Many years ago, I had a student from Kenya when I was teaching speech communication courses at Portland State University. During a discussion on cultural differences, I mentioned that in Western culture, we tended to put a high premium on productivity.
We discussed how when we first met people in our culture, we tended to focus on what they did rather than who they were. To some degree, what the other person did either elevated their status or diminished their worth.
My Kenyan student quietly waited until our discussion was almost over. Then he said, “In my country, I can sit under a tree all day and simply “be” and I still have value. What he said at that moment has stayed with me for decades. I’m only now beginning to understand the power of simply being and still knowing my worth.
Six months ago, I ended my teaching career. I turned in my keys and my identification badge – in exchange for a piece of pottery and a lifetime pass for activities and classes at the community college where I had taught. I was no longer an associate professor of communication. I no longer had the same term-by-term deadlines and schedules to keep. I had graduated from being known, recognized and valued based on my title to finally having the opportunity to discover value based on my personhood.
At first, I kept lists so that I could maximize every hour of the day. I had deadlines and pushed myself to be productive. After a few months, I backed off a bit and allowed myself to start enjoying living in the moment. I exchanged a steady, decent income and a title for my life. I may not spend my days sitting under a tree, but I do enjoy leisurely bike rides in the country, watching birds feed in my backyard, and walking our 110-pound black lab around the neighborhood. Not nearly as often as I would like, I do get opportunities to see our grandchildren and enjoy each wonderful moment with them. I am free to savor each moment, each experience in life because I no longer feel rushed.
I finally have time for quiet reflection. As a result, I’ve rediscovered my passion for human rights and for concerns about the environment. I am free to focus on the things that matter to me.
I still do keep lists and a calendar. I keep to a fairly consistent schedule, but I do allow myself some flexibility. I believe life is for living, not just for doing. I am glad I am having the opportunity to embrace life in a new way right now.