Tipping the balance

15th January 2016 at 00:00

I’ve given myself a new-year life audit. Yes, the usual tedious self-improvement boxes need ticking. I should do more exercise than the familiar trudge between sofa and fridge. I should avoid the Pinot and lay off the pies. But there’s a more urgent issue: my social life, or lack thereof.

Most Saturday nights last year consisted of Penelope Keith’s Hidden Villages, viewed from beneath a slanket with my whippet for company. AND I ENJOYED EVERY SECOND. What? Who said that? I’ve taken my eye off the ball and turned into a helpline advert for lonely elderly folk.

It wasn’t always so. I used to have crowds of mates. I assumed that those people who smugly insisted “If you can count your friends on the fingers of one hand you’ve done well” must be unknowingly repellant.

Then it changed. Family life grew, a sensible career that I loved was born and, accidentally, my time and interest became absorbed by those pursuits to the exclusion of almost all social frippery. The family bit is completely justified and hugely fulfilling; the work bit is trickier to explain.

But – before you think this is a preamble to a whiny tirade about work-life balance, about how my supposed 40-hour week is actually 60-70 or more – let me tell you this: I chose it. I chose this life and if I’m not happy about how my time is distributed, I have only myself to hold accountable. So move on moaners. You are not welcome here.

We are responsible for our own work-life balance – I’m talking about people who have a career they chose, not the millions who struggle with multiple low-paid jobs just to keep a roof over their heads. In those circumstances, I’d guess the very idea of work-life balance seems like some daft, middle-class luxury.

I know we edu-sorts do far more than we’re paid for, but it’s not an exclusive club. I can’t think of any profession where the official hours match the contracted ones. When teachers discuss a few hours extra work in a way that suggests they deserve a halo or a cape, I want to run at them with a rusty shovel. Yes, educators do brilliant work. They change lives through learning. But that’s their job. It may be only a small percentage who publicly discuss doing extra hours with a tone of indignant self-sacrifice, but they don’t half do it loudly.

I hope people know instinctively when responsibility to students tips over into an exploitative organisational demand. But even then, there is choice and if you feel that there isn’t, it’s time to chat with your union rep.

Achieving a work-life balance can depend on how much of your work you perceive as a fulfilling part of your life. I love my work but this year, I will put more effort into nurturing friendships, resuscitating my social life and booting Penelope Keith out of my Saturday night routine. That’s what I choose.

Sarah Simons works in FE colleges in the East Midlands @MrsSarahSimons

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