And as wonderful and relaxing and fun as those things can be, we all know that too much of it just makes you feel like you’re wasting your life. I’ve had weeks when I felt like all I did was work and stare at a screen. I felt like I just didn’t do anything that made me feel alive and made me feel like I was enjoying my life.
But this week, because I already did three things on my holistic wealth list, I know I’m going to look back on this week and feel like I use my time well. Today, I’m carving out time to make art. I’ve been experimenting with alcohol inks a lot over the last couple of months and it feels so good, just to take 20 or 30 minutes and play around with some different techniques and see what small and beautiful thing I can create.
Incorporate activities that are valuable only to you
The time I spend making art is valuable to me, even though it is not valuable to anyone else. I have not monetized this hobby. I do not share it on social media. I do not do it for money or accolades or to impress anyone else. Often I make bad art that no one ever sees.
But that time spent making art is just as valuable to me as the time spent cooking a meal or earning a living or anything else in my day when I look at it from the perspective of holistic wealth and wellbeing.
This is a mental shift away from trying to maximize every moment and getting as much done as possible, and instead, being intentional with where my time is going and making sure I’m doing things that make my life feel rich and worthwhile.
Since the pandemic started, I’ve spent a lot more time cultivating hobbies. It used to be that work was my hobby. In my free time, I would blog and tweet and spend time in Facebook groups and connect with other educators.
But I got really burned out on that and burned out on being online and on a device in general, so I worked to develop more enjoyable ways to spend my free time. When I’m working, it’s with a specific purpose and clear goal in mind, and when I’ve gotten that done, I really try to get offline and enjoy doing other things in my life.
I didn’t work as much as I probably should’ve yesterday as I needed to catch up on some things. But the work is no more important than watching the movie honestly, because at the end of the day, watching that movie was so enjoyable and relaxing that I knew I would be happy I did it.
It matters just as much to my life satisfaction as getting my work done. Now today, I AM happy with that choice. And because I got to do a couple of enjoyable things yesterday, I felt so much more focused and energized today, and I’ve been able to catch up on what I needed to get done, including this podcast episode.
And that is my wish for you — that you would be able to identify some things that just add a richness and fullness and satisfaction to your life and see if you can incorporate more of those things with intentionality.
I set up my checklist in the Notes app on my phone so I can literally check things off as I go throughout the week and then restart the list the following week. This allows me to see all of the awesome ways I have used my time in ways that are good for my mind and body and soul.
And this is in addition to my weekly to-do list. If you are a 40 Hour Teacher Workweek member you know how much I love my to-do list which keeps me on track and helps me make sure I’m getting things done.
This is just a separate note in the notes app that I use to make sure that I am incorporating other things that I care about without adding them to a to-do list which is stuff that absolutely needs to get done.
This is about saying, “I’m tempted to just lay on the couch and scroll through Instagram. What else could I do instead that will make this week feel so much better?” And then I remember that if I pull out my watercolor set and pen and just spend 15 minutes making a little landscape it will make me so happy and feel so much better.
And some days, frankly, just laying on the couch and zoning out is going to be the better choice, because it’s all you’ve got to give. But if we want to make our lives about more than just working and getting through mundane tasks, we have to be intentional about holistic wealth.
Because otherwise, what is it all for? You’re working and trading so much of your time and energy and mental bandwidth in order to make money from your job, which is draining even though you love the job.
What is financial security if you’re miserable? What happens if you worked your whole life assuming that later you’ll get to enjoy your time and that later doesn’t come in quite the way you thought it was going to?
What if we can work AND enjoy life? What if we can resist the pressure to always be growing, scaling, doing more, setting new goals, improving ourselves, pushing kids further, doing more and being better, and instead say, “I am going to prioritize doing something in my life that generates no money, has no measurable outcome, has no set goal, and does not actually accomplish anything for me other than the fact that I like it?”
We can say, “I do It because it makes me feel good. It’s fun for me.” Or, “I just feel better after I’ve done it”. That is a counter-cultural attitude. It is a way to resist extreme capitalism.
And know that when I talk about capitalism, I’m not really thinking of it in a political sense, as in capitalism versus socialism. I’m just talking about how our culture and society operate in general, and recognizing the toll that extreme capitalism like we’re experiencing now takes on the human body, mind, and soul.
Certainly, I’m not against things like a free market. Given that I am an entrepreneur and I own my own business, I am simply recognizing that the way capitalism has been taken to such an extreme that every aspect of our society is just being pushed to the limit to produce as much as possible, as cheaply as possible, as fast as possible, without regard to the impact on the environment or people or mental health or physical health and well-being.
You know I always talk about a more human-centered way of education in which we care about the whole child and the whole teacher, and this really ties into that. If all we care about is making money or raising standards or meeting goals then we’ve lost the sense of humanity. We’ve lost that sense of care for the wellbeing of ourselves and others and our planet.
A richer, more satisfying life may not require impossible chunks of free time
There are lots of ways to return to that, and I hope that this offering of the holistic wealth weekly checklist is something that gets you thinking about a process that would work for you.
Maybe you hate the idea of a checklist, but try just writing some things down that help you feel balanced, and return to that list from time to time when you feel out of balance to see if you can incorporate more of those things. It can be very powerful to write or type it out and see in black-and-white what you need in order to feel balanced.
Because you know what surprised me? What I need to feel balanced is not nearly as time-intensive as I’d initially assumed. You might think that you need an entire day — or two, or three — every single week just to do absolutely nothing in order to recuperate, but you may find that if you give yourself smaller pockets of time to do things that are restorative throughout the week, that actually just a couple hours on a Sunday afternoon could be enough.
Sometimes we’re so overtired and overworked that we do need a longer stretch of time to recuperate, but when we have more balanced days more often, the recovery time is shorter.
And, many of the things that we really enjoy actually don’t take that much time. If friendships are super important to you, going out for coffee with a coworker once a week for an hour is really not that big of a time commitment. You could even incorporate that friend into something you’re already doing.
I used to go grocery shopping with a coworker friend who had young children and very little free time. After we got groceries, we’d go to her house and I’d hang out while we prepped veggies and stuff for the week. I just wanted time with her — we didn’t have to be out doing something super fun, just doing everyday life together made those tasks more enjoyable.
For someone feeling socially isolated or alone, that one hour can be so much more beneficial than just going home to get things done around the house or running errands. See if you can figure out another way for the mundane stuff to get handled or just drop the ball, and go out for the coffee. If the coffee is essential to your sanity, go meet your friend.
Notice how you feel afterward. And then the next time you feel isolated, don’t go home. Pop in to your coworker’s room, and say, “Can we go talk for half an hour? Will you go for a walk with me around the neighborhood by the school before we leave today so we can talk and I can get some fresh air and exercise?”
Look for those little moments like that which create memories and add a richness and fullness to your life. These things matter just as much as pushing kids to the next reading percentile or whatever other goal you feel like you need to be meeting.
Craft a life for yourself that feels worth living and enjoying now, rather than working and producing and doing ALL the time. Think of it as just a little experiment, and let me know how it goes. It’s not going to be easy, it’s going to be worth it.
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