Philosophy

Day 2: Celebrate Friendships

This is Day 2 of the writing prompts on Sue at Sizzling Toward 60 & Beyond’s advent calendar.  Today we are to examine and celebrate friendships, and come up with small ways to connect with our friends.

While I have pared down on social engagements, friendship are still an important part of my life.  I have two friends who have moved from Michigan to Texas, many friends from my yoga class and Iliana’s special needs activities, and online friends whom I have met through blogging.

First, here are some ways that I connect with my friends:

 1.  Through Texting

While I am no longer on Facebook, I do connect with a number of friends through text.  The nature of the interactions varies from friend to friend.  I have a couple of friends where we will share random thoughts, a few days a week.  With other friends, it has been more down-to-business.  Texting is great for keeping in touch with the friends that I would like to see more, but it hasn’t been feasible in our schedule.

2.  Coffee, Coffee, Coffee!

The coffee (or wine!) date is a wonderful thing.  I could write a whole blog post on this topic.  It can be as long or as short as you want it, and there are no hurt feelings if you have to cut it short one day.  Getting together for coffee has been the backbone of most of my friendships.

There was the friend who asked me to coffee as a peace gesture, after she had set a (very necessary, in hindsight) boundary with me.

There was the friend who asked me to coffee “or something stronger” after she saw that I was having a horrible day at work.  She ended up being a strong ally last year.

There have been the coffee and lunch dates with my friend who recently moved here from Michigan, where we catch up amidst the craziness.

 3.  In the Moment Conversations

I have had more intimate conversations with friends in the parking lot after yoga class, or even while we are still in the studio.  Some of the most needed interactions seem to happen impromptu.

4.  The Marina Wine Evening

Sometimes I will be walking back from the bath house, and a neighbor will invite us over to share a glass of wine.  Usually pizza is ordered, or a cheese tray appears.  And then I go out for more wine.  Our marina friends come and go, so our interactions are always in the moment.

My Friendship Goals

So how would I like to improve my friendships in the new year?  Here are some goals that I have:

  1.  Meet up with all of my close friends at least once a month.
  2. Respond to texts within 24 hours.
  3. Do more to foster community within the marina (ie setting up a bonfire).
  4. Reconnect with my special needs parent friends.
  5. Possibly re-establish a Facebook account, being very selective with people I add as friends.

So Now It’s Your Turn

How do you plan to reconnect with your friends during and after the holidays?

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Minimalism, Philosophy

25 Day Countdown to a Happy 2019

I have always loved Advent calendars!  In the past, I have collaborated with other bloggers, to write a series of posts to countdown through the holidays (our “calendar” always counted down until New Year’s).  Maybe next year, I will bring back Simplify the Season.

In the meantime, I was very excited this year to see that Sue from Sizzling Toward 60 & Beyond  is doing her own advent calendar, a “25 Day Countdown to a Happy Christmas.”  Every day she will post a writing prompt from her own advent calendar.

I do realize that I am over a week behind, but I have never been one to do things on their exact dates.  My last Christmas in Michigan, Santa came to our house on the 27th, so we would have more time to prepare.  And so it will be with my advent calendar!  I am calling mine a “Countdown to a Happy 2019,” and it will take us somewhere into January.

I will post a prompt everyday, interrupting occasionally for posts about our family and other such things.

So let us begin with Day 1…

“Re-assess to Reduce the Stress”

This prompt is about reducing committments, so that the holidays (and the rest of the year) are less stressful.  This is a practice that I have been doing continually, so I thought that I would share some of the ways that I have pared down my committments.

 1.  Working Part-Time

I have written about my choice to quit my full-time teaching job and switch to substitute teaching.  This has allowed me to spend more time with my family, spend more time on my home, and even spend more time getting ready for the holidays!  I rarely have to drive in rush hour anymore, so my stress level is significantly reduced.

2.  Working Four Days a Week

I immediately realized that working five days a week was more stressful than I wanted it to be.  I did not have the time to keep our home, and I felt like my self-care was suffering.  I realize that a four day work week is not an option for everyone, but since it is for me, why not do it?  Our budget can handle it, and we are able to be self-sufficient, now that I am receiving regular paychecks.

