What Gives Life Meaning?

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” and “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 noble profession. I also believe that in 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 that held meaning for me. Thankfully those times 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 I 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 have 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 given without effort or condition.

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 an accompanying, subtle and underlying fear. Because I tend toward optimism and positivity, my default tendency is to deny faint, mood-dampening, thoughts and feelings in lieu of brighter ones that elevate me emotionally. 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 sometimes 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 to replace that which has given my life meaning.

I am eternally grateful to soon be 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 cathartic for me, as I wrote this I realized a recurring aspect of my life that I know I wish to continue – service. Service is a continuum. On one end, there is obligatory service. On the opposite end of the continuum exists loving service. I am choosing 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 not a 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

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