This one is a journey, y'all, so pour yourself a glass of wine and bring with you an open mind. In the wise words of a cool young snowboarder in JJ and Finn's recent movie premiere, open your heart and your mind will follow. I ask that you do just that for today's chat. Let's get into it!
I don't know if anyone else needs to hear this right now, but you don't have to be one thing. You don't. You don't have to put yourself in a box, and you don't have to allow other people to put you in a box, either. Although, in my experience, it's rarely other people trying to confine us; it's often something we do to ourselves. Perhaps subconsciously, perhaps actively; either way, it's painful, detrimental to our growth, and entirely unnecessary. That said, I struggle with this a lot. Since deciding to become a teacher, I have struggled with it even more. To me, this whole "life" thing has felt like a race to find my place, to fill it well, and to be content right there where I belong. As if it were that easy, and as if humans were so one-dimensional that they would be satisfied in such a bleak and routine existence. As a future teacher, I have convinced myself that my profession will be my identity and will be the thing that defines me. For some reason, I have always longed to have a specific role that would enable me to keep myself wound tightly in one little box where I could rest in the comfort that comes with making myself small. On the other hand, some of you may be reading this thinking it doesn't sound like me at all; I have always loved dipping my toes in a million things, and though that sometimes made me a quitter when I got tired of one thing and moved on to the next, perhaps too hastily, it also made me very multifaceted, or so I'd like to think.
For as long as I've been capable of contemplating my future, I've woken up almost each morning with a new goal set in my mind. One day I want to be an actress, the next a singer, the next a writer... These all might seem to be kind of similar and in the same vein, but then the very next day, I would want to be a teacher, a nutritionist, a Pilates instructor, an entrepreneur, a café owner, a girl who ran away to France or Australia and never returned (maybe to visit her family, but certainly not permanently). And that's just scratching the surface. So, as you can imagine, I've never been one to see my life as being one thing. I've never wanted my life to be one thing. In fact, the thought of my life being just one thing absolutely terrifies me, but it also weirdly brings me an immense amount of comfort. Of course I would like to wake up each day in a lovely, safe home that is my own, go to my steady job with a steady paycheque, come home to a fridge full of food to feed my family, and feel secure in the stability of it all. Sure, that sounds like an ideal and simple way to live. And there are parts of that that I do want, but there are also parts that maybe I don't. Maybe I want to be able to pick up and move halfway across the world one day, but can't I do that with kids and a husband? Sure, it's more difficult, but difficult doesn't mean impossible. Maybe I want to change my career every damn time I feel like it. Sure, I'd like to make a consistent and reliable income, but I'd also like to be wholly happy and fulfilled in my day-to-day responsibilities. Maybe I want to be a hippy beach bum who runs a smoothie shop in Tahiti and speaks French to locals and tourists who stop by for a fresh-pressed juice, and maybe I want to be a chic businesswoman who wears $500 blouses and gets her nails done every three weeks. Can't I be all these things? Does my life, my one precious life, have to be spent in one place, with one identity, chained to one career?
I am going to be very honest here. My feelings towards becoming a teacher fluctuate regularly, but I promise I am mostly very excited and hopeful about it. I am still happy with my decision and feel that this is where I am meant to be right now. But there is this part of me that is afraid that being a teacher somehow puts me in a box. I realize this box is one I am placing myself in, but I do feel a bit as though I am being placed in it by others, too. I mean, on the first day of school, we were literally told to turn up our privacy settings to the highest degree on all of our social media platforms, and to bury anything on the Internet that we wouldn't want our future students to see. It was highly stressed that now, in 2020, the first thing a student will do when they get a new teacher, or even better, a student teacher, is Google them. And the last thing you want is for your students to find a picture of you on a beach in a bikini on your trip to Mexico six years ago, or your friend passing you a shot of tequila on your 18th birthday (or worse, before your 18th birthday), or looking a bit too cozied up with your boyfriend on New Year's Eve.