3.  Paring Down on Close Friendships

Over the summer, I made the difficult realization that I had grown apart from my closest friends, with whom I was spending most of my time.  It was hard and painful for us to go in our separate directions, but doing so did allow me to focus on self-care and nurturing some of my other relationships.

4.  Being Mindful about Where I Work

When I first began substitute teaching, I worked in two school districts and at a two-campus charter school.  I absolutely loved the charter school and felt very energized when I worked there.  I loved one of the school districts as well, except for one campus.

I went to that campus one time, and immediately felt a negative vibe.  It looked…tired.  And so did the staff members.  I decided to keep an open mind and set forth to teach my math classes.  My last period of the day, I had a very challenging group of students, with a ringleader who was using inappropriate language and being very disrespectful.  I knew he needed to be removed from the room, so I called the number that the office had given me for disciplinary issues.

The students watched as I called, received no answer, and left a voice mail message.  I tried calling the principal and was also directed to voice mail.  At that point, I had lost the students.  They knew there would be no follow-through with their behavior.

I mulled it over and thought, “I could learn to be successful here.”  And then I wondered why I would want to, when I have the choice to work somewhere else.  So I stopped accepting assignments at that campus.

When I started working at the other school district, I immediately noticed the tired look at many of their schools.  And again, working on those campuses was always a battle.  Even when I worked at nice schools, the drive home had road construction, and I always got home later than I wanted.  I came home in a negative mood.  Eventually, I decided to stop working in that district.

5.  I Don’t Do Everything I Want to Do

This has been the hardest one for me.  It’s become easy for me to say “no” to things I don’t want to do, but what about the things I do want to do?  There are so many opportunities for fun, especially during the holidays, but doing them all will simply become too stressful.

So I don’t meet up with my friends as much as I would like to, but when we do get together, it is very special.

Yoga is a priority for me, but I do miss class if I already have something going on that afternoon or evening.

Sometimes we decline an invitation to get together with friends, if we would rather spend a night at home.

And while I sometimes feel guilty for saying “no” to something I would like to do, I have found that my saying “no,” has allowed my friends to do the same, without worrying that I will judge them.

Now It’s Your Turn

What ways have you found, to re-assess and reduce the stress?  Are there some things you would like to say “no” to?

Philosophy

Unconditional Gratitude

I have mixed feelings about gratitude lists.

Yes, I know that they can help me stay positive, and help me to keep my focus on what I do have, on the good things in my life.

However, most “gratitude” is comparative.  We look around and are grateful that we have it better than the next person.

I might have a low income, but at least I’m not homeless like the man under the overpass.

I might have a child with autism, but at least she doesn’t have health problems like my friend’s child.

I might have experienced trauma, but at least I don’t have debilitating PTSD like the guy down the street.

Being grateful that our suffering is not as bad as someone else’s, does not seem like true gratitude, to me.  At the very least, it is negative and pitying.

Another issue I have with gratitude lists, is that they cherry-pick which of our experiences we approve of, and which ones we banish from our minds.

For example, I could write this gratitude list:

  1.  I have a loving family and a very intelligent daughter.
  2. I finally have a career that I not only enjoy, but LOVE!
  3. My parents live close and are very involved in Iliana’s life.
  4. Iliana goes to a wonderful school, in an excellent program.
  5. I have many close friends down here, including two good friends from Michigan

However, that is not the entire story.  Simply focusing on the positives, denies the other, less pleasant aspects of my life, which are still just as real and just as relevant:

  1.  I am a sexual assault survivor.
  2. I have dealt with significant emotional challenges, including self-harm and a suicide attempt.
  3. My daughter has a disability  that impacts every aspect of her life.
  4. We are still getting back on our feet financially, after the events of last year, and are using public assistance to help us do that.
  5. I have a strong tendency toward co-dependent relationships and tend to run away from people before we can get too close.

One list grabs your attention more, but they both are equally true and relevant in my life!  And before you fall into the trap of comparative gratitude and start feeling sorry for me, know this:  I am grateful for the items on both lists!

You can’t choose which experiences to be grateful for, and which experiences to reject.  Because they all happened.  And you have the opportunity to grow from all of them, if you choose to accept it.

