It has been a continuous wash cycle. Days fill up with icy cold hopelessness, followed by an intense whiplash-causing spin cycle. Then just when you think the reprieve of a warm drier is coming, the cold water turns on again. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
At some point in our lives, we all feel the struggle to keep our candles lit while standing in the wind and rain. During moments of self-doubt and overwhelming need we are fed words like resilience, self-care, and positivity. Those “things” just require energy when we feel like we have nothing left to give. The resilience we require cannot be sustained if we do not have endurance, but endurance has a funny way of evaporating without our noticing.
It starts quietly, without much alarm. It is a numbness that has us operating in motion without much feeling or thought. We simply rely on what we have always done, yet we are vacant of thought or emotion. We see each day through to its end without feeling the investment we once felt. However, our reliance on routine convinces us that all we need is to be patient and wait for that feeling of hope and fulfillment to return.
Time passes and we become increasingly aware that we have been a body in motion, but not present. We haven’t reflected or perfected our craft. We are stuck. Feeling stuck causes us to fight for air as our surroundings close in upon us. We sense a lack of connection with those around us and the principles we used to live by. As if waking from a coma we begin to feel again. Feelings range from hopeful to lost and ashamed. In this emotive state of confusion, we attempt to “try” again.
Trying anything that you believe you once excelled at or loved can be tricky when your mind has rewritten the narrative of your investment. Your “why” is held for ransom. Clarity becomes difficult to sustain because of disempowering mental chatter that continually convinces us that we have little impact on the day, the week, or even the school year. This equates to a profound sense failure. Our numbness led us to action, but our action does not seem adequate to meet the challenge. There is only one emotion left to handle a situation like this and that is anger.
Anger packs energy, so many feel like they are “doing” something about a problem. Although anger is a signal for change, many mistake it for a solution or justification to act in ways that are not productive or kind. We attempt to reestablish who we want to be, but in doing so we approach our problems with punishing responses to both colleagues and students. We are mad at systems. We are mad at colleagues. We are mad at communities. We are mad at students. We are mad at the weather. We are mad at the custodial staff. We are mad at our spouses. We are mad at the traffic. We are mad at ourselves for not loving our jobs as we once did. We are mad at condition after condition because in our hearts and minds we need control in our spiral of inadequacy. It must be someone or something’s fault because it hurts too much to be our own.
Doing something you once loved that now makes you feel hopeless or insignificant bears the ultimate blow. You begin to feel small in a big world. It is done. Apathy sets in and your emotions fade. At first that apathy offers a reprieve from the intensity you felt so overwhelmed by. Periodically you experience a reemergence of anger, sadness, and even a glimmer of hope, but the voice in your head reminds you: “Don’t you remember nothing you do matters.” It continues, “If you just stop caring you will stop hurting.” Our days become like visiting graveyards where we look to things long gone to remember the sensation of feeling. Keeping emotions in the past tense is how we protect ourselves. We stop looking up. We stop moving forward. We give in to the belief that all we can do is survive, not live, the moment.
This may seem bleak or dramatic. It may seem like imagery overstated to make a point. However, rest assured there are pieces of this within us all. To anyone who is fighting to remember who they once were at heart or who they had dreamed they would become, you never lose the muscle of mind and heart to endure. You simply need to rediscover your path.
Finding that path of endurance requires you get out your head! Remember what it feels like to be alive. You do not have to get up and conquer all of life’s hurdles; you simply need to remember that your mission is worth fighting for. Ditch the rollercoaster of internal dialogue and concentrate on each interaction of the day. The way it feels to see a student laugh, the accomplishment you feel from a connection you created with learners, or the warmth of greeting and connecting with colleagues. Be present!
Finding the path to endurance requires you to be selective about the “shits you give.” Narrow in on what it is that you consistently care about. Remember it is not your problems that shape you it is the actions you take to do what is right. Shred the time you spend in states of worry, regret, or distraction. Where your focus goes, so does the one thing you cannot get back: time. Do not waste your time on thoughts or actions that do not move yourself or others forward.
Finding the path to endurance requires you to leave conditions for the weather forecast. Things change quickly that we have no control over. We want to believe that everything could have been prevented or prepared for, but sometimes life happens. We can focus on the emotions that linger or the people we hold responsible for our misfortune if we want to remain stuck. However, moving forward requires us to place our efforts into our own words, actions, and thoughts. Leave unpredictability to the weather and start honing your predictable responses to life when it gets overwhelming and painful.
Finding the path to endurance requires you to practice grace and space. Accept your pain. Allow yourself to roll around in the hurt till every tear you feel needs to be shed has fallen to the ground. Then give yourself the gift of grace and MOVE ON! We need not forget, but we must look forward instead of back. We must look up instead of down in shame. We must offer ourselves space from our pain so we can appreciate all that we have endured. That is where our muscle is born. That is where pain gives birth to purpose.
Endurance is not something the strong do. It is the seed within the human spirit that lends itself to those who believe it is there. It calls on us to accept the calling in our heart even if it feels too big to handle or too uncomfortable to attempt. It is the assurance that when we endure, we incite the change within ourselves that allows our gifts to be shared with all who cross our path.