We humans are, for the most part, creatures of habit. Any parent reading can testify to the importance of routine in a child’s life. As adults, we value stability and predictability, and prefer our breaks from the everyday to come in neat little 1- or 2-week blocks of vacation time. I suspect that even the most adventurous and nomadic among us still appreciates a reliable meal, an on-time train, and a warm bed at day’s end.
Life’s small routines – where we get our morning coffee or which car we sit in on the commuter rail – can link us to our neighbors and offer a daily point of connection to our community. Our grander routines – think reunions, holidays, or that annual family camping trip – allow us to mark the passage of time. They provide continuity, memory, and the shared experiences that create and sustain relationships.
My pre-sabbatical routine was pretty, well, routine. I’d wake up around 5:30 or 6ish, exercise, shower, and drive to work, arriving at my desk before 8am, when the office was still quiet. I’d work until 6pm or so, drive home, eat dinner with my husband, then read or watch TV for a few hours before going to bed. And repeat…
As soon as I stopped going to work every day, waaaay back at the end of May, I felt completely adrift without the structure that my work routine provided. When you remove 8-10 hours of work and at least 1.5 hours of commuting, you’re left with a lot of day to fill.
Happily, the work-day routine was replaced by the routine established in France. My in-class hours adhered to a very strict schedule, and our after-hours time also took on a shape and structure (although admittedly a loose one, which normally involved a search for food). It’s funny, in retrospect, how quickly I created a routine in France, when I had so longed for a change of scenery and a new adventure.
Since I’ve been back from France I’ve had the luxury of time, but almost immediately I set about making a schedule for myself, mostly so I didn’t feel like I was wasting that time. I have a routine again, but I’ve noticed that the components of that routine are more varied. Before, I might have just sat in front of the TV for an hour before going to bed, because it’s what I normally do. Now, I look around for alternatives, and I’m just as likely to spend that hour reading, blogging, writing letters, conjugating French verbs (yes, I really do that), practicing the harmonica or taking a walk.
It’s not as if those options weren’t available to me before. But I find I’m more open to them, and I’m more conscious and mindful of how I use my time. I’m a bit more self-critical. I mean, what is being adding to my life by watching “We Bought a Zoo” again? With apologies to Matt Damon, not much. (Although I do love the “20 seconds of insane courage” bit, and the ending is beautiful. It’s worth watching once. Twice, tops.)
A dear friend has a quote from Aristotle in his email signature which reads, in part, “We are what we repeatedly do”. As I start to prepare for my “re-entry” into my working life, it’s a helpful reminder to stay alert to the choices I make and what those choices make me. It’s not just about how I fill the time I have available. Rather, it’s about structuring my days and, by extension, my life, to reflect who I want to be.