For me, I'm more terrified of them finding this blog (which I will be changing the name of because obviously, as it currently stands, there is no hiding. I couldn't possibly make it easier to be found than by having my full name as the URL). But this blog is something I love. This blog is where I go when I feel daring enough to leave my most personal thoughts and failures out here for the world to see rather than tucked away in the safe pages of my journal. It is where I go to share my struggles and joys and discoveries so maybe someone else can learn from my own mistakes and epiphanies. It has become a sacred space to me, as corny as it sounds. I know I neglect it when I get busy or feel uninspired, but at the end of the day, I love having this blog. So to think that this special corner of the Internet could be taken from me because it isn't "professional" enough, or because it could let my students in on parts of me that are too private or intimate or personal, well, that makes me sad. And that is what makes me feel like I am being put in a box. You see, we're living in one heck of a digital age -- most of the ways people express themselves and pursue their passions is through the Internet. As a self-declared creative, I never, ever want to feel that I can't use this magical technological tool that joins humans all over the globe to create and share and connect. That is disheartening, and that is one of the biggest things that I find somewhat discouraging about being a teacher. But oh, the irony is just too rich that a classroom is itself a wonderful place for humans to create and share and connect. Just in very different ways.
So where does that leave me? In the past six-ish months, I have been uncovering this sense that lifting other people up is my purpose (BARF, I know). I love writing on here because I hope that something I have been through will resonate with another person and make them feel like they aren't alone in their dark moments. I hope that people will laugh, that they will relate, that they will feel seen or understood. I hope that they will maybe, just maybe, be inspired. I hope that this will be a safe space that allows us to mess up and feel pathetic and throw a pity party, and then move on and learn and grow. But if the sharing of these deeply personal snippets of my life messes with my "professional" career in some way, do I need to give this up? I realize it's not either teach or write a blog. I also realize writing a blog is not going to pay the bills and is not a career, at least not right now ;). I realize I can do both, even if it might lead to ridicule and judgment in my teaching career should an unwanted visitor stumble upon this blog. But part of the reason I want to be a teacher is to do exactly what I aim for this blog to do: it's to lift people up. This is why I want to be a Pilates instructor; because Pilates is my favourite way to move my body and feel strong, and also to feel connected to myself in a spiritual way. This is also why I want to have an Instagram account dedicated to all things health and wellness -- mentally, spiritually, and physically. (I did, in fact, start this Instagram, so stay tuned for more on that.) But can I do it all? And if not, where can I make the biggest difference? Would it be best to leave this blog behind because I can (hopefully) make a greater impact as a high school teacher? (Realistically, I will just make this blog a touch more anonymous and everything will be fine, I hope, but this is still a crisis of identity and calling and purpose, so please just entertain my struggles a bit longer.)
We are all teachers, when you think about it. Whether you stand in front of a classroom full of young learners or simply go about your life in a way that allows others to learn from your own failures and successes, you are a teacher. We have something to learn from every single person we meet. Heck, nature is our greatest teacher, if I may go all spiritual on you. How many lessons do we learn from simply observing the natural world around us? How trees start as seeds, how they grow, they bloom, they lose their leaves, they are left bare, they are hit with wind and snow and hail, they wait patiently for the sun, and then they bud; they grow leaves once again, and they start over. They are beautiful in all phases, though some are better than others. Some feel painful and lonely and empty; some feel bright and abundant and colourful. These are the ebbs and flows of life. The seasons of our world reflect the seasons of our lives. Nature does it with such grace, so why are we so hard on ourselves? Why shouldn't we accept the dark times of growth and struggle for what they are -- opportunities to reinvent ourselves and come out stronger on the other side? Why shouldn't we celebrate the highs and learn from the lows? Or better yet, celebrate the lows too, because we can't have the highs without them; because going down always means you will go back up.
