Friday, February 21, 2014

Patterns: Practice, Patience, and Passion (for those of us in transition)

When I start seeing patterns and themes in the everyday events in my life, I know there is a lesson I need to learn. It’s not to say that I think the patterns I see are a message from the universe, rather, I think my attention tends to turn toward what must be tended—I notice ideas related to what I need to know.

The past week has been one of turbulence: stormy skies, sporadic sunshine, and melting snow. This morning I got caught in a downpour, the whirling wind ripping the hood of my rainjacket off my head and turning my umbrella inside out twice. I arrived at my office with wild, witchy hair, wet pants, and soggy socks from leaking boots. Now, only a few hours later, I see students wearing shorts, crossing campus under a bright blue sky. 

The weather mimics my moods lately—swinging crazily between storms (ice, snow, rain) and spring-like sun. I’m in the midst of uncertainty, caught up in a job search, experiencing the excitement of interviews and campus visits and also the difficulties of rejection. My life is one in transition. Meanwhile, my students—about whom I care deeply—are finding their passions in classrooms, experiencing major life changes both joyful and tragic, and making critical decisions, in transition, too. Right now, everything feels in flux, and I am looking for any patterns I can find. 

Yesterday, a social media message arrived. A friend shared an article about choosing NOT to follow one’s passion, drawing from insights in a recent book about success. The article discusses some basic thoughts about how our passions, which are often unrelated to the work we do, can lead us to discontent rather than fulfillment when we follow them. Rather than chasing our passions and trying to combine them with our work, the author writes, it is better to practice, to focus on mastery and experience, to push through discomfort, and to be patient. When we do so, we find passion, as what we intentionally do becomes something we love.

When we practice, we cultivate care and meaning. I know this is true in my own experience. I did not set out to be a teacher. I became a teacher out of some time in the working world not related to my English diploma—it was a quick master’s program in a field I thought I might like, an opportunity to use my degree. There were teachers in my family, so I had models for teaching as an occupation, but I didn’t feel that teaching was my lifework until later. After much practice, career became calling. Patience and skill yielded passion over time, and now I can’t imagine doing anything else. A choice made of opportunity became my identity. My time in my current job, if nothing else, cemented my identity as a teacher. I know I am a good teacher, and I know I will continue teaching, even though the future is unclear.

Andreas, B. "Different Plans."

This morning, I received another message. I subscribe to artist Brian Andreas’s “Story of the Day” email; his “Story People” artworks combine text and image in surprising, silly, and sometimes profound ways. Today’s story spoke directly to my recent recent demeanor.

A reminder that I don’t always get to choose what I want, and that loss is inevitable, this story reminds me to be awake and alive at this crossroads, grateful for the open question of what is to come. In a few short months, I will have clearer answers—I will have a plan for the future, know whom I will be teaching and where we will be.

For now, though, I have turmoil, uncertainty, and mystery. But I have more than that, too. In the ever-changing present, in the shifting weather, I have practice and passion to guide me, and patience to help me stay steady, until the skies clear. 

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