Permission to Push Pause

By: Britany Ellerbrook

Oregon women in higher education,

You are specialists, technicians, assistants, advisors, developers, instructors, counselors, coaches, coordinators, directors, deans, provosts, and presidents. You care deeply about the students and the communities you serve and the quality of education, services, and experiences your institutions provide.  You are also sisters, daughters, spouses, mothers, grandmothers, mentors, friends, and colleagues.  You care deeply for your people. If you are anything like me, you are generally quite good at taking care of everyone else’s needs before your own.  

Most of us in higher education operate on the academic calendar, so June, July and August are spent working AND jam-packing as much fun and adventure as we can into our summer (doesn’t’t everyone in Oregon live for our glorious summers, or is it just me?) and before we know it the new school year is upon us.  

I entered this fall depleted and fatigued; having returned to work after my maternity leave about the time my son was teething and still waking up 3-5 times per night. Much of my maternity leave was spent selling our house, buying a different house, and then moving our family. I felt like I had sprinted a marathon. 

Now, we are entering that time of year known as “The Holidays” (between November and January, there are approximately 30 holidays observed by 7 of the world’s major religions- http://www.interfaithcalendar.org/ ) and regardless of which ones you celebrate, the next 2 months are a time of additional activities and added stress.

So, if you find yourself rushing to and from meetings or appointments or classes, apologizing for being late while you skip lunch, checking email on your phone at home, too frantic and frayed and exhausted to kick the addiction to productivity and busy-ness; please push pause for a moment, slow down and find a pace that is that is manageable for you. 

Marjorie Pay Hinkley quote

In some ways, I feel I’ve pushed the pause button on my career.  After having my first son 3 years ago, my husband and I made the decision that I would to return to work, but reduce my schedule from full-time to part-time.  This was scary at first.  All my life, I’ve been driven to achieve, succeed, work hard; the girl who hustles gets ahead.  Slowing down and resting, admitting I was tired (never mind I’d just had a baby), cutting down my hours from full-time to part-time felt like weakness… this was not for high-energy, high-capacity, high-achieving people like me.   It felt like climbing down the career ladder rather than up it. (I much prefer the concept of a career lattice now.) 
We all have identities and beliefs about ourselves and for a long time, I associated my self-worth with my accomplishments.  Far too much of my identity was wrapped up in my career and the goals I could achieve.  But then I became a mother and I have these beautiful babies, and now it is important for me to be home with them. It is also important for me to keep something on my resume, and have an identity that complements my role as a mother, working part-time right now is a pace that feels manageable to me.  I’m learning to find my self-worth in who I am, not in what I can do.

I’ve also learned that pushing pause for a while has not been detrimental to my career.  In the three-years that I have maintained part-time employment, I have been approached to apply for positions that would amount to a promotion.  These have all been full-time positions, so for now, I’ve been able to say- “I’m interested in that job in the future, just not right now.”  

We’ve all heard about work-life balance. I struggle with that concept because I don’t always leave work at work or leave my personal life at the door when I go into my office.  Achieving a perfect balance doesn’t seem feasible; there are times when work demands much more of my time and energy than my personal life.  With a toddler and an infant, my personal life requires much more of my time and energy than my job does right now.  Many of my co-workers are also my friends and we share personal information about our lives with one another. Work-life weaving is an analogy which better fits my experience of life and work.   This is what I have observed of women who effectively weave their work and life together:  they have learned the art of recognizing their own needs.  
What do you need this season? I think a lot of us need to slow down, rest and find a pace that works for us.  Here are some obvious suggestions for pausing, but far too few of us take time for these often enough and I thought we could use a reminder. Pick one and do it this week.

Turn of your TV, close your laptop, silence your cell phone, and start that book you have been meaning to read.

Take a bubble bath.

Let go of some of your holiday expectations and simplify the schedule, the decorations, the meals.

Find joy in a little moment and share your gratitude for your blessings with someone you love. 

Take a nap.

Hug your spouse/children/roommate/pets extra-long before you leave for work/class.

Go to bed early and actually get 8 hours of sleep.

Binge watch that TV show in your pajamas on a Saturday morning. 

Schedule lunch (preferably off-campus) with a colleague or friend. Take your full hour lunch break.

Graciously say “no, thank you” or “let me get back to you on that” before committing to another activity/party/get-together/volunteer opportunity/work assignment.

Push pause for a moment.  Weave your work and your life together and find a pace that works for you.  I give you permission.

About Britany Ellerbrook

Britany earned a Bachelor’s degree in French from Linfield College where she spent her junior year studying abroad in France.  She has a Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership and Policy from Portland State University.   She began her career in education as a high school French teacher.  She has been employed with the University of Oregon as a study abroad coordinator and at Chemeketa Community College in Career Services. She is currently an Admissions Counselor at Clackamas Community College. She lives in Tualatin, OR where she is outnumbered by the males in her life: her husband Matt, their 3 year old and 8 month old sons, and their cat Benji.  During her commute to work, she routinely finds herself listening to “The Wheels on the Bus”, “Pop! Goes the Weasel” and “The Muffin Man” before realizing she dropped her boys off at daycare 20 minutes earlier and there are no children in the car.  She’s on a continual search for authentic French crepes and croissants and the best ones she’s found in Oregon are from La Provence, so if you are interested in networking, there’s a good chance she will meet you there for lunch or happy hour.

Connect with her at Britany.ellerbrook@clackamas.edu or www.linkedin.com/in/britanyellerbrook

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