Is This Thing Working?

As I type this, I am sitting in my apartment, my (bare) feet up, the laptop actually living up to its name for once. My browser has multiple windows open, including Gmail and Facebook. I’ve opened the front and back doors, inviting the pleasant breezes of a central Texas “fall” to pass through. The mug of decaf to my left won’t need refilling or warming for a bit, and I am stringing words together.

But am I working?

It’s one thing to work from home: most of the time, I set the computer on a desk, in the apartment’s other room, known variously as the bedroom or the Room of Purposeful Activity (as it contains not only my bed and desk, but also my digital piano). But reliable, high-speed Internet just as easily enables time-wasting as productivity. So, I ask, am I working?

I ask because much of the time, I honestly have to wonder. Rare are the days (in my life, and this economy in general) when work means starting and stopping at specific times designated done by others. Yet from my new vantage point of staffing fifteen hours per week at Clearview Sudbury School and working on CASE the rest of the time, I’m even less certain of what I ought to be doing at any given moment.

Sudbury school staffing (which I hope to explore in future posts) allows tremendous discretion in terms of what individuals should work on, when, and for how long. This morning, however, I realize that nonprofit-building is even more open-ended. There are dozens of things I might turn my attention to, give my day and week to doing. So what should I do now? What’s most urgent, what’s most likely to lead to funding, recognition, and support? Am I spending enough time on this? Can I (literally) afford to take much, or any, time for myself?

I don’t know. I don’t know what I’m doing, and that is not a particularly comfortable situation for me. It is, on the other hand, a reminder of why I’m so passionate about Sudbury schooling. Our students face this situation every day: they’re constantly immersed, throughout their schooling years, in such decisions as how to spend their time; what they want to do and learn; what’s important to them.

However, I did not have the benefit of a Sudbury education, and so I struggle even to know when I’m working and when I’m goofing off. Keeping track of the hours I spend working? One of the many things I’ve learned in my Sudbury years is that the longer you pursue your passion, the more blurred becomes the line between play and work. It reminds me of that saying, “Find a job you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.”

Yet the Sudbury life is not about the power of intention magically making your wishes come true. It’s about recognizing what drives you, yes, but then buckling down to do whatever it takes to bring those dreams to life. Often this involves intense grappling with one’s weaknesses and fears, pushing oneself over, through, and/or past  obstacles both of one’s own devising and the status quo.

It also means foregoing the superficial, illusory comforts of such benchmarks as knowing when to start and stop working, having some idea of how much time to pend working and how well one is doing. All those things become a matter of personal, subjective determination. Am I succeeding? Am I making adequate progress? Well…can anyone but each of us, individually, decide these things?

Okay, that’s all well and good—but where does it leave me? When I take a moment to scan Facebook or read a new email, am I taking time off from work? When I worked in a typical office environment, or even a conventional school teacher, it was much easier to know these things: so long as I met external deadlines and garnered satisfactory performance ratings, I could relax and fit in the odd email or moment of daydreaming (or several emails/moments, depending on the job).

However, now my success at least appears to rest largely on my own shoulders (Can I find sustainable funding to keep doing the things I love before my savings run out?), and thus I don’t enjoy the luxury of a game with fairly straightforward rules that’s relatively easy to play. Goodbye, guaranteed-income-so-long-as-I-don’t-screw-up. Hello, uncertain-trail-blazing.

Still, comparing a traditional life with its siren-like call of security and to the one I’m actually living, I recall Helen Keller’s quote: “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing” and Thoreau’s wish to “live deliberately…and not, when I had come to die, discover that I had not lived.” Not bad company, those two.

So here’s to life: to living boldly, embracing the constant challenges and massive uncertainty, putting it all out there and trusting my intuition and passion.

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