Freedom to Interpret

Last night, an owl woke me up.  Given the day I had just had, I couldn’t help but think that it meant something.  Just what, though, I wasn’t totally sure.

I’ve worked for the last twelve years in two schools.  I have loved many parts of working in a school, and have had joy in creating meaning with how I spend my work hours.  But lately I’ve had a harder and harder time with people in the pecking order above me.  I’ve shoved aside the frustration with the higher administration for years in order to roll my sleeves up and do the right, day-to-day things for the kids and teachers.  As I have been consciously working on connecting with my inner energy and intuition, though, I’ve been having a harder time not feeling like the universe is trying to point me in another direction.

I was a teacher for two years at my current school when the principal came to me and told me that she wanted me to become an assistant principal.  I felt I could do it well, and that I could make the environment better for teachers and support them well.  I never set out to seek an administrative position, nor does power for its own sake entice me, but when I look around at most of my fellow administrators, all I see are people who care about their power.  I think that is the alarm that is going off in my gut.

Last spring, I reluctantly made a lateral move in the school.  My boss and her boss both told me that I was the only person who had the skill set to do it, and that it would be doing it for the greater team.  I said I didn’t want to leave my role, because I knew I was doing it well and was well suited for it.  The assistant superintendent told me, “I really need for you to step up and take it.”  Felt vaguely threatening and heavily coercive.  I felt I really didn’t have a choice so I asked for a raise if I took it.  I was told I’d be remembered at contract time.  I stepped into the new position, and you guessed it- I got no raise.

I’ve tried to do the right thing by telling my bosses I’m not happy with the move, and that I feel disrespected.  I haven’t said this in a threatening way, but in an effort to be honest, and to release the tension of walking into a job every morning that I really don’t like, while watching the person they put into my old position make some pretty big, culturally-demoralizing errors.  It makes me sad and sick to my stomach.  I do my new job just fine, and try to keep my chin up as much as I can.

However, in checking in with my inner self, I’ve done what I think is best, which is to start looking at other options for work.  I check job sites and have applied to a couple of things that I think I would be really good at- but crickets in response.  All of my experience in the last decade has been in schools.  It’s frustrating, because if you wrote out my experience (responsible for managing, maintaining and improving company of eighty employees, serving thousands of stakeholders; developing and instituting innovative programs for improved culture and outcomes etc.) it sounds like I should have at least what it takes to get an interview for something.  But no bites.  The world outside of schools somehow doesn’t recognize this experience.  Completely frustrating, but I’m practicing my zen mindset and have started exploring other avenues, reminding myself that truly, those companies wouldn’t deserve me if they couldn’t think for a second outside the box to even interview me.

Option two: become an independent contractor of some kind and make a job on my own terms.  About six weeks ago, I ran into my former colleague in sales from before my divorce.  He has always wanted me to come back and work with him again.  And this time, when he again told me that he’d like to have me back, I surprised him by telling him I was interested.  I spent a couple of weeks studying my insurance licensing stuff again and just passed the exam again last week.  I’m taking a day off school next week and will complete a training and feel out the situation.  There’s money to be made there, for sure, but it’s intimidating because it would completely remove my safety net of a paycheck every other week, as well as benefits.  I’m hesitating, but I can’t tell if it’s from my gut telling me it’s not the right move, or from just my deep-seated fear of financial insecurity.

So I’m spreading out my options.  I signed up for real estate school, and just requested eight of my eighteen PTO days last week.  I talked to the person in HR responsible for approving the time off, and stated the truth, “I’m putting in for eight days, which I know is a lot during the school year, but I am going to real estate school.”  The look on his face was priceless.  You could see in his face that it set his pulse flying.  No one wants to lose me from the school, because on some level they know it will spark a crisis of morale with all the teachers.  My request for time off obviously set off alarm bells for my upper management, because the assistant superintendent came down to the school yesterday to talk to me.

Now all of this is pretty funny to me, because I have a lot of people at the school loyal to me who had tipped me off that this superintendent was going to come to talk to me.  So although my upper management thought they were surprising me and going to get some kind of concession from me, I knew the moment was coming and was able to just concentrate on detaching from anger and frustration and just state the truth.

“I’m not happy, and I don’t like the job you made me take.  I was very well-suited to the other job, and I am already watching the culture erode.  I am doing nothing malicious, but the person you put into my old position is rude and likes power.  It is obvious to all of the teachers and students.  It is too sad for me to watch everything I have worked so hard for dissolve in front of my eyes, and I’m not sure if I will continue with the organization,” I told the superintendent.

And, to my surprise, he immediately conceded that he had made a mistake, but that he couldn’t hit the reset button.  He told me that he wanted me to stick out the year, and if I did so, he would make me a head of school at a different campus next year.  I told him I didn’t know if I wanted that.  That I had never done my job as a means to becoming a principal or higher.  That I had poured my heart and soul into this school, and had developed relationships with these teachers, students and parents over the course of many years.  And that I frankly didn’t know if I had the energy to start all over again at a different school, for an organization that didn’t know my skill set well enough to avoid these kinds of terrible errors in the first place.  He told me to please think about it and that we would talk again in December.

I walked out of the meeting calm and with a sense of satisfaction of having some options.  And although I am still going to go through with real estate school in a few weeks, I’m not sure what I am ultimately going to decide to do.

I went to bed last night but woke up at about 3:00 am and couldn’t get back to sleep no matter how hard I tried to let go of thoughts and just feel the peace inside my heart.  I finally started to doze off when I heard the owl.  I woke back up not with a startle, but with a happiness for having heard it.  I listened to it for the next ten minutes or so.  Thoughts bounced back and forth- from the owl to what had transpired that day with my bosses.  That symbol of wisdom was right outside my bedroom somewhere, seeing in the dark, looking down on everything around it.  It was confirmation that I was on the right path, even though I have no idea what path that is.  And yes, it was my imposing symbolic meaning onto what was happening, but that was okay.  If my mind is a tool, I want it to be on my side instead of working against me, as it has done in the past for so many years.



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