Like many of the people who write for this blog, I’ve been crazy busy since the shift into Fall. I worked all summer, but it still felt like I floated from bike ride to canoe trip to gentle sweaty run. Now, not so much.
I’m not technically an academic, but I work in academic healthcare, and September hits like a giant wave. I’m a partner in a tiny consulting firm, and we are officially busier than we’ve ever been. It’s amazing, important, chewy work that tests my limits, but there are only so many minutes to shift around in any given week. I’m already tired of saying that I’m tired.
One of my work gigs is teaching in a leadership program for physicians and scientists with new, senior academic jobs. These are people well into their careers and lives, usually juggling about three jobs, and they are often the same people others might ask for advice about balance. But one of the most common questions I get from them is about how to balance it all. The most frequent thing I hear — mostly from the women — is that they feel like they never have a moment to breathe.
I don’t have any more answers than they do. But their questions make me think about it, be more intentional. When I get into this work mode, the whole question of fitness shifts for me from “how can I achieve amazing things with my body and movement?” to “how can I manage to cram a little bit of exercise, enough sleep, semi-healthy food and breathing space into this relentless work cycle?” In other words, fitness becomes about balance, not achievement.
In the past three weeks, I did two things that were about balance. One makes sense at first glance. The other, not so much.
The first thing was that I started outsourcing things I normally do for myself. I live alone (with a tiny cat). I have a cleaner every two weeks, but other than asking handier friends to occasionally do stuff for me I can’t do, mostly I manage to run my not complicated home. But I was traveling, and busy and felt like I was barely managing to keep eggs and avocados in the house. So I jokingly put out to the world that I needed some sort of “minion,” and ended hiring my excellent, competent cat sitter as a personal assistant for a few hours. She got my car detailed, bought some groceries, returned wine bottles that had floated around for a while, arranged for the BBQ cleaning guy to come, got a lamp rewired, and just generally did all sorts of stuff that I had been letting pile up around the edges. This gave me some breathing space and made me feel like I was able to focus on the things I needed to focus on — and also gave me the momentum to arrange for someone else to replace a toilet, install a light fixture, and measure for blinds I’ve needed for more than a year.
So what did I do with that time and space? I invited 13 people for Thanksgiving dinner.
It seems counter-intuitive, but I decided to spend a good chunk of my long weekend shopping, cleaning, finally retrieving my great-grandmother’s china from my ex’s house and cooking. I thought long and hard about what would really feed me during this busy time, and I realized it was feeding other people. Community and gratitude are two essential elements for fitness for me. I can forget to remember that — so picking a menu, figuring out the different streams of veggie, gluten-free, dairy-free and carnivorous options, and making most of the meal myself — was an act of self-care, an act of self-love and gratitude. I asked a few people to bring sides and dessert, and I assembled everything else.
I did as much as I could the day before the actual dinner, so on Monday, while the turkey cooked, I was able to go out for a short run on the most beautiful October 10th possible. It was a perfect, glorious half an hour, just me, grateful for my body that still mostly moves more or less in ways I hope, grateful to be here, in Canada, where the people I love, work with, know are all trying to make the world a more equitable place.
My bio family is in other places, so it was my chosen family for dinner. Some of them know each other well, and some knew no one. But we gathered, we connected, we expressed gratitude. And ate. And ate. (And did some weird things with the cheese platter and catnip mice. There might have also been wine).
I was so busy chatting that I forgot to take a photo of the perfectly crisped, organic, pricey and delicious turkey. But my friend Alistair carved it beautifully, and it was delicious with the gluten free gravy I’d made the day before, the veg he and his partner brought, the squash and greens Jackie brought, the cranberry sauce from Stephanie, the desserts from Eli and B.
People kept saying that the dinner was a lot of work. It was. But it was the kind of work that feels like an act of community-making, the kind of work that feeds and sustains me as I throw myself back into the thornier, headier questions of my other work. Floating on a wave of gratitude.
Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who works as a consultant and educator in the space of strategic system change in academic healthcare in Toronto, focusing on creating sustainable, socially accountable healthcare communities. She also coleads an all-volunteer learning and development project for orphaned and vulnerable youth in Uganda called Nikibasika. Her other blog is fieldpoppy.wordpress.com.