"The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others."
- Mahatma Gandhi
Life can be strange. One minute you feel confident, fulfilled and joyful. The next minute you can feel depressed, negative and unappreciated.
Late Fall of 2016 I found myself scouring different sites for what I believed would potentially be, "a fresh start". I had convinced myself that I needed a change to get my mojo back. I thought a new position would re-ignite my spark. For the remainder of 2016 and the first half of 2017 I was updating my resume and keeping my eyes and ears wide open.
Over the course of a year I had stretches where I felt like the normal me, and I also had weeks that I was negative and distant. The people closest to me could see it. They knew I was not myself, but when confronted I didn't have a real good answer. My normal response was something about being busy and feeling stressed. Truth be told, it was a lot of little things that led to a loss of passion. But if I'm really honest it was one main thing...
I was selfish.
For years I prided myself in building relationships with people. I blogged, I did podcasts, I presented, I connected with people all across the nation. And then slowly I became my own worst enemy. I would see social media posts and compare myself to others. I would read books by my friends and feel the need to do the same. I lost my way. I felt undervalued. This led to negativity, deflection and less patience.
It's important for me to state, during these dark days I still tried very hard to pick myself up. I sent cards to friends, I visited colleagues, I met with community members, I volunteered on committees, I coached my son's sports teams and I vacationed with my wife and family. Not all days were full of despair. However, many days I felt exhausted in the evening. I had held it together the best I could during the day and I was simply emotionally whipped.
Overcoming the Darkness
By default I'm a very reflective and analytical person. Roughly a year ago I went to my doctor and had my yearly physical. At the end of my appointment I decided to ask him about depression. Was what I was feeling normal? Was it depression? Was it a mid-life crisis? My doctor was very understanding and we talked for several minutes. In retrospect this was the first step in getting back to being me.
Step two happened this past summer. Our district went to Chicago for a conference. Joining me were several terrific teachers. After each session each one sought me out to share another game changing idea to make Warner even better. Trouble was, I loved their enthusiasm, but I feared for how things would go when school started. I feared pushback and the day to day struggles. For over two weeks I fought with myself. How could I best support my enthusiastic teachers, but not make too much change for the rest of the staff? I wrestled with this for weeks and I must have been awful to be around. I was wanting to please everyone...this was a recipe for disaster. The focus needed to shift. Unfortunately, I didn't have all the answers. But as I reflect, this was a key piece of the journey back to me.
Step three occurred at a very unlikely time. I was on a morning run with two good friends when I blew my calf muscle. I was on the verge of devastation. It was going to take me away from exercise and physical fitness. Yet luckily I discovered I could ride my bicycle. For the next 5 weeks I became a bike rider and in turn, I began listening to audiobooks. In five weeks I finished eight books. I loved it! I found a light in what I first thought was darkness. Part of the light was my good fortune in reading The Positive Dog and The Energy Bus.
Step four occurred in mid-October of 2018. I was at my breaking point with pushback. I was beaten down with naysayers and those subtle digs about change, leadership and too much too soon. It was that weekend that I had a long voxer conversation with a trusted friend. That conversation led me to stay the course. It wasn't about pleasing everyone. It was about doing what was right.
Step five was in early November. This was the final piece for me.
Two events happened. The first was completely by happenstance. I took a few minutes to peruse social media and I stumbled onto this challenge. The challenge stated, Can you go 24 hours without complaining. Not even once. Then watch how your life starts changing.
I'll spare the details, but I chose to take the challenge. Furthermore, I'm taking that challenge every single day. At the same time that I stepped up to the challenge I also read an article on educator burnout. The article talked about demoralization. After reading the article I couldn't help but think and reflect.
What I believe is, when most people choose a profession/career they understand that not all days will be easy. They are realistic that, over time, it will be normal to experience joy, sadness and stress. Lastly, when most people begin a career they do so to serve and make a difference.
My belief is this (and this led to my turnaround), if you are focused on your own stature, happiness, prestige or benefits you are likely to experience unfulfilled expectations. You will be disappointed. You will feel unsupported. You will feel unappreciated.
However, if you focus on serving and helping others you will constantly be aiming to support and help make the people around you better. This will create more joy and purpose in your life. Shifting to a mindset of serving will make every setback an opportunity.
My hope in sharing is to show that I'm far from perfect. I want to strive each day to lead with my heart and to be a person that serves. I'm lucky, I've rediscovered my purpose and what's ironic is, I realized, it's not about me.
Mr. Gilpin is a people first educator that is focused on serving others, building relationships, student engagement and empowering staff.