Wednesday, April 19, 2017

What Color Is Your Parachute

So my job will soon be ending.

Which is weird.

Until now I've always left jobs, not taken contracts when offered, or worked positions where it was known ahead of time when the end date was scheduled.

For the first time none of these is the case. My school said they'd appreciated the work I did, thought I was a good teacher and professional, and would not be renewing my contract.

On the advice, then, of family I picked up a copy of What Color Is Your Parachute. Now, unfortunately, a day or so after I took it out of the library the author died. But I'm not the superstitious sort, and so I pressed forward undaunted.

The book, essentially, is really good at helping you do the following: figure out what sort of person you are, then figure out what makes you happy. Check to see if what you do for work now aligns with what makes you happy, if not, what steps do you need to take to get there?

Most interesting, to me, was an exercise where you write out seven of your happiest experiences / achievements. Times when you were proud of your accomplishments and felt it in a joyful form.

Only one of the seven which came to mind (last) had to do with education.

When you then figured out which skills you had, and which were the ones which lined up with your happy stories, none of my teaching skills lined up.

For example, I have a fairly prodigious memory, am a very good editor, and talented at getting students to empathize with difficult historical perspectives. But these, or their constituent parts, typically don't factor in to what made me happy.

The rule for the happy achievement stories was that they had to be events - not "getting a college degree" for example (which would take years and far too many aspects to tabulate effectively) or, in my case, "reading the Classics" or some such. Here, then, with tweaks to protect the innocent, are my seven stories:

1. Biking with Jane on Palau Ubin

Went to the ferry, hung out, had no real plan. When the ferry was ready to go we left and enjoyed the passage. At the port we got food at a nice shack, again unplanned, then decided on a whim to get bikes to rent and then go around the island.  I was blissfully happy watching Jane bike in the afternoon light on that sleepy tropical isle. We went where we wanted to go, and eventually found our way back to the port, returned the bikes, and took the ferry back.

2. USVI Hike to Waterlemon Key

Used the map at the hostel-place to find the most direct route. Found the road, got lost, found the paths again. Hiked up the side of the mountain, had an incident with the hermit crabs and orb weavers. Torrential rain but continued unperturbed and determined. Found the Key, took some photos, headed back to the town, got a nice meal ducking out of the rain.

3. Framing and Flower Arranging at the Monastery

For the framing, it was nice to be a liaison, to be out of the compound on official business. It required my input, my artistic sensibilities – and it was lasting, unlike sweeping or mopping which would need to be done again next week. The publicity of the pieces being hung in the main foyer was nice, the feeling of contribution – and going with a friend, so much as I could consider anyone there to be a friend. The flower arranging was so impromptu and spontaneous it was unlocking a hidden talent, an almost savant-quality. The aesthetic aspect, the thought required in the pairings of vases and flowers, the trimming – it all was to create something, rather than erase dust.

4. Teaching Improv at AJC in Singapore

The idea that I was making an impact, making a difference to these kids specifically, to the school, possibly to the island. Introducing something new, changing the game, subverting the system. It felt edgy and provocative to make fun and challenge the OBMs. The performance had a lot of students come to see, and performing was fun, after so much training. They will remember that performance, I think.

5. Hiking from GG Park to Home

As a kid in middle school I was able to piece together in my mind a good enough map of the city to figure out how to make it from the Academy to the Beach, to follow the Great Highway, then take Sloat to Ocean, and finally home. Having never done it, the challenge and spur-of-the-moment decision made it all the more exciting and increased the feeling of accomplishment. Similarly when I was able to talk my teachers into letting me stay on in the Park when we were done at the Arboretum, and get myself home. My knowledge and ability to navigate the Park, or the MUNI bus lines even if I got lost to still figure out the way, was nice.

6. Biking to Redstone

The sheer insanity of biking from Carbondale to Redstone on the side of the highway, by myself, age 14, is astounding to me. It was uphill! (But at least I got to coast back.) Sense of accomplishment, going the extra mile. Similarly on Wilderness, my willingness to keep working on the drainage project while others rested, that Boxer mentality, gave me a sense of pride and I enjoyed showing off that I could do what others couldn’t.

7. My Columbus Lesson

Getting high school students at MAUHS to ‘click’ and to tackle the biggest questions History has to offer on relativistic versus absolute ethics, all while analyzing a primary source and having a Socratic discussion was pretty awesome. I felt like I had ‘arrived’ as a teacher.

Some observations:

1) Hiking / Biking. I eschew physical exertion, most notably the gym. But I really do love taking long rambling walks, and when I was younger loved to bike. 

2) Nature. The first two happy memories I could think of were both topical. Golden Gate Park also played a role - long my favorite San Francisco destination.

3) These aren't jobs. Hiking and biking around in nature is not a paid position. Which, frankly, is rather disappointing. I wish I could spend my days wandering the City of San Francisco, driving to Marin, hiking through the woods, or exploring a park. In part this reminded me of why I got into teaching in the first place: time off for good behavior.

4) The last time I could think of when I was happy was at least four years ago, which isn't a great sign.

As it happens everything else in the book pointed to politics, which is not a huge surprise. The overriding issue was that while these moments were my happiest, they were weren't what I wanted to do. I feel a strong urge to solve the world's problems and help people. To use the example of the monastery, even when I was there, and quite happy, I couldn't shake the nagging feeling that my time would be better served working on something other than myself. 

Here I am, 30 year sold, having taught for the better part of a decade, and ready to move on. 

So I'm looking into politics. But if you can find me a job where my wandering around the City or in nature is beneficial to mankind - I'd like to hear about it.

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