It’s back to school time and I’m panic applying again

Happy New (school) Year, everyone! It’s that magical time of year when kids are excitedly putting on carefully curated new outfits and heading to see the friends they’ve missed over the summer, teachers are frantically making sure everything is as ready as it can possibly be for the first day, and parents are doing their best to hide the giddy anticipation of a few quiet hours that comes with the kids being gone.

Back to School season hits a little differently for me. Instead of being excited about a new year, or even grieving the end of summer, I tend to be hit with a wave of “what am I doing with my life” panic. This is my third year out of the classroom, and so far, it has happened every year. I see the posts from all my teacher contacts doing all the back to school things, and I feel left out. My own kid goes to school in the mornings, and I feel purposeless. Everyone else in the house goes to work, and I’m left with my thoughts. So I do what any rational person that blindly left a profession would do: I start looking for jobs. All the jobs. Forget the fact that I left a perfectly good job to find my higher calling, I’m clicking on any job I’m qualified for. I drive past businesses with “help wanted” signs posted thinking “I could work at Home Depot!” I look at my school district’s current openings and wonder if it’s too late to go back to teaching this year. This usually goes on for at least a couple weeks until either I run out of steam or someone (usually my husband or counselor) gently, yet irritably reminds me that I’m being ridiculous and that what I’m so frantically looking for is not what I really want. I’ll sulkily admit that they’re right and go back to trying to figure out what exactly that really is. And while I feel like I get a little bit closer each year, I still feel like whatever it is I’m meant for is just outside the periphery of what I can see.

One of the dozens of books I have read over the past few years is The Element by Ken Robinson. The book contains several stories of well known people that were able to live successful lives by finding their element regardless of scholastic aptitude or level of education. To oversimplify, Dr. Robinson asserts that an individual’s “element” is where their natural talent and skill meets their personal passion. It all sounds pretty simple if you know what your skills and talents are, or if your list of personal passions is limited to one or two things, but neither of those were true for me. Fortunately, I have notebooks on notebooks of journal entries, notes, and mindless rantings and in thumbing through one of those notebooks, I came across a graphic that looked like it might help. This graphic put purpose (or “element”) at the intersection of an individual’s talents, passions, values, and lived experiences. By the time I was finished filling in each area, my graphic looked like this:

I identified my talents as: communication, organization, relationships, and teaching. My most closely held values are inclusion, compassion, relationship, and equity. I am passionate about helping marginal groups, social justice, advocacy, and serving the community. I feel I offer expertise in parenting, mental health, personal growth, and healing trauma through my lived experience. So really, all I need to do is figure out how all these things relate to each other and BAM! My calling! My dream job! The thing which will give my life deeper meaning and somehow eventually bring in an income! It’s right there!

Hopefully the presence of a big question mark in the center is indicative of the level of sarcasm I’m trying to convey. I feel like it is somehow helpful to see these categories mapped out in this manner, but figuring out how to use it is a little bit infuriating. It feels like I’ve been putting together a jigsaw puzzle, and just as the picture is almost complete, I realize there are no more pieces.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to give up. I’ll keep looking for the big piece – under the couch, behind the refrigerator, or wherever. In the meantime though, if you know anyone looking for a compassionate parent with a background in mental health to inclusively communicate on behalf of a marginalized group, please direct them my way.

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