Over the past six months, whenever I’ve shared my plans to take a year out from teaching and off of “work”, I’ve been met with one of three responses.
The first: genuine excitement. Unfettered elation for me, for unique adventures, for unbridled freedom, for the self-learning, discovery and exchanges that will unfold as I navigate new cultures and communities on my sojourns around the globe.
The second: hesitant confusion. This response unfurls as a genuine mix of curiosity and a void frame of reference from which to make sense of my plans. “What exactly does it mean to take a year “off”? “Do you plan to return to teaching afterwards?” “How will you spend the time?” “How will you manage money?” “Where will you get health insurance?” “Does this mean you’re changing careers?”.
The third: veiled condescension. This response typically begins with commentary about my “amazing opportunity” and digresses into indiscriminate classification of myself with all of the other twenty-somethings out there looking to “find themselves”: gallivanting mellenials grasping at a prolonged adolescence, dodging adult responsibilities…
Indeed, all three responses have prominently guided the discourse surrounding my preparations for this new personal epoch. For while sometimes these sentiments have been aimed at me in conversation, they have dominantly originated in my own head as I have labored to reconcile the detail-oriented, highly rational, continually probing aspects of my personality that have governed the majority of my adult life with the insatiable and intangible intuitive longing that ultimately directed this life decision.
At the pivotal core of my year off, is an instinctual compulsion to ensure that I am doing the best that I can with my life. Is it juvenile to allocate importance and resources to ascertaining one’s vocation in life? Perhaps. It certainly is reflective of the privilege and fortune I’ve been afforded. Nonetheless, this year I’m compelled to relinquish the societally dictated norms of chronological and comparative development and yield to this innate query.
Six months of inner dialogue though have also enabled to rationalize my decision and reconcile all aspects of my disposition with this choice. (Selective reasoning? Not sure it matters…)
Consider: the arguable function of “work” in our world is to provide a manageable, structured approach through which to:
A. Foster an individual’s sense of identity and worth; and,
B. Enable individuals to contribute productively to a broader gestalt of highly stratified, interconnected elements in our society.
The deeper the personal investment in the work, the higher the quality of work completed as output reflects self-worth. As such, in order to contribute optimally to society, an individual has a duty to find work in which they can fully invest. This not only yields the most positive outcome for society, but for the individual engaged in meaningful employment. Someone uncertain of their suitability to their practiced profession is failing to perform their societal duty.
Thus, whether listening to my gut feeling or yielding to the ideas of utilitarian social organization, I have a duty to to myself and to society to make the best use of my time, energy, and knowledge. If I’m not 100% sure that I’m already doing this, it only makes sense to try something new.
I’m not starting from scratch though on this endeavor. Firstly, I have a vast network of friends and family who will propel and direct me to opportunities for growth (thank you!). Secondly, I have two foundational pillars upon which to base my vocational quest.
The first is education. While I never intended to become a teacher-my job of the past five years- for more than half of my life I have felt called to work in education. Meaningful curriculum design, issues of uneven access, debates over functional vs. academic literacy and skills represent to me the truest way to develop human capabilities and thus promote equitable development.
The second is inquiry. I have no desire to discourage the critical analysis and “wonderings” of my brain. I only hope to encourage them to be less ensconced in “work” and more focused on the broader themes and questions that permeate the world.
As such, this year I will be an “inquiring educator”, inquiring into what gives life-my life and the lives of others- meaning. Inquiring into my capabilities and limitations as an individual. Inquiring into the issues that pervade communities and ways through which they achieve goals. Inquiring into why it’s so easy to disconnect from the big picture in life and focus on daily accomplishments and the extent that this is compatible with my personal ability to live a fulfilled life. Inquiring into anything and everything so that when I do turn back to work, which I will inevitably do, I can do so with greater confidence and acceptance of my function in a larger whole and bring more personal experience to fortify my practice.
There’s an extolled wisdom that in order to recognize important patterns and the reasoning behind something you have to consider all of it’s composite parts. Consequently, I’m sitting here, typing this blog entry, engaging in writing- my ultimate form of processing. And so I’ll be doing all year. I’ll be sharing my reflections and investigations as the year progresses. Sometimes it will be wordy, sometimes it will be whimsical, sometimes it will be aimless, but it will always be in earnest.