Have you ever felt that life is like one of the Queen’s guard, marching backward and forward without acknowledging anything you do? You could jump up and down, bend over backwards, give them a quick flash, scream your lungs out, or even do 5 backflips and land each one on your fingernails. They will just carry on doing what they’re doing. Or you might feel like life resembles one of Japan’s bullet trains; speeding past everything you see, while you have no control over how fast it’s going or when it stops.
We’ve probably all felt like this at one point or another. So how do we slow it down? Or make it pay attention to us? How can we start to feel like we are in control and can steer things the way we want them to go?
We have to realise that life is what we make it. Sure, we often find ourselves in circumstances that are beyond our control. Occasionally, some of those may be horrific and life-changing events, and those are probably beyond the scope of this article. But when we are talking about dealing with every day, normal life events - we can choose how that works out.
There are strategies we can put in place to ensure that we construct a life for ourselves that is strong, stormproof, comfortable, and will not fall down at any moment. I call it “building foundations for life”.
Just as we are all different people, with different interests, needs, personalities and experiences; not all foundations look the same, or are built from the same materials. But there are some essentials that are common to all structures which ensure their strength and longevity. Same goes for people.
These are my top 3 ways to begin building foundations for life.
Number 1: Get organised
You cannot feel like you are in control if you do life haphazardly. For me, being organised means making lists, schedules, rosters, setting alarms, using calendars, digital memos and using any kind of technology that will help me get things done faster. I am so busy that I don’t have a lot of margin for error. If I didn’t use the tools available to me, life as my family knows it would fall apart within a week. I know I’m not alone in this. Our society runs at such a fast pace that life can easily speed off without us, sometimes sending us metaphorically flying head first into the STOP sign in front of us.
So, my advice is: make a list of everything you have to do, and make sure you have time to do it. Be realistic. It might take a few drafts to make it work. Stick to the schedule, and if you fall off the band-wagon, forgive yourself and try again. Prioritise and cull if need be. But make sure you don’t cull the important things like…
Number 2: Look after yourself
I know, you’ve heard it all before. Healthy eating, sleep, exercise, time to yourself….
Believe it or not, these things actually matter. Ever tried to wrangle a class of 30 kids into settling down to learn something on a Friday afternoon when you’ve only had half a night’s sleep? I bet you have! It doesn’t end well, and you end up kicking yourself for giving in to Netflix the night before. Some of us take this a few steps further though, and instead of staying up late for Netflix once in a while, we’re staying up late consistently, because we are behind on things that need to be done. We’re eating take-away because it’s faster than cooking our own meals. We’re not exercising because we don’t have any energy left. And we certainly aren’t taking time out for ourselves to relax and enjoy life, because “Ain’t nobody got time for that”. So, because we are under-nourished, tired and unfit, the fun is sapped out of life, and we can’t bring our A-Game to anything we do.
One of my favourite quotes around self-care is “You can’t pour from an empty cup”. As teachers, you are asked to give of yourselves all day, every day. How can you do that with any kind of consistency or effectiveness if you are so worn down that you have nothing left to give? If you don’t look after yourself, you can’t look after anyone else. Self-care is definitely a foundation for life.
Number 3: Look after your relationships
This is a topic that’s hard to cover in a few sentences, as there are so many issues that affect our relationships. When we’re thinking about beginning to build foundations for life, we’d have to start with family. These are people that you see every day and, at the end of a long day, we often treat them with less courtesy than we would a stranger. The people that we love are the ones that endure all of our emotion, all of our selfishness, and all of our “I’m done with life” attitude. It’s not an easy thing to achieve, but we should be reserving the best of ourselves for our families. We have always told our kids that they will have to put up with each other for the rest of their lives, so they’d better learn how to get along! When it comes to the people we live with, I can’t think of a better attitude for all of us to take.
My husband likes to use this analogy: Relationships are like a piece of paper. If you look after it and treat it well, it won’t get any creases in it. One day, you might get angry and take out your frustration on the piece of paper. You crumple it up and throw it, then you retrieve it, only to start ripping it up. After a while you calm down. You realise that there was something important on that piece of paper, and you need it. You sit down and pain-stakingly put the pieces back together like a jigsaw puzzle, and then you tape it all together. But no matter how perfectly you tape it, the paper has obviously been damaged. The same is true for relationships. We may have a good relationship with our partner or kids. But sometimes we get frustrated, upset, or tired and we unleash all of that emotion on them. Every negative interaction is like crumpling the piece of paper, or tearing it up. We can go back and apologise later, but that relationship will always wear the consequences of our tantrums.
We need our family relationships to be supportive – a place where we know we are loved and supported, and where we give love and support. It’s hard to feel like life is under control if our relationships aren’t running smoothly.
So there you go – those are my top 3 ways to begin building foundations for life. Of course, there are so many more areas that we could look at, and that are important. But for any of you that are feeling like life just isn’t working at the moment, this is a great place to start. We can all build lives that stand strong and stable if we construct them with the right materials.
What areas do you think are important when building foundations for life?