Don't Finish Well

By Paul Marcus  |  June 12th

No doubt, many of you have already heard or said the oft-repeated phrase ‘finish well’. It is a phrase that gets reiterated often at this time of year. Just this morning, I walked into a Grade 8 room as the teacher was having a conversation with her impending graduates about finishing the year well. She stopped the conversation and said “Mr. Marcus, what advice would you have for the Grade 8’s to finish the school year well?” In my usual spirit of intentional contrarianism, I said “Funny you should ask, I was just going to write an article recommending that people don’t finish well!” This will take some explanation.

My experience over the years and in multiple different schools tells me that times have changed. I used to head into the summer months with a mindset that there was a definitive beginning and a definitive end. School ended on such and such date, we finished up our end of year meetings, and looked forward to seeing each other again at the end of August. I don’t think I’m alone in experiencing that this structured break has largely gone by the wayside. More and more work seems to be required in the summer, especially if September is going to be smooth. It may be a different routine with different hours and a different pace, but the doors don’t close in June and open again in August, that’s just not the landscape we live in.

So, I find myself not resonating with the idea of ‘finishing well’. June doesn’t really feel like the end of anything. In fact, I have found that for myself it has been helpful to get into a fluid routine. I feel more healthy as a leader when I look at the work that I’m doing as ongoing and unending with a big continuous purpose. Perhaps unending is the wrong word, but it does feel that way sometimes. What has helped me to re-frame my thinking on this has been to re-think the boundaries that I need in my life.  

I’ll be the first to admit that creating boundaries, or maintaining work-life balance isn’t my area of expertise. But, I have found that building mini-boundaries into my whole life has helped me to feel more rested and more refreshed more often. I think of simple things like turning off email notifications on my phone (really that email can wait until Monday morning), handing out my cell phone number less often (there’s no reason that a parent should need to text you at night), and closing the laptop at a certain time (trust me, the work will be there tomorrow) have helped me to honour better my own need for personal space, but also honour friendships and family relationships. As a sidebar, many principals have worked with their Boards to ensure that they have regular time away from school during the school year - this acknowledges that the principal’s routine is different than that of other school positions. You will have your own rhythms and boundaries that you’ll need to create.

So, don’t finish well. Your work isn’t finished. In fact, the work is never finished. Look forward to moments of rest and relaxation. Look forward to a different routine and a different rhythm. Build structure into your life that ensures you are doing things that give you energy. Schools need healthy leaders. At the end of the day, your health will depend on your own ability to create routines, structures, and boundaries that allow you to continue in the work that God has called you to do.

Paul Marcus is the Durham Region Cohort Leader, and Principal at Knox Christian School in Bowmanville, Ontario.