I’ve learned to not worry about work-life balance: I enjoy work, and I enjoy all things I do when I’m not working. I don’t worry about whether they’re “even.”
This past September, my main hobby was work. I was excited about the start of the school year, I woke up wanting to plan new ideas, write emails, talk to my teachers and students. I was energized by everything to do with my school, and even when unexpected events occurred, I felt the urge to pounce on them. I stayed late at work many days to finish projects or catch up, and I felt absorbed and engaged by it, like play.
Until it didn’t: a few weeks ago, I had the day off for a holiday. When I woke up, I felt more than anything that I didn’t want to work. When I checked my emails, each request seemed insurmountable. I felt tired. A voice in my head told me to start answering the emails—yet my impulse told me to go outside, to be around trees, and hike.
So I did.
Hiking is one of my passions. I developed this passion when I lived in South Korea for a year in 2004-2005 teaching English at a university. Korea is a country filled with green, jagged, story-book-like mountains, and hiking is a national pastime. When I was living there, it felt so easy to go on a hike: there were mountains surrounding the city I lived in, or if I wanted to go further, it was incredibly easy to hop on a train or bus and travel to a new mountain range. I was studying Korean, so I was able to speak to people and read maps to get around. There were mountains everywhere, with beautiful trails, lots of friendly hikers, and often a Buddhist shrine nestled somewhere along the route.
Back at my home in the Bronx, I saw I could simply follow my impulse to hike. I packed a backpack, picked a trail from one of my hiking books, and hopped in my car, driving an hour north to the Hudson Highlands.
While my picture of the “right” hike is meditative and spiritual, my hike was a fast, energetic scramble. I saw a few people along the route and said “hi,” paused at certain points to look at trees, enjoying the flashes of yellow or red leaves that were starting to change, and when I felt like running, I ran. Even though my hiking book had said the hike is three hours, I finished in an hour and a half, and then drove home while it was still late-morning.
Back home, I looked at my work emails again and suddenly, they were easy to answer. The answers were simple and obvious.
As the week went on, I found myself waking up earlier, wanting to go to work. I found time to exercise, to cook. I started to feel an easy routine.
It’s not exactly that hiking made my life easier or that hiking was better than work. It was more that I was following my impulse at that moment to be in nature, to do what I wanted to do, and know there was enough time for everything to be handled. It occurred to me that I had signed up for a seminar called Being in Nature, and what’s interesting is that I’m not looking forward to it as if it’s going to be better. I’m simply more conscious that there’s time for everything and that following my impulses is not unreasonable—my impulse to rest or to be in nature, my impulse to be excited about work.