Wednesday, April 22, 2015

On Work (or, the courage to follow what matters)

Yes, leave it to me to create hope where there was none
The human being shall cast shadows on the sun
Leave it to me to create hope where there was none
My inner soul shall cast shadows on the sun
-Brother Ali
Me and my brother Charlie before his death in 2009

“The mundane details of our life eat us up. 
Therefore it is important to keep asking ourselves again and again:
what is the most important thing?”
– Pema Chodron

I have been going through some serious angst related to my job.  The truth is that it is much harder than what I could accurately describe to you.  It isn't just dealing with kids (and raising normal, healthy kids is very hard work), it is the dysfunctional kids, it is those parents who are worse than neglectful, it is a system that does not honor teachers but instead blames them for everything that is wrong with our society when they are the ones who are doing something to fix it.  It is watching good, brilliant, hard-working women be beat down under a structure that is designed to create failure.  After eight years I have reached a breaking point.

This has led me to seek other options.  This week alone I've contacted several friends working in the corporate world as well as every graduate program the University of Utah has to offer.  I want to show the universe that I am willing to do whatever it takes.  This morning I took the initial steps of applying to an MBA program.

Except, the thing is I don't really want an MBA.  Like, not at all.  Not even a little.  And I am really, really bad at faking things.  Fortunately for me, this afternoon I found myself in the writing office of my friend and exemplar, Nan.  I have been trying to clean out my house and my life of any unnecessary clutter so I can prioritize those things that matter most.  In the midst of dropping off random paper, I asked Nan for her opinion.  Can one really follow their bliss?  What do I do with the nagging tugs on my heart and soul to make more meaning of my life?  How do I reconcile my need to work with my need to contribute my soul's gifts while I am here?  Can I find a life where I am giving service and feel good at the same time?  In a world that will neatly knock the dream out of you, how do I know it is still okay to dream?

These are not selfish questions.  They are essential.  This is not about laziness or a desire to not work.  In fact, it is quite the opposite.  It is about the desire to make our lives matter, to make our work matter, to give our unique set of talents and gifts to the world in the way that only we can do.  It is about finding the courage to show up and work with integrity in a world that is trying everyday to stop you from doing exactly that.

Nan's words spoke straight to the heart of the matter.  "Celeste, you are the most vibrant of people.  Of course you deserve to dream.  All the dreams in the world belong to you."  And she meant it.  She went on to mention that I wouldn't be very happy in the corporate world.  As soon as she she said it, I realized that I already know it to be true.  I think there's where the angst comes in.  There is a tremendous amount of pressure in this world to conform.  But the human soul yearns for freedom.  And at times the road less traveled is lacking in signage.

I recently read this article by Paul Kalanithi who passed away earlier this year at the tender age of 37 from cancer.  In it he describes how it feels to want to know a definite timeline for his life.  His oncologist ends up telling him, "I can't tell you a time..  You've got to find what matters most to you."  Those words, while particularly poignant for Mr. Kalanithi, are true for all of us.  I am currently 32, the same age as my beloved brother when he was tragically killed in a car accident on his way to work.

None of us knows how long we've got, and (while abundantly clear in the face of death) in the mundane heaviness of day to day life what matters most is not always obvious.  A myriad of external things are vying for our attention, our time, worries, and effort.  In fact, that is where my main frustration with teaching public school has come from- the prioritization of trivial things.  So, while my career path remains unclear, I feel a renewed courage to speak my truth.  I know exactly how it feels to be free and how it feels to have compromised myself.

My commitment to that internal compass remains.  I will continue to show up authentically and to look for ways I can give my gifts to the world.  I believe this quote from Deepak Chopra to be true with all my heart.  May we have the courage to honor the alignment our souls are seeking.

"When you’re living your true purpose in life, your dharma, abundance flows to you easily and effortlessly. As the popular saying goes, 'Do what you love and the money will follow.'  It is not only material wealth, but also satisfaction, confidence, optimism, joy, and abundance in all its forms that will follow you when you are living [a life with integrity.]"

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