Here is an example.

Some time ago, I was in therapy, processing a traumatic event from adolescence.  The details don’t matter.  What matters is that this was a story I had only told to two other people, and my therapist and I were both emotionally spent by the time I was done.  I said, “I’ve thought about this every day for the past 25 years, and there has to be something good that has come from it.”  My therapist, remaining professional but definitely affected, said very quietly, “Yes, there has to be something.”

At my next session, we were discussing self-esteem, and she asked me what I liked about myself.  I said that a lot of my strengths had come from that traumatic time in my life.  Through tears, I then passionately listed everything I love about myself, and how it had come from that painful time.  I was finding true gratitude.

While comparative gratitude leads us to separate others from ourselves and use pity to distance ourselves from suffering, true gratitude can help us feel more connected to those around us and make us more able to help them through their journies.  While selective gratitude leads us to deny a significant aspect of our situation, true gratitude helps us to remain hopeful and stay strong through the most difficult of times.

The past year was one of the most difficult experiences of my life, and it was through that trial that I learned the power of true gratitude.

While I was in the thick of the situation, it was not helpful for me to compare my situation to those that other people faced.  My brain was stuck in survival mode, and thinking about other people’s suffering only led me to feel more hopeless.  I tried to cherry pick things to be grateful for, but doing so just ignored the elephant in the room.  I tried to even find hope that my situation would eventually be over, but I was unable to do so.

It was at one of our 6 am conversations, when I told my yoga teacher about my hopelessness.  Her response was, “Don’t look for the light at the end of the tunnel.  Look for the lessons that you are supposed to learn.”

Shifting this mindset, helped me to shift into a mindset of true gratitude.  I did learn lessons–valuable, powerful lessons.  While it is true that I could have learned the lessons differently, the reality is that I did not.  I learned them through my journey, and at this point I would not change a thing about it.

So today, in honor of Thanksgiving in the US, I am sharing with you, my gratitude list.  These are the lessons I learned through my journey over the past year:

1.   We are all in this together.

From my yoga teacher, who kept getting up early enough to go to class at 6 am, to the friend who got me involved with union that could actually help me…to the union rep who did what she could, to the co-workers who heard about my situation and offered their support…to the administators and co-workers from my former job back in Michigan, who helped me make the changes in this next leg of my journey…to all of my new bosses and co-workers, who have been nothing but supportive.  We don’t live in a vacuum, and we are all here to support each other.  When I was in the thick of my situation, I once commented that I had never felt more connected.

2.  There is a danger in not understanding your gifts.

There was one person involved in my situation, who very much had a mentor role in my life.  I definitely had a “friend crush” on her, and with good reason!  She could light up a room, just by entering it, and she always listened, then said just the right thing to make everything better.  I felt so relieved when I saw her as my situation was worsening, because I knew she had been an ally in the past and could help me.

However, this person reacted out of fear.  She did all she could to “protect” herself, often at my expense.  Any relationship we had was destroyed, and her actions led to my situation continuing and spiralling out of hand.

The tragedy is that this person has a gift.  Her passion, and her ability to brighten a room and put people at ease, could help her in any job, in any situation.  However, she shrunk away and fell into survival mode, because she did not realize how powerful these gifts are.  Instead of shining her light to the world, she is fighting to keep herself employed in a job that likely does not even allow her to fully express her gifts.

3.  The way others treat us is often a reflection of the way we treat ourselves.

My situation is not my “fault.”  It is not my fault that I was hurt.

However, I never believed that I was capable, mature, or socially aware.  As a result, I started a pattern of allowing people to throw me under the bus, long before I ended up in the situation that I was in last year.  I did not self-advocate, because I did not believe I was worthy of being heard.  I did not walk away from my situation, because I did not believe that I could make it.

It wasn’t my fault.  But the situation would have played out very differently if I had believed in and valued myself.

4.  I have a voice.

Prior to my situation, I always believed that everyone else’s truth was more valid than my own. If someone disagreed with me, I would concede, because I assumed they were automatically “right.”  This led to a lot of the issues in #3.