I think what I really want is to feel free, to feel like I'm not tied to one version of myself. To be able to change my beliefs, my job, my life at any given moment, and to not be afraid of what other people will say about it. To live a life that feels good to me, not one that looks good on the outside. I have a tendency to make myself small and to curl myself up in my shell from fear of being judged. I have spent the majority of my life worrying what other people would think of me if I did some thing that I wanted, worrying what other people would say about me if I lived a life that was unconventional or different or just not what was expected of me. I've taken the way I think people perceive me and I've moulded myself around it; I've built my sense of self on what I think people want me to be, rather than allowing myself to be guided by my own intuition and what feels right. Because I've done this for so long, it's hard for me to tap into my authentic desires and realize what I want and who I want to be. And, sadly, I know I'm not the only one who does this. I know there are thousands -- probably millions -- of people who do the same. And some who never wake up from it; some who die wondering why they spent their life trying to please other people and live in a way that looked good on the outside. Can you imagine? We get this one life, this one human body, this one chance to do whatever we want, and some of us spend it living in fear and trying to impress other people. The only person we should be trying to impress is ourselves, and even "impress" isn't the right word. We should simply be trying to live in a way that is meaningful and beautiful to ourselves. Just live. Not impress, not please, just live. Make yourself happy, and other people will be happy for you. And if they aren't, they probably don't deserve to be part of your life, anyway.
Well, didn't that just turn into some mega-hippy tangent. I'm not a hippy, but I would like to reject the idea that anyone who believes in any form of spirituality is a delusional weirdo that should be titled a "hippy." Talk about putting people in boxes! I am learning more and more every single day about who I am, what I want, and how I connect to something greater than myself. I have been journaling every morning, meditating (almost) every night, and trying to consume media and books that lead me to find my own connection to myself, the universe, and the bridge between the two. So call me a hippy, if that is what this looks like to you. You see, I grew up an extreme atheist. Not because my parents raised me to be that way, but because I was brought up in a highly secular environment and was surrounded by scientific minds that didn't seem too concerned with any of that voodoo nonsense. What I find fascinating is that spirituality and science actually go hand-in-hand in a lot of circumstances, but that's not what this is about. The point is, I grew up with a huge block in my mind that completely shut me off from any understanding of the world that wasn't purely physical. It wasn't so much a void as a stubborn refusal to even consider that there could be an element of my existence that I was not aware of. I'm not proud of it, but I loved to make fun of religious people and their "crazy" convictions when I was younger. Any of my friends from high school would attest that I thoroughly enjoyed engaging in religious debates back then and often even instigated them myself, looking for any opportunity to argue that religious beliefs were entirely unfounded and illogical. Those people would be shocked to know that I've since developed my own belief in something greater than just this physical realm, but again, that is besides the point.
All this to say that I had to work a lot harder than most people to grow spiritually. I didn't have a background of believing in anything more than what I could see. I still don't identify with any organized religion, and don't think I ever will, because I am uneasy about the structured nature of it all and the lack of room it leaves for personal interpretations of this exquisitely mystifying universe. Religion simply doesn't sit well with me, and never has, and I'm no longer fighting these gut feelings but am instead leaning in to them and allowing them to guide me. With that said, I certainly have moved away from atheism and am even moving out of my phase of agnosticism and into my own beliefs. It feels good. Notice that it's about how it feels, not about how it looks, or how other people may view it. Learning to do what feels natural to me is the greatest thing I've learned to do, and it is something I will continually be learning to do for the rest of my life. And what a wonderful, magical thought that is: to forever be growing more into my spirituality and, as a result, into myself.
This has been quite the long-winded ramble, branching out into a million thoughts that I hadn't intended to write about when I first started this post, but that's what I love about writing. For me, writing is the key to discovering myself. It is the best way to untangle my thoughts, to delve into my beliefs, to uncover the parts of myself that I have shut away for so long. So I thank you for following along on this winding journey of splattering my brain onto a virtual page. My initial reason for writing was to explore this notion of putting myself in a box. I am still navigating how this will work as a teacher, because it becomes more complicated when you have young, vulnerable, and probably nosy children searching to find any dirt they can on the Internet about their new teacher, but I'll figure it out. The message I want to leave you with is this: I don't have to be one thing, and neither do you. I can be anything and everything I want to be, and so can you. Can I get an amen?! Now go live your life in a way that feels right to you, and for the love of all things good in this world, stop caring how it will look on the outside! If it feels good on the inside, I promise it will shine outward, too. And if people don't appreciate your internal "glow-up," as the millennials say, then screw 'em!
Sorry, I'm getting aggressive here. I think that's my cue to wrap it up. Stay true to yourselves, my friends, and enjoy this lovely September day that you are so fortunate to be experiencing! Do I sound like a total loony?!