Life is full of yin and yang, good and bad, ups and downs. Choosing a sustainable life – a life that can be maintained at a certain level and easily justified or upheld – might look like the sweet spot between the pendulum’s swings. While it’s created a bit of confusion about what I “believe”, it has also helped me sort out how I feel about choosing things that serve me well and letting the rest go.
I have been afraid to justify my existence as a writer. I have dabbled in the craft and explored a fraction of the work it takes to grow a career. You might say it’s a calling for me, but I have not treated it like a vocation. In fact, I became a teacher with the hope that I might make a difference in the writing lives of students. And collect a regular paycheck. I believed it could be a sustainable career for my writing life as well as serving a purpose for others. Equal to my dream of becoming a writer, I have always wanted to be a teacher. I believed it to be the most authentic career for me as a human, next to a person who gets to put “Writer” on their resume.
Almost 10 years ago I went to Haiti. I entered the mission field hoping to make a difference in the lives of people there. That wasn’t what happened. At all. I drove into the city with suitcases full of elite, arrogant intentions. Turns out I brought nothing good for Haitians. It was a powerful example of how we should leave our baggage behind. Change only happens through community and connection. It takes time. I went to Haiti and the only thing that changed was my own thinking.
I realize that sometimes you start an endeavor with an intended outcome in mind. As a teacher, it was to start an honorable career that meant something. I wanted to make a difference. I wasn’t prepared for what was to come. Whatever you think, it takes hours beyond the school day/ year to be successful. And by successful I mean it takes forever to develop the kinds of relationships that grow learners. I once thought that being a teacher meant helping students learn how to do something, but together we found it was more important to learn why. It was the students who taught me the importance of process over product. In the end, I was the one left changed.
A fitting end to the school year, and to this season of my teaching career, was a conversation with a student who was reticent about the future. I reminded him that fitting ourselves into boxes isn’t the only option – we can only go so far in a classroom; in a school. Some people are meant to explore, some are meant to ask questions, some are meant to sit in the sweet spot, and some ride the pendulum for all it’s worth. Regardless of where life takes us, we have the power to be our best selves.
We enter situations believing one thing, and if we’re lucky we leave knowing another. I am a connector of humans. Whether I write or whether I learn alongside students, my voice is of value through the voices of those around me. My existence at the center is only to amplify, to lift up and to give wings to the words of others. One of my favorite questions in the classroom was, “Whose perspective is missing from this story?” I want deeply to understand where people are coming from. I’m not always good at it. But for me, the sweet spot of it all came from the mouths of the HS students who discovered someone who listened and someone who believed their words mattered. Without knowing, writing has become vocational in ways I never imagined.
Maybe you can have the best of both worlds – the yin and the yang. Sustainability exists by asking questions and seeking answers. It is the voice found in the mix of the old and the new. It is the writer and the teacher. It is perseverance and rest. It is playing it safe and trying something new. It is success and failure. It is the beginning and the end. It grows over time in the safety of connection and community. It is neither right nor wrong. To live a sustainable life you must be willing to sit in the sweet spot of juxtaposition.