‘I Want a Job and a Life’: How Principals Find Balance in All-Consuming Work


Just a few months into her first year as principal of Oak Knoll Elementary School in Menlo Park, Calif., Kristen Gracia was on a fast track to burnout.

She’d been assistant principal for four years and felt in command of that job.

But as principal, there was so much more to do, and things were falling by the wayside. She wasn’t making enough classroom observations, getting enough sleep, working out, or eating well. When she finally got home, it was a mad dash to feed, bathe, and tuck her children in before powering up her computer to return to work.

“There was no way a healthy human could sustain this job,” she recalled.

Five years later, Gracia is much more satisfied with her job. She regularly spends two full days a week observing teachers and interacting with students and staff. She’s consistently working out. And when she works from home, it feels like a choice.

“It really came down to: I want both a job and a life,” she said. What changed?

It started with her superintendent’s insistence that Gracia get support after she confided the job felt overwhelming. He directed her to The Breakthrough Coach, a seminar that helps principals see their roles as executives and prioritize their time so they spend up to two days a week out of the office and in classrooms.