Teachers and parents work for love. Something deep inside us, a motive we often take for granted, drives us to commit a part of our lives to children. We don’t take a test to determine if we have the requisite set of talents and abilities to do well at this, and we would be the first to tell you that when we started we didn’t have the skill set. We just take on the challenge our genius told us it was ours to take on.
Sheryl, the latest addition to my honor role of educators, told me her story last month.
Unsure what she wanted to do with her life at the age of 27, Sheryl landed a position at a school near Washington D.C. teaching writing, humanities, and women’s studies to seventh and eighth graders. She exudes enthusiasm as she looks back on those five years.
“There was no curriculum. I got to create the writing and women’s studies courses, and I worked alongside a fabulous team of teachers to build the humanities curriculum,” she says, beaming from ear to ear.
“Sounds like you loved every minute.”
“I did. I treasure those years and still count many of those colleagues among my dearest friends. And I will always have a special place in my heart for the kids I taught there. I really loved them.”
“But wasn’t that hard? You must have suffered a lot. Didn’t it drive you crazy? The stress must have been tremendous.”
“Oh, absolutely! There were days I drove home from school near tears because of all I had to do before I faced the students again the next morning. And those were the days before we could access everything on the Internet; I spent hours at libraries all over D.C. But I loved it. I remember walking into the classroom on my first day, unsure what a seventh or eighth grader even looked like, and knowing right away that I was home. I had found something I loved.”
For all its uniqueness and beauty, Sheryl’s experience is common. It is potentially universal, for each of us has a genius, an inner wisdom, that will guide us toward the person we are becoming. This genius is not contemptuous of others, or of community, or the environment, but passionate about them, and passionate about finding its way within that environment and making a difference in it. Often ignored or overridden to our detriment, our genius is nonetheless very resistant to distraction and nearly indestructible.
Contrary to popular opinion, stress is not antithetical to happiness. On the contrary, stress comes with the terrain of becoming the person we are supposed to become. Our genius calls us to take on challenges. Facing those challenges, we acquire the disciplines to pursue our work in the world. In doing so we build our character and become the authorities we are meant to become. It feels like love.
So my wish for us all as we head into the hectic holidays is to find a place of peace as we pursue what we love. That might even mean taking a chapter from a builder friend of mine who liked to say, as we were working on my log cabin in the woods, “Stop every 50 minutes and admire your work.” Those who love children, let’s stop—at least once a year—and admire our work.
I’ll set an example. Geniusinchildren is going into hibernation for the rest of 2010. Talk to you in January.