For the first time, in 2014, I chose a word in Spanish for my word for the year. The word translates as health, cheers during a toast, and the phrase to say when someone sneezes, like when we say in English, “God bless you.” I decided to take some creative liberty with the different translations to frame the year as focusing on health: mind, body, and soul. At this season of life, I was recognizing the need to take my health more seriously and to look at it in a comprehensive manner. All to often I was shifting into survival mode as I juggled family, career and on-going professional development.
One manifestation of trying to maintain too many layers was weight gain, and I was concerned about the trajectory of my health if that trend continued. When I mentioned it to my doctor, she agreed that it would be good to lose a certain amount of weight and that it would likely be manageable to make some modifications and accomplish that in about 6 months. Yet, I did not want to just focus on weight when striving to lead a healthier and more sustainable lifestyle. At the start of the year I journaled in my album to document the experience, “[Having another baby and relocating our family] added to my overall weight gain, while all along I continued to reflect on what really matters to me in life. I want my top priorities to be faith and family, although, healthy decisions needs to be right up there in order for me to feel better physically and enjoy those aspects of life. Through life experiences and reading (books and blogs) and watching documentaries, I am starting to expand my concept of what it means to be healthy. I look forward to the transformations and growing I will make this year.”
Nonetheless, the year did not feel so transformational on the surface. I ended the year weighing more than at the start of the year. So many times it felt like more of the same – busy, busy, busy. One of the pages in my album is a photo of me holding my 1 year old. My hair is pulled back in a messy ponytail after a day of work. I can remember the exhaustion and overwhelm at that season of life. Alongside it I journaled, “I am realizing again and again that sense of feeling like I am drowning from time to time. Though I am getting better with the mental side of busy, today I have been feeling like the word to describe it is coping. Yet, I want to go beyond coping. […] When life feels like this, it seems that nutrition and exercise often take the back burner as I gasp for air or dog paddle, depending on the moment.” I listed out some intentions for moving forward toward a healthier direction and noted, “Here’s to the journey, embracing it all and continually reflecting.”
I captured photos of my family – reminders of what mattered more than what often consumed my time. I longed for a more peaceful, sustainable lifestyle. I documented the struggle of trying to prioritize between family and career, about why it was challenging to set boundaries, including the on-going tension of feeling like I was “enough” professionally. I noted, “I know that feeling ‘too busy’ gets in the way of some aspects of what I hold important. Yet, knowing this, it is still hard for me to say no, to hold back from opportunities that come my way that I really want to say yes to on a professional level, or when it comes to food, just because it tastes good. I want to think about what I really need as a physically healthy person, as well as in order to nurture the relationships I want to.” I crafted a vision for the summer focusing on routines, behaviors, mindsets, and nurturing faith and relationships. I recognized the need to evaluate what was helping vs. what was preventing me from enacting the vision.
During the year and reflecting back on it, I thought a lot about the process and challenges of change. I realized I thought choosing a word would mean automatically being able to make changes in alignment, but then the shifts did not just naturally and easily happen. Mid-year I noted, “Even though it is June and I’m definitely not there yet as far as dramatic lifestyle changes when it comes to healthy eating and reincorporating the spiritual focus, the continual focus and revisiting that comes along with this journey has most definitely impacted who I am and how I interact with others. It helps me to persevere.” I reflected on how many life changes we had navigated in the recent years in order to put into perspective and to acknowledge how torn I felt between different priorities.
I reflected on what I had previously implemented that made a difference that had slipped to the wayside and worked to reintegrate the practices in my life. At the end of summer, once again, I had not fully enacted what I hoped to, but noted, “I can’t do it all at once. Instead, I will celebrate what I can and consider what is feasible to layer in next.” With my desire to work towards a more healthy weight, I noted, “I wanted to choose this word to help me really focus on it. And then, life continued to happen. It was not as easy as just choosing a health related word. The focus I would need to take would result in some aspects of my life not going so smoothly (even though I know the health benefits would be an obvious advantage). I do still think about my original intent and the rationale. I don’t want to just throw up my hands, but I don’t want to focus so much on it that I miss out on other aspects in life either.”
As I read though different ideas, I documented that I felt stuck because some suggestions seemed like too much of a shift or some aspect sounded great, while others concerned me. My sister recommended just choosing something I wanted more of and focusing on that, rather than what I was trying to subtract, noting that as I provided my body with more of what it needed, I would not crave as much of what it didn’t need.
