Finding Balance: A reminder to fill your own cup

By: Sarah Herdell, CATA Secondary Chair

 “A tree that refuses water and sunlight for itself cannot bear fruit for others.” I bet we’ve all heard a line like this at some point, right? 

Last summer, I was part of a group that facilitated a workshop geared towards the Women in CATA (Go SHEroes!). Our overlying theme was to have a candid conversation about finding balance among our own “three circles”: career, family and friends, and self. Hesitant and apprehensive going into it, we were positively overwhelmed with the interest and participation in the workshop and felt this conversation needs to continue and include not only the women in CATA but the men too. 

As we navigate our chosen career, we need to embrace that sometimes it feels like a circus and sometimes a symphony. We all know that it can be incredibly demanding, taxing, and emotional, but it can also be fabulously rewarding and that’s the magic that keeps us going. For those of us that plan to maintain this career long-term, if career, family and friends, and self are all valued parts of your life then you have to strive to find the balance in order to maintain a healthy relationship with all of them. The ultimate goal, and never-ending practice, is to seek harmony and equality among our own three circles. If we don’t, I think we all know the unfortunate outcome: something’s gotta’ give. The hard part is that we’ll never arrive at having it “all together”… it is a constant work in progress, it is dynamic and fluid, and the variables are constantly revolving. 

Real talk: We are all amazing Ag Teachers. We are dedicated, passionate, loyal, selfless. But when we take a step out of the Ag Ed/FFA bubble, are we practicing these same outstanding qualities in our roles with friends or family, or ultimately with ourselves? Too often we succumb to the pressures of this undeniably competitive career, the assumed expectations within our departments, and worry about not being “busy enough” because it might look like we aren’t devoted to our programs. Unfortunately, we are all too familiar with this scenario. We put our family, our friends, and ourselves on the backburner all too often. It doesn’t have to be this way, but we do have to make a conscious effort to commit to finding that equilibrium. We have to devote as much energy into family and personal time as we do in creating perfect lessons and labs, or coaching CDE’s and LDE’s, or supervising SAE projects. It’s so easy to get swallowed up and consumed in our job, which as we all know, can very quickly lead to burn out, unnecessary stress, tension at home with kids, friends, and family, etc., in addition to affecting our mental and physical health. And who is that going to benefit? 

In seeking balance in all aspects of our life, we need to accept that it’s OK to be “selfish“ with our time and energy. Prioritize how you use your time: remember, it’s finite! More importantly, follow-through; it will benefit everyone in the end. 

Here are some suggestions that I encourage you to strive for this year: 

  • Speak-Up: Concretely communicate what is important to you in your personal and professional life. At work, make sure your department, officers, teams, etc. know this from the get-go. Encourage your colleagues to do the same. Understanding where everyone is coming from will build rapport, prevent unnecessary resentment or hard-feelings later, and strengthen your team. For example, you might let your team know “It’s important to me to be at my son’s baseball games on Tuesdays” or “I am committed to my workout class on Mondays and Wednesdays at 5:30 p.m.” or simply “I have a weekly commitment on Thursday’s after school.” 
  • Commit: Put personal obligations on your calendar as an appointment or meeting. Schedule your day around them. These are just as important as your professional commitments. 
  • Be selfish: Set aside time just for YOU! If getting a pedicure or hitting balls at the driving range is the one thing you want to do for yourself this week, put it on the calendar and make it happen. 
  • Be firm: Don’t feel you have to explain yourself or “give reasons” to anyone as to what your commitment is or why you feel it’s important. Simply put, you are “unavailable at that time”. It doesn’t matter if you are a new teacher or experienced teacher, single or married, a parent, or not. These are your priorities and if they are important to you, they are valid. 
  • Clock-Out: Put parameters on your “work hours”. Don’t be afraid to utilize the “do not disturb” function on your devices or silence your phone. (Guess what? Your work projects, texts, and emails will be there when you get to work tomorrow.) We need to take time daily to decompress and rejuvenate. If you have a “day off” (I know these seem rare in this profession), truly set work aside and enjoy the R&R. 
  • Trim the Fat: Prioritize your FFA and SAE commitments with your department. Divide-and-conquer if possible. (We don’t ALL have to be at every single thing all the time.)  Be aware of the things that “have to be done because we have always done them.” If something is no longer serving your members, be open to change. 

This summer, challenge yourself to strive for balance, reflect on priorities and make commitments for the coming school year. I wager you will discover that you feel better mentally and physically and that your students and colleagues notice it too. My guess is that on top of that, the strain and overwhelm we tend to carry regarding our job (especially as the year goes on) might lessen. Make a commitment to do something in your life regularly just for you, for your health and wellbeing, and quite frankly, for your sanity. Maintaining balance helps to keep us in a place where we can be successful in our career, be present for our family and friends, and invest in self-care all at the same time. At this point in time during the global pandemic, we have been forced to take a step back, simplify, slow down, and face life head-on with both grit and grace. To focus on the silver-lining, this time has given us the opportunity to reflect on and prioritize our commitments both personally and professionally. 

In closing, if we are healthy humans outside of the classroom, both physically and mentally, then we bring that healthy energy and contagious passion back into the classroom and give our students an even better version of ourselves. You can’t pour from an empty cup. 

Note: Check out this worksheet from our SHEroes workshop to use as a starting point in your reflection. (Gentlemen, just change SHEro to HEro.) 

For more information about the California Agricultural Teachers’ Association, visit

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