5.  The path is easier when you clarify what you want.

Before the last school year started, we talked about the Law of Attraction in my 6 am yoga class.  I dove straight in, meditating on my “goal” everyday.  I wrote out a manifesto, proclaiming that I would be successful professionally, that my classroom would be a model classroom, and I would be teacher of the year.  I set out to make this a reality: I bought a number of new items for my classroom, got a more professional haircut and color, and bought a new wardrobe.  I took my job much more seriously, going into the new school year, and I was ready to make it happen!

It didn’t happen.

And that is okay, because the scenario I thought I wanted, really was not what I wanted.  I assumed that because I have a Master’s degree, I should want to be a high-powered professional.  The reality is that I do not.  What I want is to eat dinner with my family every night.  I want to spend a lot of time with my daughter, while she is still at an age where she wants to spend time with me.  I want a slower lifestyle, where I have time to tend to my home and create a calm, love-filled space. I want to have the energy to cook.  I want a flexible job, where my unique skill set and personality are an asset and are valued.  I want a job where I am free from the “rat race.”

I did not think I was “allowed” to desire all of that.  And now all of that is what I have.

6.  You learn more from those who speak up, than from those who are silent.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”  And sure enough, it did hurt when people I had thought were friends, simply averted their eyes and ignored what was going on.  And yet, at the same time, I understood.  They were afraid of making waves, afraid of engaging in a losing battle.  They were simply trying to keep their heads down and do their jobs.  It hurt, but I can’t say that I would not have done the same in their situation.

What I will remember more, are the friends who were not silent.  The friends who did all they could to help me stay hopeful throughout the nightmare.  The friends who spoke up, who advocated for me.  These friends are amazing human beings, and we should all aspire to be more like them.

7.  It is okay to feel however you feel.

Being able to sit with difficult emotions was one of the major lessons I learned last year.  Going through trauma is akin to going through the stages of grief.  During and after the situation, I would become angry, depressed, determined, exhausted, anxious and so on.  I learned to simply allow the waves of emotion to pass, letting go of them when the time was right.  If I needed to process it with someone, I would, and I would also allow time for me to process the emotions alone.

We are so quick to label, pathologize, and numb emotions.  Feeling upset–even fluctuating between emotions–is a completely “normal” response to trauma.  It is not a mental illness.  It is not anxiety, depression, or PTSD.  In fact, I am pretty sure that by allowing my emotions and processing them, I helped keep myself from developing more serious mental health issues.

8.  There is no such thing as “security.”

This lesson has repeated itself many times in my life.  I thought I had let go of the notion of “security” when I got rid of my house and traveled to Houston with a Volvo station wagon filled with possessions.  I thought moving onto a boat would lead to freedom.

And yet, there I was, spending 5 years in a job that I didn’t love, plagued by the same fears and caught up in the same drama.  Why did I do this?  Because the job seemed secure.  I thought we needed the income.  I feared the consequences of leaving under bad circumstances.  I was afraid of becoming unemployable.

And yet, after losing the income, we still made it.  I found references, and I created a new, wonderful reality that is better than anything I could have hoped for.  If there is “security,” it is in our own ability to survive and to make the best out of any situation.

9.  Everyone learns lessons the “hard” way, so there is no room for pity or judgement.

I have a confession to make.  I had reservations about writing this post.  Not because I think that my situation was “worse” than anyone else’s.  Not because I am ashamed of my experiences.  But because I was afraid that readers would respond with pity.

The problem with pity is that it separates us.  It is a way of distancing those who have faced challenges, because we are afraid to be too close to suffering (or past suffering).

There is no reason to feel sorry for anyone.  We’re all doing the best job that we can, playing the hand that we are dealt.  And when we pity a friend who is going through a hard time, we enable them to pity themselves.  And nothing is more paralyzing than self-pity.

When we refuse to react with pity, we trust in our friends’ abilities to make it through difficult situations.  We acknowledge that suffering is a part of the human condition, and that difficult stuff happens to all of us, at some point or another.  We fearlessly hold their hand and accompany them across the emotional minefield, and all the while, we refuse to let them sit down and wallow, because we trust in their ability to make it through.

Thank you, Cresting the Hill, for allowing me to crash your link party!  If you enjoyed this post, please take a look at some of the other links on that site!