In September as I shifted into a new academic year, I reflected on how things felt messy. I thought about how there always seemed to be one thing that once I got past it, things would be better, but then there was already another thing or multiple things that overlapped. I reflected on what I needed to currently get though, but then noted, “And yet, I want to do more than just ‘get through.’ I am intentionally working on savoring the process and the everyday. […] I feel like there is so much going on, I can’t focus too much on anything related to my word other than my general mindset and coping in order to minimize stress. Here’s to self care, savoring the present, and looking ahead. Here’s to enjoying family.”
During this year, I became convicted that I should prioritize taking future summers off while my girls were young. I anticipated challenges with enacting this though and documented what I would need to do, “You need to keep telling yourself to not get trapped into tendencies to feel like you can never do enough at work. Sometimes it feels like a competition, and you need to remind yourself that you have your own priorities, and you are not competing with anyone. […] You need to make some decisions and voice those decisions with confidence.”
I acknowledged that enacting this would require courage. I began document what I was saying no to or what I wanted to build up courage in order to say no to or to stand firm in the decision should pressures or temptations arise. I considered others who were making similar choices in order to have inspiration that saying no was a real option. I noted, “I am trying to find that balance between professional drive and what I want for my family life, while also considering the financial implications.” I acknowledged that my ambitious to-do list filled with dreams I would love to accomplish left me feeling overwhelmed and the freedom that came with detaching from some and removing them from the list to alleviate unnecessary self-imposed pressure. The documentation showed why it was a messy process.
As I shifted into fall term, my vision entailed being intentional about my schedule, when I would access email, and specific times to have my door shut in order to say no to endless distractions. Amidst all the boundaries and limits I wanted to enact, I was conscious of what I wanted to intentionally say yes to at work, such as attentiveness to students and relationships with colleagues. As the term unfolded, I noted, “It continues to be apparent that it is vitally important to be thinking about saying yes and saying no.”
Nonetheless, I acknowledged the aftermath of saying no and how it could linger. Related to one particular no, I wrote, “Whether or not [comments] are intended as a jab, it feels like one. It can lead to that sinking, not enough that cuts so deep, especially when I am dedicating so much to [a certain project]. And yet, if I stand back and gain some perspective, I don’t regret my decision [for that limit]. […] I need to remind myself that my priorities won’t be others’ priorities and be grateful for being able to make choices because there are always choices. It might eventually come down to the very hard no of saying that I am unable to have a role [in the project].”
That capacity to acknowledge that I had choices, even when they were hard to enact, ended up being a game-changer. In November I thought carefully about what was actually required of me and the flexibility in meeting those expectations. I considered which choices would make the most sense to meet those expectations vs. which I should view as optional extras, not required. I mapped out what I would say yes to and what I wanted to say no to, acknowledging the challenge of letting go. Within the process I had to ask, “How can I say no to this [extra] when it is so important and aligns so deeply to my core convictions and passions as an educator?” The response in my mind, “Is it more important than your family?” solidified my conviction to firmly place it in my no column and follow through.
I scheduled a meeting to talk to an administrator about what I had discerned needed to be my boundaries and limits for the next academic year. However, once that person communicated with a higher up administrator, there was an email to the team conveying that I would no longer be involved in certain projects. The unexpected immediate shift stung, but I could see it as a blessing. Remembering why I had made that choice helped me to push away those feelings that arose in the process of needing to let go and move forward.
As the year concluded, I reflected on how I fell short of what I thought I would accomplish during the year by selecting the word; yet, I was able to see what was accomplished. I decided to focus on the progress that was made and to understand that change is a process. I also realized that I was still adjusting to some major life changes, even if they were over a year ago. I noted, “[Considering all the transitions] helps put where I am at right now in perspective. I want to be gentle with myself.”
I also realized the role of identity construction in that season of life. I wrote, “I am still reflecting on and processing who I am as a teacher educator and coming to grips with not being a K-12 teacher, with not teaching in my girls’ school, and with not working alongside their teachers as my colleagues. The shift is not always easy. I am trying to establish who my mentors are as a teacher educator and the sense of community beyond my immediate community of colleagues. I am trying to have a clear vision or a narrowed down focus to tether me to what matters most at work, to help me to reel in passions, and to help me realize what is feasible and what is unrealistic.”
Looking back, I can now see that the year that on the surface felt like more of the same or going in circles without accomplishing what I had hoped, was a critical year to lay a foundation for the work to come with different significant aspects of growth throughout the years since. I wrote more about that process in a post, Foundations Built with Whispers. The concept of comprehensive health has continued to be at the forefront of my mind, and with each layers of growth in a range of areas, I move closer towards salud. Even though the process looks messy on the surface, I can see God’s hand in leading me once I am able to step back and consider the bigger picture with a sense of awe at all of the pieces that God weaves together for my good (Romans 8:28).
Copyright 2021 Amanda Villagómez // Photo by Katie Smith on Unsplash