How we spend our days is of course how we spend our lives—Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

I am so grateful to every educator who is returning to school these days to do the good work of helping students learn to read and write, to love learning, to dream, to learn how to achieve dreams. And I know the kind of commitment that goes into that good work. To change the future one day at a time, one child at a time requires tremendous energy and commitment. As I’ve written in other columns, to teach is to do the same noble work of so many other great people committed to a brighter future.

So it may seem strange to some that I write today to suggest that each of you be cautious as you commit your life to your work. The work is so important and beautiful, truly. But the work cannot be your life.

For several years now I have been deeply committed to the same goal that many of you are committed to: every child receives excellent instruction, every day in every class. And I am still committed to that goal. But what I have realized these past few weeks is that as passionately as I hold to that goal, I cannot let that goal dominate my life. My life, that is my wife, my children, family and friends, is my life. My work, as important as it might be, can never be more important than them.

A while back I wrote a friend a letter about addiction, and I wrote that I’m sure alcohol in moderation is fine, but when you drink so much that drunkeness becomes your reality, and reality seems unreal, then you know you need to stop. I didn’t realize it at the time, but now I know that work had become my addiction. Work was more real than my real life. Fortunately, my eyes have opened, and my family and friends are back at the heart of my life where they belong.

I know I am not the only person who has been addicted to work, and I’m not here to judge others especially since I know exactly how they feel. But I can say this. Putting the people that matter most to me at the center of my life is probably the best thing I have ever done.

Our students need committed, passionate educators. But our families need us too. We need to keep them at the heart of our lives. In truth, chances are we never will achieve our goals if we try to do them on our own anyway.