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As I had mentioned previously, this year, I’m going back to school. Not to take classes, but to teach a course at my alma mater, Fanshawe College. I did this about a decade ago and thought it was interesting, so I was excited to give it another go. Additionally, after a friend mentioned that their kid wanted to learn Python, I developed an Intro to Python course aimed at high school students that I’m teaching weekly. I thought that this would be good fodder for the State of Security. So, whenever I have something interesting to discuss, expect to find it here.

I’m hoping to keep this post short and sweet. You’ve read a lot of words if you’re still following this series, and you deserve a break. This break has been brought to you by the conclusion of my Intro to Python course. I also wanted to give myself a bit of a break, which fit nicely with the topic of discussion… self care.

Self Care: Putting Yourself First

I have been drained the past four months. Watching the world burn around you tends to stress you out, and working multiple jobs really piles on. So, I’ve been looking forward to wrapping up teaching and taking a bit of time to relax. One thing that happens when you have a lot going on is that you wear yourself out. You need to recharge. Ideally, we’d do that at night while sleeping… after all, that’s when our phones recharge, but getting a good night sleep can be difficult. So, you need to find other ways to refuel and re-energize.

For me, that has meant taking random Monday’s and Friday’s off work. I tried, but failed, to only work four-day weeks during November and December… but I came close. I think it’s important to know when you’ve hit a wall and you need that extra bit of energy. I have a student struggling a bit with their personal life who reached out worried about the end of the year. I could hold them to commitments and deadlines, but why? I still remember (and dislike) a professor I had in college who flunked me on a test for leaving town to be at the bedside of a dying relative and missing the test. I emailed them in advance, and when I got back, I spoke to them about a rewrite. They told me they need a copy of the death certificate, and when I said they, thankfully, pulled through, I was told that it was “too bad” for me because “no rewrites without a death certificate.” I have never forgotten that moment or forgiven that professor.

So, why would I want to cause mental strife for one of my students? Especially in 2020 with the state of the world. Instead, I simply said, “No worries, we’ll figure it out. Here’s my phone number if you find yourself really struggling.” Similarly, I forced an employee to just take an extra day off. They had a lot going on, and I didn’t feel they were in a headspace where they’d accomplish a lot. It was easier to tell them to practice self care than to make them struggle through the day.

Whether it is yourself or someone whose life you can influence, practice or support a little bit of “me time.” I find that sleeping in on those Monday’s I book off is all I really need to feel better. I typically spend my afternoons answering email, so I’m technically working… but I don’t feel bad that I’m doing it from my couch in PJs because I’m using vacation time to do it. It just makes you feel better.

Finding Your Happiness

Speaking of making yourself feel better. Find a way to make yourself happy. I never realized how much joy teaching would bring me. Although, I realized I should have seen it much sooner. I love catching up with past interns and hearing how their experiences on the team shaped their careers. It’s exciting when they tell me how well they are doing and I feel like I can claim just a little credit for that. It’s entirely selfish, but it just makes you feel good.

Every year, I do Extra Life and raise money for SickKids hospital in Toronto. People comment on what a great thing I’m doing, and I always say that I’m doing the easy part. It’s the sick kids and their health care workers that are doing amazing things. For me, it always feels selfish because I love the event. It is invigorating and amazing to take part, and I always feel incredibly tired but also incredibly refreshed afterward. It’s almost like I’m cleansing my soul.

Similarly, there’s a selfish aspect to the teaching that has been energizing. Yes, I’m drained… I’ve never felt as exhausted as I have these past four months, but I also feel alive. I think that’s because 2020 was such a source of depression for so many of us, and watching my students excel has been a ray of sunshine. As I’ve wrapped up the Python course, I’ve been exchanging emails with one of the students. He’s writing his own Python code for a project and seeking advice. Hopefully, I inspired the confidence he has to tackle the project, and that makes me feel pretty awesome.

When you’re looking to practice self care and make yourself a priority, look at what that really means. I love watching movies and fiddling around with my guitar, but that is temporary happiness. It doesn’t satiate my soul the way hearing about the successes of people I’ve educated, trained, or even inspired does. I suspect the same is true of a lot of people… otherwise we wouldn’t have so many teachers working for such awful pay.

A few weeks ago, I offered in a local community group a single eight-hour Python course for teens. I offered it free of charge, since I’ve already developed the material. I figured it was a way that those struggling financially could provide a cool experience for a tech-savvy teenager for Christmas. Once again, people commended me for doing something that I was selfishly doing for myself. I’m already counting down the days to that course, excited to educate and, hopefully, inspire a few more students.

So, this year, with the holidays fast approaching and everyone feeling COVID-fatigue and enhanced seasonal depression, ask yourself what makes you happy. For me, it’s cooking and, as it turns out, teaching. You may find that adding a little chaos to your life is exactly what you need to feel better. Even if you don’t feel better… maybe the distraction is all you really need.

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