Teach Houston

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jan 22 2013

chronos/kairos time, emotional labor, & TFA

This past weekend, I had the fortune and honor to attend a leadership retreat for freshmen & sophomores at my university. I’d been working on this project for ten months (I was one of the retreat coordinators) and as I reflect on the weekend, I am drawn to the ancient Greek concept of chronos time vs. kairos time.

The theme of this weekend, as I established early on, was vulnerability. My co-coordinator and I assembled a staff of nine student leaders at our university, all incredibly accomplished individuals, and accepted 40 participants into the retreat itself (all these students were equally accomplished – though, in many cases, still figuring out their various leadership paths). The natural tendency when a group of accomplished and perfectionist-type of people assemble is a lot of social distance and affirmation of social roles. We, as humans, tend to obsess over the markers of these roles and act in a way that further solidifies the differences between us.

The retreat, though, was different. We all stepped away from our need to solidify our roles and our desire to look like we have our lives completely together. There were dance parties, there was a lot of crying, there were so many deep conversations that really got at the heart of what we care about – why do we do what we do? What does it mean to live a meaningful life? How can one affect true, sustainable change while still working within a set contextual framework? We showed our weaknesses, usually buried far within ourselves, and in that openness we created true connection.

In other words, this weekend operated purely on kairos time.

My best friend explained chronos vs. kairos time to me last year, right before she graduated, and it’s a lesson I carry with me still. Essentially, the Greeks had two words for time. Chronos time was truly chronological. It’s your conception of time when you’re late to class, waiting in line at the grocery store, stuck in traffic. You count seconds and minutes and you’re not really living your life in the moment or loving your life at all, you’re just doing what you need to do to get through the day.

Kairos time was defined by the Greeks as God’s time. It’s those moments when you’re struck by the simple beauties of life – a meaningful conversation, a crisp sunny day, laughter shared with a close friend. Too often we live in a YOLO type of world. We expect to find kairos time in all we do – live like you’re going to die young, as Ke$ha says, and yet we forget that we need both chronos and kairos time to truly appreciate both. We need chronos time to keep our lives going, such that we can have – and appreciate – the moments of kairos time that flit into and out of our lives.

I’ve been having trouble re-entering the post-retreat world as my days are now filled with chronos time – running errands, writing emails, getting the little things done to keep the day moving. I miss the conversations and I miss the introspection. I miss kairos time.

What does it mean to build your life in a way that maximizes your chances of experiencing kairos time? For me, this is choosing to do TFA. Here’s why.

In my Organizational Sociology class, we talked about emotional labor. Emotional labor is that sense of being drained you feel after having to feign interest, act happy when you’re not, deal pleasantly with people treating you unpleasantly. Jobs like retail or customer service, for instance, are incredibly laborious from an emotional standpoint. It’s even more difficult when you don’t believe, deep down, in the true meaning of your job.

I had the chance to pursue a job like that. A job that paid well, yet a job with a meaning/purpose I found completely uninspiring. I’ll admit – it was tempting. Money and prestige hold so much power, especially on a small university campus where everyone seems to be judging. But when I thought about the emotional labor involved – when I imagined what it would be like to wake up every morning working like hell to help the rich get richer, to bolster a power structure of inequality that keeps reproducing mercilessly – I knew I could never truly pursue that job. Not if I wanted to be truly happy. Not if I wanted kairos time in my life.

By turning my back on that to pursue TFA, though, I aligned myself with my deepest core values. I sought meaning. I wanted to be part of a broader purpose. I know that my days will be mostly filled with chronos time as I plan my lessons in 45-minute blocks, as I sit through meetings and professional development, as I struggle to grade just one more paper when all I want to do is sleep.

But at the end of the day, kairos time will win, because I deeply believe in this movement and I feel honored by the chance to be a part of it.

Sometimes I think about the choice I made. Sometimes I wonder if I’m qualified to make this kind of choice when I’m only 20 years old, when I have so little life experience behind me and so much uncertainty ahead of me. And in those moments of self-doubt I remember kairos time, I remember the Atlantic Monthly article about true happiness found in meaning*, I remember this weekend and how it meant the world to me. I carry myself through the self-doubt and emerge on the other side, eager to create kairos time in any way I can, all my days.


*article: http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/01/theres-more-to-life-than-being-happy/266805/

5 Responses

  1. gmason

    That’s really awesome that your university has designed such an effective program, then! Hopefully the positive feedback from students like you will keep them doing it for another 20 years.

  2. houstonheart

    It actually wasn’t a LeaderShape retreat – it was a retreat organized by our Student Activities office that is just specific to my university. They’ve been doing it for about 20 years and it has easily been the best thing I’ve done with my time in college.

  3. houstonheart

    That’s a great question! Truth be told, the answer to that is pretty long and complicated – definitely material for another blog post in the future. The short version is that I was presented with several post-graduation options. Granted, there were probably a host of other options out there I didn’t consider, but based on a variety of considerations I narrowed down the options quite a bit. Of everything TFA was the option that most aligned. I don’t think anything is ever a “perfect fit” and I have no doubt I will realize this more and more as I spend more time in the work force, but that’s where I’m at for now.

  4. Tee

    I’m curious – why TFA as opposed to any other organization that aligns with your core values?

  5. gmason

    This is kind of random, but was it by any chance a LeaderShape retreat? I had the profound pleasure of participating in a LeaderShape retreat the summer between my junior and senior years of college even though it’s typically attended by freshman and sophomores, and it was so full of kairos time. The way you described your experience brought me right back to that retreat.

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