When you have to remember why

My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.

The wise words of Maya Angelou.  Her words echo my own thoughts – I don’t want to go through life simply making it from one day to the next, just surviving.  I want to live my life to the fullest.  I guess that’s one of the reasons why I made the big move across the ocean, because one of my biggest fears is not failure, but inaction.  My mum always told me, ‘Don’t get to my age and wish you had done things or been places’.  I am following her advice.

So here I am.  3,794 miles from home.  I am aiming to do all of those things the wise Ms Angelou said – live with passion and compassion, with humor and style.  Right now though, I’m just surviving.

This past week has been tough.  I’ve come down with Shingles, which has not been fun.  Painful, exhausting, uncomfortable, but not fun.  I’ve spent two days in bed, and the other days feeling like a melted chocolate frog.  I’ve had to take time off work, which I hate, and slept through any other time that might have been spent more happily.  In short, I have just survived this week.

But, if I’m being completely honest, it isn’t just this past week that I have only survived.  Things have been tough here.  Though you might not want to hear it, teaching in the USA is tough.  It’s no picnic.  You work longer hours and get less holiday; you have infinitely more to do, and get paid substantially less.  That’s the truth of it.  And it is downright exhausting.  The start of any new school year is a challenging time for teachers.  Every year of my teaching career, wherever I have been, I have found it stressful and found myself wondering why they aren’t just more hours in the day to actually get things done.  But unlike in the UK where September is difficult and somewhat stressful, here those days are merely happy memories.  Here, I really do not have the time.

Since school started here I have worked myself into the ground.  I have had to.  There’s a whole different way of doing things here that you have to learn for yourself.  You have to set up a classroom from scratch, even though back home you know you have that exact resource that you need (but, alas, it’s not much good 4,000 miles away).  You have to prep for the year when the year has pretty much already started.  You might speak the same language, but actually, you don’t.  Certainly not when it comes to education terms, anyway.  You find yourself pulling twelve hour days at school, only to come home and work another four hours just to make a little headway on your work pile or else add another five items to your ‘to do’ list.  And then weekends…What are those again?  Yep, not had one yet.

I have worked myself into the ground, I have eaten chocolate to keep myself going, I have worked myself into the ground some more.  Is it any wonder I got shingles?  The doctor didn’t seem so surprised.

All of this work and none of this ‘me time’ feels like I am just surviving.  And that, friends, is not why I started my US adventure.  My frustration with that fact reminds me why I did start this adventure.  But it also reminds me of that other part of Maya Angelou’s words, the part about passion.  You see, I might have worked myself into the ground, but every time my parents or colleagues or roommate berate me for that, I want to tell them ‘Hey, I do it because I care’.  Any teacher worth their weight does it, because they are passionate about their job and about doing the best for the kids they teach. Well, that’s my opinion anyway.

But regardless of why, it’s never a good thing to work yourself into illness.  Surviving is not enough.  I want to live.  This is supposed to be an adventure, after all.  Which leads me to remember another set of wise words that moved me to come here in the first place…

There are so many ways to be brave in this world.  Sometimes bravery involves laying down your life for something bigger than yourself, or for someone else.  Sometimes it involves giving up everything you have ever known, or everyone you have ever loved, for the sake of something greater.

But sometimes it doesn’t.

Sometimes it is nothing more than gritting your teeth through pain, and the work of every day, the slow walk towards a better life.

from ‘Allegiant‘ by Veronica Roth, p. 509

So for now, my bravery is just getting through every day.  Because once I get through that, I can move on to even more adventurous things!  Like Christmas in New York, for one 🙂

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