What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?


I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

from The Summer Day, Mary Oliver, www.loc.gov/poetry/180/133.html

My friend and colleague Anne Ackerson and I just completed three webinars on leadership for the American Alliance of Museums. We were part of a larger teaching group that included Marsha Semmel from the Noyce Leadership Institute, Wyona Lynch-McWhite, Director of Fruitlands Museum, Nathan Richie, Director, Golden History Museums, Ann Fortescue, Director of the Springfield Art Museum, led by Greg Stevens, Assistant Director for Professional Development at AAM. If you’re interested, you can hear us by going here. The point of telling you that is only that in the final webinar, led by Anne, we talked about aligning your career goals with those of your organization. Among the many topics touched on was some lively “talk” in the webinar chat box on the question of work/life balance. Of course, the perennial question of how do you make time came up. That would be time not just for your soul, but to actually think about your career so you are shaping it rather than just letting it happen to you. These questions come trailing other questions about whether you’re in the right place, and if not, why not? But can you pause long enough to think about it?

This conversation stuck with me and when I heard Isabel Allende quote Mary Oliver’s poem (above) in a Ted Talk, I realized that we in the museum world don’t always take time to take care of ourselves. We work in a world that from the outside looks like a lot of fun, and as if there’s time to ruminate. A career path that is slow and easy. We know that’s not true. Instead, it’s a world where there is a fair amount of pressure.  It’s better if you have a graduate degree, either subject specific or in museum studies, and that costs you. Once you’re employed your starting salary may not be as much as a starting librarian or teacher, and you still have loans that haunt you. You’ll likely work hard, and depending on what department you’re in probably more than 40 hours some weeks. Your weekends may not be your own, especially if you’re in a leadership position.

And that’s where pressing the pause button comes in. The most obvious way to do it is to make the time. It seems so obvious people are often insulted when it’s suggested, but it works. More than a few of the 36 leaders we interviewed in Leadership Matters blocked out time on their calendars simply for themselves. And they did it weeks and months in advance. Those pause points included time with family, friends, mentors, career coaches, and exercise classes. The idea is that if an appointment is scheduled, you’re far less likely to let a meeting run over or stay at the office “just to finish this one thing.” We’ve all done it. And every time we do it, we kick our own self-care down the road. If you factor in caring for others–whether children or aging parents or time spent with a partner–self-care, even something as mundane as updating a Linkedin page– becomes close to impossible.

Why does any of this matter? Haven’t leaders since the dawn of time been the ones who worried about whether the weapons were sharp, the chariots tuned up, and the horses well fed NOT whether they were really motivated for battle? Yes. Is that healthy? Probably not. To be the best you can be, you need to understand yourself, know your strengths and weaknesses and the situations where you perform the best. You can’t do that unless you spend time reflecting–time only or mostly with yourself. So here’s some Leadership Matters advice from Anne & me for taking care of yourself:

  • Keep an accomplishment jar (that’s a picture of Anne’s jar up top). Over the course of the year write your accomplishments, big or small, on slips of paper and put them in a jar. Read them on New Year’s Day.
  • Give yourself some quiet time, whether a walk once or twice a week, meditation, worship. You pick.
  • Read outside your field!
  • Visit Roadtrip Nation and figure out your road map or MindTools to discover a decision-making tool that will help you focus your career direction.
  • Update your Linkedin page especially the summary statement. Make it succinct and make it great. Even if only strangers read it, you’ve done it. You’ve figured out where you are now–the first step toward where you might go.
  • Be open to opportunities outside of work.
  • Don’t let your default setting be “I’m too busy or too tired.”
  • Recognize a job that’s killing your spirit. If you can’t leave the job, reach outside of work to make yourself happier. If you can’t leave the town you’re in, define your skill set and look outside the field.
  • Don’t be like Marley’s Ghost. Work at moving forward not dragging the past behind you.

How do you press the pause bottom? Share them with us here.

Joan Baldwin


4 Comments on “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

  1. Trevor Jones says:

    I’m a huge fan of the Buddify meditation app — http://buddhify.com/ and I try to be disciplined enough to do a little every day.

    Regarding the work/life balance, I think people too often get hung up on having a balance all the time. Recognize that sometimes your life will be imbalanced and that’s OK. It’s the striving for balance that’s the important part!

    • Thanks for the tip about Buddify, Trevor, and for your insights about the work/life balance. I’m not quite so worried about work/life balance anymore; I’m focusing more on work/life *flow*, because I see my work and my life as all of a connected, complementary piece.


  2. I’m lucky that I have a job I really enjoy (kids’ living history programs) which is also seasonal. This gives me some natural breaks, but when the field trip season is on, it’s on like Donkey Kong. I have a great boss who is careful about scheduling to limit 40+ hour work weeks or 10+ hour days, but it’s still tricky to keep sane when you’re expecting 700+ kids per day for 8-10 weeks at a time (and there’s more during the year, that’s just the busy season!). I try to make sure that I’m doing more than just being at work or at home on the couch. If I go to the library, or walk over to a local coffee shop, or visit the weekly Thursday night Farmers’ Market at least once a week, it keeps the routine from being a drag. I’m also lucky that I find some “me” time in the things that have to happen like grocery shopping. My partner and I make a big deal out of a weekly grocery trip, and laugh and talk and plan meals. We also like to go for a walk once or twice a week which is an easy stress-reliever.

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