What Gives Life Meaning

March 28, 2018

For many, deciding to become a teacher is made with the intention of doing something meaningful with one’s life. As a long time principal, I have conducted literally hundreds of teacher interviews. I have found that people become teachers for a variety of reasons, but when asked the question “Why did you want to be a teacher?”, they usually respond with answers like, “I know that everyday I will be making an impact on someone’s life” or “There will never be a dull moment”. They might say, “I would rather be surrounded by construction paper than cubicles”. Or perhaps, “Children are the future” or maybe “I never want to stop learning”. I have heard, “I wanted to become a teacher, because watching students have that ‘lightbulb’ moment makes everything worthwhile” or that “Working with kids brings out the child in me”. I have also been told “I could never imagine doing anything else with my life.” Regardless of the original reason a person became a teacher, the truth is, in my opinion, that teaching is a rather noble profession. I also believe that in the the back of every teacher’s mind lingers the awareness that the opportunity exists every day to make a difference in a child’s life. That really is a very cool thing.

I didn’t know “what I wanted to do”, right away after high school. It took me quite a while to formally make my way into the school system. I am happy I found my way, and I am proud to say that I have served kids, families, teachers and my profession for almost 30 years. Despite the many challenging days, people and demands, my daily life has never really lacked for meaning. To be sure, in the everyday stress, hustle and bustle there were times that I lost track of the aspects of the job held meaning for me. Thankfully they were few and far between.

Recently, a new set of thoughts and feelings have taken up residency in my consciousness. I believe this has arisen from the fact that I now know the actual date of the last day of my career. I signed a contract that takes me through to the end of the 2018-19 school year and submitted a corresponding letter of resignation designating the last day. The reason for the early notice is that by doing so it paves the way for my employer to legally offer a contract to my replacement. The day that I have termed “New Beginning Day” is May 31, 2019. That day is less than 450 calendar days away. 450 days may seem like like a long time, but compared to the nearly 11,000 days that make up a 30 year career, 5-31-19 is practically around the corner. Upon reflection and introspection, I am aware that to find meaning in my life, all I had to do was to go through the front doors of the school building. Meaning was readily available to me there. Children are amazing beings, and even in the darkest of days, spending time with and around them could instantly fill my heart with joy and love. More often than not, their gifts were effortlessly and unconditionally given.

Let me be perfectly clear, the anticipation of freeing myself from a regular morning wake-up call and the constriction of an imposed schedule give me intermittent tingles of great joy. In moments of lucid honesty, I have become aware of a subtle but accompanying fear. Because I tend toward optimism and positivity, my default tendency is to deny the mood-dampening, subtle thoughts and feelings in lieu of the brighter emotions that elevate it. I have concluded that now is the time to attend to this disquietude. I believe that I have arrived at a pivotal time and place in my life. To ignore this tug could have unintended and undesirable consequences for the future.

So, I am embarking upon a quest. Between now and “New Beginnings Day”, I am committed to a process that I hope will guide me into the next phase of my life. It begins with a self-reflection. Looking back over the course my life I will seek the answers to the following questions: In my life, “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”?

I am not in any way thinking that answering these questions is the end of the expedition. Finding answers will likely lead to more questions. I also know that once I have answered the questions, it will then be time to find out where to go and what to do next.

I am eternally grateful to be soon headed into a place and time in my life in which I will no longer be dependent upon the income from an employer to sustain me financially. But for me to continue to thrive, I must also find a way to feed and sustain my soul. The search is on and I plan to record the journey. Please feel free come along.

. . . oh, and because writing tends to be a cathartic for me, as I wrote this I realized a recurring aspect of my life that know I wish to continue – service. Service is a continuum. On one end, there is obligatory service. On the opposite side of the continuum exists loving service. I choose the opposite end and know that I will be looking for opportunities to continue to be of service in meaningful ways. Therefore, until I am moved otherwise, I will be signing off with . . .

In loving service,

Dan

“Destiny is no matter of chance. It is a matter of choice. It is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved.”

~ William Jennings Bryan

Now What

February 27, 2018
As a kid I don’t think I gave much thought to my development. I remember having a makeshift growth chart on a door jam in the house. I also remember wanting to run faster and jump higher than my friends when I was in elementary school. I even remember admiring my dad’s “big muscles” and wanting to grow my own.

When in junior high school and high school I cared a lot about impressing girls and having good hair. And if I am really honest with myself, that phase, albeit a little more sophisticated, lasted through college and into early adulthood. My college experience contained some defining moments. It started off pretty rocky but after a couple of transfers I ended up at Pacific Lutheran University. While there I played football for one of the most dynamic men I have ever met and worked as a youth director to help pay my expenses, I finally found a major that, despite it not being extremely helpful for eventually landing a lucrative job, held my interest long enough for me to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree.

After that I bounced around from sales jobs to youth work and back again. Despite an interest in Psychology, I didn’t give much thought to development, either generally or personally until I became a father. Observing and participating in the developmental stages of my three sons lives was scary, exhilarating and fascinating but admittedly I gave little thought to my own development.

Over the next couple of decades what has defined me as a person has been mostly my titles as a husband, father, educator. Don’t get me wrong, I know that I have placed at least a reasonable amount of effort in my quest to fill these positions with a certain level of distinction. Only sporadically and until recently have I seriously considered the developmental aspects of my life and questioning my identity.
Truly believing that my life’s work has held meaning and made a difference, I now find myself nearing the end of a long career. In the absence of a “job” to consume a great deal of time and energy I am now facing choices about what to do next. In light of the unknown, I find myself again asking who I am and what will I do to continue to make a difference and fulfill my purpose?

Beginning Again

February 9, 2016
When he was 16 years old, my youngest son began an accelerated slide into a rather serious medical situation. Of course we had been aware that this day would come for about a decade but wanted to believe that the advanced care he received and the magic of modern medicine might somehow create a different outcome and preclude the need for a liver transplant. The day that Cayden began internally bleeding because one of his esophageal varices burst marked a critical crossroads. Whether I wanted to admit it or not, this was his day of no return.

The thoughts and feelings that began to well up in me at that time were amazingly poignant. They would come and go and swing from one side of the emotional spectrum to the other. Even at the untimely death of my mother had I not experienced such a broad range of emotions.

Another factor that I now believe contributed to my emotional swings was that I felt the need to exhibit a show of strength, optimism and calm when around my son but in truth I faced dreadful fear and felt immensely vulnerable in private. I would only reveal those thoughts and feelings to my wife and sisters.

Peace and solace were only found in three places. The first was when I walked or exercised. The second was when I talked (which often happened simultaneously with walking). The third was through writing.

It was during this time that I began posting my thoughts and feelings in the form of updates on social media. I also sent informational messages to specific people and groups via email. Someone suggested that I start a blog. So I did . . .
Blogging for me was a way to sort of lasso and round-up the many thoughts and feeling that were running wild around in my mind so I could slow them down and identify them. The writing process helped my make some sense out of the crazy that was buzzing inside of me. Somehow once the thoughts and feelings were put into the blog it was a little bit like getting all of the animals safely into the pen for the night. My mind could rest awhile.

In case you are wondering, Cayden is doing well. My wife, Cayden’s stepmother Amanda, was his living liver donor and aside from a lovely abdominal scar, is healthy as well. Primary sclerosing cholangitis (liver disease) was secondary to ulcerative colitis with Cayden, so he continues to live with that condition and will take anti-rejection medication so that his liver remains healthy.
So . . . . with a new purpose, I begin again. This is the first blog in a very long while.