Sort of an Intro
I love New Year's. It's one of my favorite days of the year. A built-in chance to reinvent yourself is a gift, an opportunity, that occurs every year. If done right, New Year's is a chance to think about who you were, who you are, and who you want to be. None of us, ever, has to accept who we were yesterday. We can choose to be the person we want to be here, now, today.
As of this writing, I am 37-years old. Age has always been stressful for me. I think the major reason for that stems from my upbringing. If not directly stated, there was a progression we were all expected to follow. It went like this: high school, college, wife, career, children. Your worth and value was judged based upon your success on this path.
I wasn't successful.
Since things didn't go in that order, I never felt successful or fully embraced where I was at in life. When things should have been great, good, and enough, I was slightly discontent, thinking I was missing out on something. This feeling increased the closer I came to the age of 30. For most of my 29th year, I was like, 'Wow. I'm about to be 30'. The feeling of not being enough, of being behind wouldn't leave me. Though I didn't fully believe it was true, there was nothing I could do to stop it. Finally, I decided to embrace it. I figured there was nothing I could do to change it, so I'd make it big. I'd lived in Florida for a while in my early 20's, and decided to go back to South Beach for my 30th birthday. A few weeks later, myself, my brother, and four friends did just that.
This picture was taken at the exact second I turned 30.
Sort of Miscellaneous
At the time, I was living in Chicago, teaching for the Chicago Public Schools. I was working on a Masters degree, 7 years into my career, and writing my first novel.
We went to a club that evening with a bunch of people that were staying at the same hostal as us. My brother told a couple of the girls that it was my birthday, and that I was turning 30. I remember two beautiful Israeli girls commenting on how good I looked - not a bad way to enter a decade. And then I started noticing this was not an isolated event. When I mentioned my age, especially to women, it took on a completely different tone. I'd hear, "You look good for 30", and other variants of that sentiment. It was like, 'Oh, you've arrived. You're appealing.' The comments had this tone that, basically, I had a lot going for me.
The 30's, for me, have gone faster than any decade by far. I will soon be 38, but it seems like I celebrated my 30th birthday in Miami Beach only yesterday. There has been good that has come this decade, for sure, though I am not where I thought I would be at 37. This is true physically, financially, and career wise.
Part of the problem is that I didn't have a plan.
I just sort of wandered.
Sort of a Downward Turn
When I was 32, I moved back to Michigan, accepting a job at the Grand Rapids Public Schools. I'd earned a masters, and sort of peaked in my abilities in CPS. I thought if I wanted to make more of an impact, I needed to dig deeper, double down.
The job I'd accepted was at Creston High School (RIP), teaching English. I remember the Friday of the first week; Michigan State had a football game, and I was like, "Go state!" Half the class cheered, half booed. I was like, 'Cool. I can get used to this.'
The first year of teaching was okay. Then, GRPS decided to close down Creston, which was - and is - a terrible move, and things took a major downward turn for me professionally.
After Creston closed in the summer of 2013, my brother and I went on a road trip. It was 46-days, and the best vacation of my life. We started in Chicago, headed West, then south, then north, then east. We spent time at Glacier National Park, Missoula, mid-Washington, San Juan Islands, Vancouver, Seattle, Portland. From there, we took the coast slowly down through Oregon and California, turinng east at San Francisco, visiting Yosemite National Park, making our way down to LA. From LA, we went Vegas, the Grand Canyon, and ended in Denver at our friend, Greg's wedding.
When I got home, it was time for school, and things went badly right away. The school I was at was terrible, and I couldn't take it. I received my first poor evaluation, by a leader I found incompetent. I received poor marks on paper, though these were never discussed or explained. The school had no discipline, which I fucking hate, and the students were unruly. But rather than complain, I'll use an example. A student's parent came to the school to complain about me. The school had to cater to this particular parent because of a lawsuit, and when the parent came in, the students in my class were like, "You're about to get cussed out." Shortly after she arrived, the phone in my classroom rang. Someone came to my class to 'sub', while I got cussed out by the parent. This happened in the principal's office, in front of the principal, and this parent stood, pointed fingers, and used more profanity than anyone has ever directed toward me at one time. If it had been a man, I would have been tempted to fight. But a very odd thing happened. A compassion arose in me. I found a peace and entered a mental space that I did not know existed. Rather than hear the woman's words, I heard her concern; she had a daughter that was dealing with an illness that was threatening her life, and I was the scapegoat. I sent prayers of peace for the woman; I had no kids and couldn't imagine losing one if I did. The root of the parent's concern was she thought her daughter was going to receive a failing grade for being in the hospital; she'd supposedly heard a rumor, unrooted in fact, that her daughter was going to fail my class. I assured her that her daughter would have all the time she needed to make up any assignment or task when she was better. Her health was the goal. (I'm pretty good, in professional settings, at looking past the b.s. and getting to the root of a problem.) The meeting ended in a very odd way. The mother - the same woman that had just spent fifteen minutes berating me - stopped and said, "I thought about you the other day. My daughter said your were color blind. And I saw these glasses on tv that help color blind people see colors. My cousin works at a place that makes them. I'm gonna try and get you a pair." That was how it ended. This woman was going to help me out.
