As most of my readers know, I spent the last couple of years transitioning from a demanding career as a college professor to opening my own personal and career coaching practice. One reason that I made that mid-life shift was a desire to have more flexibility and more time for the things that give me joy in life, including spending time with those I love. I wanted to have time to stop and enjoy the spontaneous pleasures that life sends our way instead of constantly feeling the pressure of an overwhelming workload.
But I have a confession to make: I am a workaholic. I generally like my work, and I like feeling productive. And this summer, free from the requirements that I spend my summer conducting research and preparing for fall courses, I intended to give myself permission to work a little less and enjoy things outside my work.
And I’ve done a lot of that. My husband and I traveled in June. I’ve read more “fun” books and spent more time with friends and even (gasp) gone out to lunch with my husband in the middle of the week a time or two. Still, I’ve found myself slipping into bad old habits. Running my own business is a little like being a professor: there’s always more work to be done. So I’ve noticed myself feeling that old familiar pressure—the pressure that causes me to say to loved ones, “No, I can’t do that enjoyable thing with you because I have too much work to do.”
So when the beautiful eclipse of 2017 swept across South Carolina, I very nearly missed it. Weeks before the big event, I had accepted an invitation to join dear friends in taking a picnic into the zone of totality to view the eclipse (I live in the 99% zone. My husband, a photographer whose beautiful photos of the event are featured here, was off to record the solar extravaganza with his photo guild buddies.)
As the day approached, I thought about cancelling on my friends. The week before had been exceptionally busy, and I was reluctant to give up a whole afternoon when I could have been checking some things off the endless to-do list. Still, I had promised my friends I’d join them. So in the end, I gathered my contributions to the picnic and piled into their car with my lawn chair and eclipse glasses.
We had a lovely picnic near the banks of the Enoree River, nestled under a grove of trees and a train trestle outside the gates of a century old South Carolina textile mill. Another young couple with children were doing the same. We struck up a conversation, and it turned out that the wife was Italian-born and her grandfather's surname was Enoree. That’s why they had chosen Enoree [Inn-or-ee] for their eclipse viewing. About 20 minutes before totality, the husband came rushing over to tell us that his phone app said we needed to go a couple miles further south to be in the zone of totality. By this time, we had been joined by two young guys from Durham who had driven down for the day. So we all convoyed down the road till we found a wide grassy area next to a train track. Nine strangers and two poodles (plus a woman who pulled up across the road at the last minute) watched the eclipse together. It was pure magic.
I vaguely remember the 1979 eclipse, but we weren't in the totality zone, so I really didn't know what to expect. One of the most interesting things was watching the quality of light change in the time leading up to totality. It was like dusk, but different in some way I can't describe. The cicadas started to sound loudly, thinking it was twilight.
It was as if you could see a 360-degree sunset with that pinkish orange glow suffusing the horizon on all sides. Watching the moon slide over the sun was cool, and then seeing the corona once eclipse was complete was simply stunning. The temperature dropped about ten degrees during this process. Then just before the sky began to brighten again, the birds began to sing, just like they do before dawn.
As beautiful as the astral event was, sharing it with friends and strangers was even more special.
Since then I’ve reflected on the fact that I almost missed that extraordinary experience because I thought I needed to work. I’m learning that it’s going to be a continuous process to remind myself not to let my old workaholic habits overwhelm my efforts to live a more balanced life.
What bad habits threaten to eclipse your joy?
Photos copyright 2017 by Chuck Reback, all rights reserved.