“You don’t need to change yourself. You need to come home to yourself.”
I was sitting in the grass listening to a talk by the Reverend John Scherer (mentioned in yesterday’s post) and this line really stood out.
It was not a new idea for me. Martha Beck, with whom I studied life coaching, often talks about coming home to peace as the foundation of personal growth and transformation.
The concept of improving things by coming home to peace, to yourself, is a game-changer, and it was a good reminder to me even now.
I’ve been thinking about shaking some things up in my business, in my practice, and when I think about that really hard, which is my temptation as one who has regularly been rewarded for the thinking in the past, I am usually inclined to add a bunch of stuff, to seek out and take advice from the VAST multitude of business consultants out there (if you’ve never worked for yourself and seen this first hand, trust me you’d be blown away by how much money is changing hands learning how to make money change hands). I get really busy, big lists, big tasks. I check in with a lot of people: what do you think, how does this look, will this work, am I okay?
I spend a fair amount of time figuring out how to change what I’m doing, which sometimes morphs a bit into changing who I’m being. I know some of you feel me on this. We make concessions. They tend to start small, but can end up feeling really big when we realize that we’re proceeding in a way that we not only don’t really recognize but that feels foreign in a not exciting kind of way, that feels icky not just scary, that feels like a compromise with someone you really don’t like. We change to fit the world, or at least our understanding of the world.
It reminds me of my first couple of years teaching high school. I remember shopping for clothes for that job. I remember needing those clothes to look a certain way, some sort of picture I had in my head of teacher. It had nothing to do with modesty. It was just some idea of what I thought a teacher should look like. I also had ideas about how a teacher should act. I made my choices carefully (which isn’t always a bad thing – don’t misunderstand me). I SO wanted to get it right. As for the work itself, I worked my behind off. I was an excellent teacher. Or, I should say, the me that I constructed for the purpose of teaching, was an excellent teacher.
Because the thing is that I wasn’t really there. I was so busy making sure I was being right for the part that I forgot that I was not an actor. I forgot to bring my actual self to work with me.
And it broke me. There is little as draining as being someone other than who you are all day every day (especially when you have to get up at 5 am to do it).
I was so exhausted from all of that being perfect that when I got home, well, after I finished the part of the job that I did at home, which was usually at 9 or 10 pm (I am not receptive to comments about how easy teachers have it), I had no energy to come home to myself, to try to plug back in and remember who was in there, to find the parts of me that might help make things feel better.
And so I concluded that I just needed to get better at the job to feel better doing it. I needed to get better at all of the parts that teaching is made up of. I needed to get better at planning (I did, by the way). I needed to get better at creating materials (checked that one off the list too). I needed to get better at asking for help from colleagues (some progress). I needed to get better at organizing systems for the classroom (no progress, ever). I needed to get better at all of the mechanical elements that took up so much time.
It never once occurred to me in those first couple of years that I needed to pay more attention to my relationships with students. We had a good, working relationship. I was deemed “professional and friendly” in observations. Sounds good. Except that the relationships, and my capacity to be helpful to them was the thing that might have saved the entire experience.
It is easy to see this now as a life coach, someone who still teaches, and who is very clear on the fact that what I teach is only part of the gig. The relationships that come with the job and the fulfillment I get in being allowed to witness important transformations feed me. It is easy, in retrospect, to see what might have made a difference in my early teaching experience.
It is easy because now, so many years later, I know that the trick is coming home to myself.
And yet, I am still tempted to just better myself, to get better at the mechanics of the job, to get better at marketing, to get better at organizing things (still a big zero on that front), and don’t misunderstand me, getting better at the mechanics is not a bad thing. It’s a question of how I make that decision.
If I come at improving myself from a place of fear and a willingness to be somebody different so that my world will not fall apart, so that I will win in some way that my culture defines for me, so that things will “work,” I just may get what I want, but it won’t feel very good.
If I come at my work from a place of figuring out who I am and bringing that person to work with me, it’s still scary, because I’m a little afraid of letting all of you see her all of the time, BUT every decision after that is so much easier, and the results feel better no matter what they are, because I am home.
Are you home? Would you like to be?