The whole thing was surreal. This was a professional setting, and during a class period that I should have been teaching, I was called out so that a mother could 'cuss me out'. In the course of the same meeting, she went from telling me all about my life to trying to help me see color. This disassociation from reality is something that I do not understand, but epitomizes my time in the Grand Rapids Public Schools. Later that year, I was transferred, the next year I was made a sub, and then I was fired. (Full details.)
(But that's how the whole experience there was for me. And, as a sort of Silver Lining, it's the same place I met my wife.)
Sort of What I Wish I'd Have Done
It's now 2018, so the firing occurred nearly 2 years ago. A lot has happened in these two years, which brings me to the point of this post. If I could do one thing over again, it would be this: I would go back to the meeting with the mother in the 2013/14 school year. The second she stood up and started yelling, I would say this, "I'm sorry that you are so upset. I'm also sorry that your daughter is sick. That must be very hard, and I will keep your family in my prayers. But you may not speak to me this way. In fact, if you continue to do so, I will begin video recording this conversation." I would turn to the principal and add, "You cannot allow this to happen. I am a teacher here, and this parent is verbally assaulting me. Not only are you allowing this, but you're facilitating it. If you do nothing, I will bring this video to the next school board meeting."
I didn't do that, though. Instead, I took it. I didn't stand up for myself because I thought I needed the paycheck and didn't know what to do. I didn't realize this at the time, of course. It is only in hindsight that I can pick the moment of that meeting as the time things really went south.
The two years that followed, personally and professionally, sucked. I put on 40 pounds and became what I would come to call Spiritually Sick. I have never heard the term used before, but it is the only way I can describe what I felt. I showed up to work nearly every day for two years, because I felt like I had to. In turn, I walked into situations that were weakening my soul and wreaking havoc on my spirit.
Being part of something I am morally and ethically against took a toll on my body. I got chest pains, and had to go to the emergency room. I drank too much. I ate shittily. My body was crying out for change, but I ignored it. In addition to chest pain, my calf (actually, both left and right), shoulder, and back all hurt. If I would workout, I'd only get injured more. Mentally I was checked out, too. The only way I could relax was if I had a couple drinks and watched tv at night. My mind was not working very well. I had a hard time forming sentences and thoughts. It was like I was detached from reality. Someone would say something, and it felt like this:
words - blank - blank - blank - where am I - what - oh, words - huh? - response
I felt like a shell. It felt a bit like drowning. It felt like I was just barely hanging on. I did it for the paycheck.
If I could go back, this is what I would do:
After resigning, I would have said to my friends and family: this is really hard on me right now, and I'm starting to feel weak. Something in my spirit is dying, and I must make a change. Then, I would have gotten any job that would pay me enough to live on. (It would have taken only like $500 p/week after taxes). Then, I would have come up with three goals: 1 spiritual, 1 physical, 1 mental. Once I had the goals written down, I would work toward accomplishing them and planning next steps.
Sort of the Point
I'm much more interested in the question What now? than What if? And the thing is, I learned a fuck ton from that experience. Although I wouldn't wish the spiritual, emotional, and physical turmoil I experienced on anyone, what I did learn from the experience is that your own self and who you are is much more important than a paycheck, than a job, and than compromising your integrity.
Essentially what I did was deny the self. I didn't listen to the still-small voice inside of myself. I did not view myself as fearfully and wonderfully made. I did not find myself worthy of love, appreciation, acceptance, or anything good. I thought I had to take it.
But I won't anymore.
My hope is that sharing my struggle and the damage of denying the self will help you, if you identify a similar struggle in your own life. There is something you can do, now. My goal is that anyone that finds this, and finds themself in a similar rut can hear these words and think: it gets better. You can do something. Do it now. I, for one, believe in you. I, for one, will encourage you. If you need individual encouragement, send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org, and I will read it and respond to you personally.
I've made a change, and I feel a lot better. I've been blasting content, learning new things, and putting my wellbeing as a priority. I've been more prolific in 2017 than any other year. I went from being unable to run without pulling a muscle to running 5-miles consistently. I've been on a journey. I've gone to physical therapy, worked out a ton, been focusing on mindfulness, and trying to get everything aligned. It's been a process, but it works.
I'd say that I feel whole again. I'd say that I feel my own body, and that I'm in the present moment. I'm, personally and currently, ready to step it up a level. That is what this series is about. I'm using this series to share my journey. Hop on board. Come along. You will grow as I do. I will be providing steps and opportunities to take it to the next level of growth. If this is something you'd like, please join along. If this is something you think a friend or colleague, or family member would like and appreciate, please pass it along.
I do not like complainers. I do like results. I think it's okay to complain once (or as long as it takes to get the language right), but then you must do. Doing is where the action is. Doing is where the life is. We all have a person to be, and something to give. If you need a bit of encouragement to get there, follow along.
This is our year.