Yesterday, my entire day revolved around poop and snot. Before you worry, though, they are healthy poops (just an abundance) and allergy snot, so no one’s actually ill. Beyond the constant bottom and nose wiping, I prepared and cleaned up after three full meals, ran to rescue the dog bowls from the baby multiple times, colored about a bajillion unicorn pictures, read no less than fifteen Berenstain Bears books (which are not short by the way), and put the baby down for a nap twice, no easy task. Now please don’t get me wrong, I am not complaining, merely giving you a little glimpse of daily life around here with my littles.
Just a year ago, a typical Wednesday would’ve looked a lot different: teaching fourth graders, replying to parent emails, grading papers, planning lessons, answering questions, and all the things that go along with being in a school. Plus then I’d be picking up my daughter, preparing dinner, and getting in some good quality time with my family before bedtime so it could all start again.
This week, I finished reading Essentialism by Greg McKeown. And I honestly think it will go down as one of the most important books I’ve ever read. Although at first glance it seems geared towards managers and corporations, it spoke to me personally and profoundly as well. The idea of Essentialism revolves around “doing less, but better”. McKeown suggests that we find our passion. Find our purpose. Find the one thing that we know we can do well and do it, and forget the rest. He tells us to ask ourselves, “What do I want to go big on?” and “What meets a significant need in the world?” He says, “we are looking for the one where we can make our absolutely highest point of contribution” (pg 112). He calls this a person’s “core purpose“. This doesn’t have to be a profession or career, per se. It could be a hobby, a project, an art, a service to others. And, by the way, I’ve come to believe that a person’s core purpose can change, especially in different seasons of life.
If you had asked me eight years ago what my core purpose was, what I believed could be my highest point of contribution, I would have said teaching. I loved to plan lessons, look for new methods and strategies. I loved to share great literature with my students and teach them the best I knew how. I thought it was something I would do forever, and love forever. As I read Essentialism, though, I had a sort of epiphany. Another of McKeown’s main points is that to have the most impact and do the most good, we must be focused on our purpose, have some clarity. He writes:
“The fact is, motivation and cooperation deteriorate when there is a lack of purpose…When there is a serious lack of clarity about what the team stands for and what their goals and roles are, people experience confusion, stress, and frustration” (pg 121).
Indeed, in my last couple years of teaching, I experienced much confusion, stress, and frustration, so this statement struck me. And I realized that, in fact, my passion and my purpose in teaching did not quite match. I felt like my purpose should have been to teach my students to love learning, to be independent and self-motivated in their learning. But, the more I watched and listened, the more I discovered that my underlying, unspoken “purpose” was to get kids to pass a test, and the rest was just icing on the cake. I especially felt this disconnect with writing instruction. I believe, to my core, that students should be taught to write in order to find their voice, their story, be able to express their unique ideas and opinions in an understandable and meaningful way. However, when presented with the objectives of the state writing test, it felt like my purpose then became to teach students to write within a set of preconceived notions about what writing ought to be according to non-educators and non-writers. And I just couldn’t reconcile those two feelings. I know there are great teachers out there who know how to do this, I just didn’t have the energy.
For this, I suppose it’s a good reason that I chose to step back from teaching for now. Essentialism confirmed this for me, since another big idea from the book is to know when to say “no”. And I’m so glad I’ve said “no” for the time being. I didn’t feel like I could be a great teacher and also a great mom and wife. I knew I would either be great at one of those and terrible at the others or I would do a mediocre job with all, unfair to everyone. Please understand, I have nothing but respect for the teachers who stay and teach, despite the challenges and frustrations. You are so needed and so valuable. I do hope that one day I will find a way to go back in some capacity. I just hope things will change or that I will be able to find a way to work within the system but also be able to uphold my beliefs about teaching. Education and literacy and writing remain passions of mine, and for now I will do everything I can at home to ensure my own children’s education and love of literacy.
Since we made the choice for me to stay home, people ask me all the time, “Are you loving it?” and I can sincerely answer yes, I do love it. My kiddos will only be this little once, and I feel a great responsibility (and purpose!) in helping them know they are loved and belong and teaching them how to be kind and to discover their own passions. And while poop is certainly not a passion of mine, caring for my children is my core purpose for now. And I’m in love with that purpose.
Currently Reading: Update on my reading challenge (read more about that here)! I finished Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan for the “over 500 pages” category, and it was AMAZING, made even better by the fact that it was a (mostly) true story. Of course, WWII novels will always be fraught with sadness and ugliness, but this one also told of great resilience and hope. I also finished Essentialism as I said before, completing the “recommended by someone with great taste” category. And, just for fun, I re-read The Secret Garden on my Kindle to get through the long nights with the baby, which was as beautiful as I ever remembered!
Currently Cooking: Sausage, White Bean, and Potato Soup. It has been COLD here! Like wear-leggings-underneath-your-jeans cold. So we have been eating all the soup. This recipe from The Magnolia Journal is delicious and filling.
Thanks for reading and until next time, peace and love from my household to yours.