Some people are born with innate coordinating abilities and talent for balancing their daily schedule. Some people have reached peak performance in managing both their work and personal lives, and they are the champions of booking travel tickets and accommodation weeks, even months, in advance. For them, this skill is apparent in all their life’s aspects, and it is reasonable for them to apply this super-power both at work and at home: I look at these supreme organized care-givers from afar and note how punctual they are in their working life and how they have never missed a doctor’s appointment in their personal life…
And then again, some people are highly functional in one of those two lives, and would rather be more aloof when it comes to the other one. So, when there is room for only one point of focus, this often turns out to be the one that earns them a living. Counting myself among those folks, once we all became remote workers, one reality started to spill over to the other. My well-hidden goofy personal lifestyle was about to be revealed to my colleagues and students!
Work tasks started to become jumbled up and deadlines lost all meaning once they were thrown in the mix with house-painting projects and vet appointments for the pup’s annual shots. And the feeling of accomplishment that came with excelling in at least one of life’s aspects, my work persona as an efficient Business English Instructor, just went out the window
So, struggling to protect the image of the super organized professional and not lose face with my team, I felt the stress levels that were once under control, rising. Teleconferencing and teaching from home brought the panic mode to a new level, as I worried about untidy backgrounds and half-painted walls and doorbells ringing mid-meeting for forgotten grocery deliveries.
I had been familiar with online teaching way before the pandemic, but it was conducted within specific times and limited to teaching hours. But now, everything else: needs analyses, Academic briefings, Team meetings, Coordinator feedback, exchanging updates with the rest of my colleagues, all made for a continuous need for online presence.
Blurry and inspired backgrounds were needed, headsets were always muted unless it was my speaking turn, the pup was locked away, whining most of the day, phones were on silent mode…
But it was a lot to keep track of…
Until one day, I turned this stress-inducing spotlight back onto my colleagues and students. And you know what I saw? That we were all struggling together. I held myself accountable for things that I really did not recognize were happening to everyone else as well. Even to those talented superhuman organizers! And you know who pulled that unhealthy-guilt-ridden sheet back from my eyes? A four-year-old with an insatiable appetite for discussing his toys. He decided to join his very well-organized super parent (whom I admired for seemingly separating their personal/work realities so well and for always being on top of everything) for an update on his latest dinosaur-related escapades which, I think, also involved spacemen, during a client-supplier meeting. I initially thought his caregiver was going to be mortified by the intrusion. But then quickly found myself among the rest of the team, not only patiently waiting for the young boy to finish his story, but asking him questions and then thanking him for his feedback on the T-Rex. His mom started to apologize only to be met with genuine words of encouragement and friendly chuckles. And everyone went on to quickly share similar incidents before returning to the agenda.
It was instant relief and such a soothing feeling of comradery! We were all in the same boat. First things first: I let out the dog and apologized for keeping it grounded for no reason and promised to only confine it during training sessions.
As time went by, of course, I believe we all became much more adept at handling this new lifestyle that has brought down the walls separating our two personas. Honesty, humility and understanding have gone a long way in building the empathy we now share for each other. And I am very happy it took this tiny dinosaur expert to give me a much-needed wake-up call (and also some useful facts about fossils).
Written by Mary K. (LTES Business English Instructor)