Around mid-January of this year, I finally took the leap into a career that I had actively avoided in the past because of what I thought it signified. I quit my 9-5, and focused all my productive energy on teaching and writing, the only things I now do. They are different, and also the same; you discover this when you dare to be alone and find the courage to write honestly.
Teaching did not appeal to me originally; I saw myself much more committed to the grime and physical investment in direct community work. The perspective that “academia is for those who didn’t make it in the real world” kept me reliably averse to teaching.
Previously, I pursued writing as a means to advocate and fund raise; I wrote in a formal voice that did not allow for my true spirit to speak. As I reached higher levels of advocacy, I felt more distant, more removed, more separate from the people I valued the most: my family, my friends, my community. Yes, it was a thrill to meet new people, higher levels of sophistication, more stimuli; but, like a sugar high, one eventually feels the crash. I did not realize until recently that what made advocacy so appealing, so awesome, had less to do with either its outcome, or the process, and more to do with the human detail — my interaction and engagement with ordinary people. Slowly and steadily, I had lost this aspect of the work.
As I passed 35, 36, 37, 38…and crept toward 40, the world did not seem the same. I hit midlife. I could not satisfy my discontent. All of the passion I once had had dissipated. Advocacy did not feel the same; fundraising became a drag; macro-level work began to ring hollow.
So, I stopped everything. Full and complete stop. I broke with my previous life to focus deliberately inwardly. Away from the peering eyes of those who once knew me, I found my true self. To occupy my self, I wrote. And to my pleasant surprise, I saw for my self not only how writing makes one more interesting, but also more interested — more inspired by the world, re-kindled with the spark of a more learned and self-aware spirit.
I do not want my life to be based on how I can become unique; quite the opposite. What appeals as more worthwhile to me is transcending the ego, moving beyond my vain notions of uniqueness, shedding my constructed identity that serves only to make me be apart from others. There is more substance in seizing the interconnectedness of life, rather than in erecting boundaries that separate. Life is a naturally-occurring phenomenon, like water. It is not engineered; it is naturally-occurring to be experienced with and for others.
“…when you gather those pieces of your life that were formerly disparate and seemingly unrelated as you write, what you end up with is a more coherent map of your life’s terrain ahead. The yield of your future choices congeal; and you begin to live with a map of your own making.”
I am steadily finding meaning in the turns I have made on every road I have chosen to walk. The false starts and falls now make sense, even the near disasters. I see with new eyes that everything and everyone has had a role to play in revealing my true nature. Everyone and everything is connected to me, like I am to them.
This is so because as you gather those pieces of your life that were formerly disparate and seemingly unrelated, what you end up with is a more coherent map of your life’s terrain ahead. The yield of your future choices congeal; and you begin to live with a map of your own making.
Like a general in full view of the battlefield, you have a global view of the rest of your life as you need to spend it. You know what talents, gifts, skills you have, and how best to deploy them. You value your true nature as being part of a much larger whole, like a general or a trooper to an army.
This knowledge is liberating. It engenders a mature passion for life. And it is also deeply therapeutic.
“I now see teaching as I see writing. While it is true that it exists for the purpose of education, I also recognize that it provides the healing power of meaning and understanding.”
I realize now that that break I took in mid-January was as much a much-deserved respite as it was a necessary leap from the past. I needed the break to regain the passion I had lost. I now walk on a new path: teaching and writing full-time. As fate would have it, what I avoided fixed me.
I now see teaching–and the writing upon which it rests and that it inspires–as the work I will primarily do. I now see teaching as I see writing. While it is true that it exists for the purpose of education, I also recognize that it provides the healing power of meaning and understanding. Like the broken going into counseling in order to heal themselves, so do teachers go into teaching to find meaning and the healing it brings.
Once again, I look forward to every day I work.
Every minute I spend with my students as a group and especially one-on-one makes my spirit rejoice, rise to thunderous applause that I had the courage to risk financial ruin just to get my passion back. Every question in class, whether it led to a deep discussion, is human engagement I cherish and welcome. I come alive each time I lecture; and I don’t despise the time I spend preparing for class. I very much look forward to reading my students’ papers. They teach me about my self, and remind me the joy of learning.
“Like a TV with a brand new antenna, you are freed of the white noise and the crackle of static.”
As for writing, I encourage you to pursue it, to actively create meaning from a blank page and an engaged mind. It is absolutely the most creative, human, and probing act of self-care.
As you take your pen to put ink on paper, or command your fingers to send letters to the computer screen, the meaning that unfolds in front of you as your inner self speaks is magic and magical. When you let your spirit speak through your writing, you grow more courageous, more probing, more honest. You sense the world more clearly. Like a TV with a brand new antenna, you are freed of the white noise and the crackle of static. You develop a better understanding of the message in you that binds your experiences, thus far, together. You understand it enough that you are driven to share what you find to be the meaning of life with others.