Gaps, detours and time away from our career path is not necessarily encouraged or acknowledged as a valuable use of time in our independent schools, especially if we aspire to be leaders, and so, against our better judgement we allow our fears and the chatter of others to persuade us to stay even when in our heart, we know it’s time to let go. At least this has been my experience. Sometimes we know it is time to move on and that is okay.
In all honesty, soon after I decided to leave my previous job, I was fearful of not sliding into a new full-time position. What would it look like on my resume? How would I pay the rent? How would this effect my employment opportunities in the future? More importantly, how would I fill the unknown space? The thought of not going to school in September was challenging.
Despite my many apprehensions, I decided to take the leap. Since my decision to move on I have traveled to Cuba and Costa Rica, attended numerous professional development conferences, participated in a year-long affinity group for women in leadership through the CATDC, been a long-term sub, read over 20 books, taken three online classes, established a daily meditation practice, volunteered with various organizations and seen the Grand Canyon. And the list goes on. I have learned that changing course, and slowing down is okay and a net will appear when needed. Here are a few of the lessons I learned.
Being part of CATDC’s Women Rising group this year offered me a community that enabled me to stay grounded during my gap year. I am forever grateful to my sisters in the circle. Without them the past few months would have been more challenging. At our last gathering the participants were asked to prepare and present a short talk about a quote, person, student or experience that has impacted us as leaders. I chose to use a Zen saying that reads: Leap and the net will appear. The quote has been on my refrigerator for some time now and gives me courage to move forward.
In Cuba, I was reminded of the resilience that people, including myself, have under challenging circumstances. I was inspired by the Cubans’ resourcefulness and faith. After learning that teachers make a monthly salary of approximately $25.00 USD, I was jolted into a new mindset. I was going to be fine.
I spent two weeks in Costa Rica where I attended a continuing education class for yoga teachers. Here the daily practice of letting go physically, mentally and emotionally set me up for the months ahead. Slowing down, breathing and meditating are tools that I have used daily as I moved through the unknown. I am reminded of a stanza from a poem written by a yoga teacher:
To take one step is courageous
To stay on the path day after day
Choosing the unknown and facing
Yet another fear, that is nothing
short of grace
My trip to Cuba ignited my curiosity and launched me into stacks of reading material that I would never had had time to enjoy while working full-time. I devoured several excellent books about Cuba including: Conversations with Cuba by Peter Ripley, Cuba Confidential by Ann Louise Bardach and Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boy by Carlos Eire. My bookshelf looks different now, a collection of mementos from my intentional detour.
I also decided, if I was going to be away from a traditional classroom, I would explore other learning spaces. One morning when I was anxious about “not” having a job, I occupied my time web surfing. On this journey, I ended up at FutureLearn.com, an online learning site where I could take classes on all sorts of stuff for FREE. I spent many hours taking fantastic courses with participants from all over the world. My favorite was Leer A Macondo a Spanish literature class where we discussed novels by Gabriel Garcia Márquez with professors from La Universidad de Los Andes in Colombia! I also took a Mindfulness and Meditation class with Monash University in Australia. My bookshelf continued to grow as I found useful resources on meditation, such as, Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach and Real Happiness at Work by Sharon Salzberg.
I am presently training as a volunteer at the Museum of Tolerance because I believe in their mission and want to experience the museum gallery as another classroom. Their mission is to challenge visitors to explore the meaning of tolerance and the consequences of intolerance by focusing on the history of the Holocaust and the dynamics of discrimination in our world today. I can’t think of a better time than now to share my teaching experience with their visitors of all ages.
Of the more than 20 books I have read this school year, the most recent one was Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living by Krista Tippett. It is a book that asks big questions about what it means to be human and how we want to live. I learned about the book from the website Onbeing.org. The website is filled with wonderful articles and podcasts about many aspects of life and is an inspiring place to land when doubt and fear creep in.
My detour and the gap in my resume feels okay to me today. I am glad that I had the courage to let go of a job last Spring. No regrets. Leaders come in all shapes and sizes. For me, it is essential to exercise my intuitive muscle and honor my courageous spirit. I never could have imagined all that I experienced this year, what I learned about myself, and about the larger classroom called life. The next time your intuition suggests that you take a leap, I would encourage you to heed the call. The net will appear and you will be better for it.
Karen DeGregorio: Karen has more than twenty-five years of experience working in independent schools. She is originally from the east coast where she has taught all levels of Spanish in several Philadelphia area schools. Since moving to the west coast four years ago, Karen has taught US Spanish at Viewpoint School in Calabasas and Windward School in Mar Vista. Prior to moving to California she was the Executive Director of the Philadelphia Area Multicultural Resource Center (now MCRC@ADVIS). The collaborative is dedicated to social justice and support of all aspects of diversity in member schools through providing professional development opportunities for faculty, students and administrators. When not in the classroom, Karen is traveling, printmaking and practicing yoga and meditation.