Unravelling the Fabric

April 7, 2018

If you are looking for a job that is laid back and easy going, working in a school is not a good choice. To say that education is or has become a fast-paced environment is an understatement. The pace varies from an active clip up to and including a frenetic sprint. With the constant bustling of high-energy kids, special events and activities, there is almost always a feeling of electricity in the air. I think because of that (and I believe I can speak for most educators when I say) we really look forward to holiday breaks during which we can enjoy some downtime.

Since my last post, my wife and I appreciated the pleasure of some SCUBA and beach time over our school Spring/Easter Break. Although I promised myself that I would remain out of “work mode” and enjoy our vacation, I admit to intermittent tinges of anxiousness. I really just wanted to wallow in an aura completely void of anything even resembling serious decision making. The act of looking at a menu felt ever so slightly taxing. I was however, quite proud to say that I successfully fought off most of my urges to think about work. The angst I realized, was all about figuring out what I am going to do with myself when I stop working. I find it so uncomfortable to use the term “retirement” that I am referring my last day of work as “New Beginnings Day”.

In my last post, I said that I was committing myself to a reflective process that I hope will help me to plan my future. I thought that by looking back over my life through the lens of some guiding questions, a future direction might become more clear. The questions are: “What has sustained me?” “What has served to put a smile on my face or to light up my heart?” “What has touched my soul?” “What really matters deeply to me”?

Although the guiding questions still “feel good” to me, where to begin the process has me a bit perplexed. The line of sight looking back over my life is anything but a straight one. Unravelling the fabric made from the many individual experiences of a lifetime, stitched together with a zillion memories is not a nice, tidy project to take up a lazy afternoon.

As I usually do when I come up against a sticking point, I did some research. Tanja Hester, the author of the “Our Next Life” blog, and her husband Mark, are one of the couples who are part of the Financial Independence Early Retirement (FIRE) movement. Although some of the issues being faced in early retirement (Ms. ONL was 38 and Mr. ONL was 41 when they retired at the end of 2017) are somewhat different than in our case (I will be collecting a small pension but Amanda will not). I think that there are many people who think of retirement as a future destination. As it gets closer I have come to realize that for my retirement to be as meaningful as been my career, I must avoid viewing it as a destination but instead must embrace it as a continuation of the journey. In a post entitled, “What Do You Want Your Tombstone to Say? // Defining Our Purpose”, Mr. and Ms. ONL asked themselves three questions: What do we want to look back on and be happy we did? What would we want to be remembered for? What do we want to contribute to the world? Next they created an excellent mapping tool consisting of a series exercises designed to help in identifying purpose. Follow the link to read their post and see what their map revealed.

A Google search will render literally thousands of books written about life’s purpose. Having spent an entire career working with kids, a sense that my work has had meaning and purpose is not at all in question. The regular opportunity provided by working in a school to form relationships with and to inspire students to become their very best has been extremely gratifying and fulfilling.

Now don’t get me wrong, working in schools is not all fun and games. Granted, the rewards have been plentiful, but they have also been interspersed with some very difficult and thankless moments and situations. The positive experiences have sustained me and spurred me on to face and endure the harder times.

Interestingly, the most meaningful (to me) aspect of my work life has been encouraging, inspiring, and energizing kids to boldly and relentlessly pursue their dreams and never give up. Being a principal, I have taken advantage of my turns at the podium to influence and promote the attitudes and character traits that I believe are required for young people to have the best chance to achieve the things of their dreams. This has been my passion.

I seem to have answered the questions “What has sustained me?” “What has served to put a smile on my face or to light up my heart?” “What has touched my soul?” “What really matters deeply to me”? in just a few paragraphs. The question that remains is, now what? So far, I am pretty satisfied that I have managed to live a fairly meaningful and purposeful life. For me, it doesn’t follow that retiring from my job also has to mean letting go of meaning and purpose. So for that, the search must go on.

In loving service,

Dan

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.”

~ Steve Jobs

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