Philosophy

Holding Space

Two years ago, a co-worker, friend, and mentee of mine was suddenly arrested on horrible charges.  Although I found out later that they were dropped, the fact remains that, this event meant that I would never have the chance to see or speak to her again.

Yoga has always been my refuge, and I attended a yoga nidra class that night.  I let go throughout the class, and visualized the scenario that the teacher led us through.  But at the end, during savasana, I went my own way.

I pictured my happiest place, in the woods, on a hammock. I placed a picture of a sailboat, that my friend had painted for me, next to my hammock.  And a couple of items that reminded me of my two favorite yoga teachers, for comfort.

Then I held hands with my friend, and gave her the blessing, “I’m sorry.  Please forgive me.  Thank you.  I love you.” And I let her go.

Later on, I told a friend about this.  She listened, and allowed me to throw my arms around her, even though I was sitting on the floor and she was standing.  We embraced for a long time, until she whispered, “God’s peace,” and let go.  I thought she would walk away, but she sat next to me on the floor and held my hands as long as I needed.  It was one of the most beautiful moments of my life.  She offered no advice.  She did not try to “fix” it.  She simply held space for me.

In that moment, I learned to sit with my emotions, and stop fighting them.  Sometimes things happen in life, that just stink.  And that is okay.  We cry, and we live through them.  They do not need fixing.

Another time, a friend confided in me that she had cancer.  She had been in remission for a long time, and was doing well.  I don’t even remember how I reacted.  But I know I held space for her to express her fears, without invalidating them.

And she thanked me for not being scared away, which floored me.

Cancer is horrible and scary.  I lost my grandpa to the exact disease this friend has.  And I have known and loved numerous other friends, who have lived with cancer.  Some are still with us, and some are not.

But abandoning this friend, was unthinkable.

To love is, ultimately, to lose.  At some time, one of us will say “good-bye.”  That is part of the human condition. I am genetically predisposed to heart issues, which I am cognizant of.  And I am a sailor, which means I frequently face nature head-on.  It is anybody’s game.

This past year, I was physically and sexually assaulted, repeatedly.  For awhile, I needed to tell everyone I encountered about it.  I needed my voice to be heard.

The best response was, and still is, “I’m sorry that happened to you.”  I am coping.  I do not have PTSD.  But I still have some weird emotional responses to specific situations, which I just need to be told are “normal.”  My body has scars from my experience, and will likely always have scars.

My career is taking a new path, a path that I love.  But I doubt myself a lot on this path, and sometimes the ghosts of the past rear their heads.  Sometimes I just need someone to hold space for me, while I process.

If a friend tells you about a horrible experience they have had, please consider not trying to “fix” it.  Just be there.  Trust in your friend’s ability to get through it and process their own emotions.  Hold space for them and allow them to talk.  Also allow for silence. It is okay to sit and hold hands.

That might be the exact thing your friend needs.

About Us, Philosophy

Being Happily “Overqualified”

Got a call from an old friend, we used to be real close
Said he couldn’t go on the American way
Closed the shop, sold the house, bought a ticket to the West Coast
Now he gives them a stand-up routine in L.A

Billy Joel

The year before I got married, I bought a house.  It was a 12 X 60 trailer, on an RV lot.  I substitute taught and went to college full time, pursuing my teaching degree.  Rob repaired cameras.  Our budget was tight, and my schedule seemed full.  However, overall, that was a very happy time in our lives.

We lived there for 3 years, until it was time to “upgrade.” I had completed my Bachelor’s and was teaching full-time and working on my Master’s.  I loved my job at that time, and I loved having more time and money, as we lived in the trailer.

I did not want to move.  But everyone told us that we needed more space if we wanted to “have kids.”

Iliana was born in a beautiful, grey chalet in a neighborhood in the woods.  The house was 1100 square feet. I loved my teaching job, until I didn’t.

The teaching profession had been undergoing a number of changes since my first year.  Teacher unions were significantly weakened in Michigan, tenure became meaningless, and schools were constantly threatened with serious sanctions if test scores were not high enough.

Altogether, this led to a perfect storm of negativity and destruction. When I had been hired, the staff members at my school were tight-knit, and the emphasis was on helping each other.  I had a strong relationship with my principal, and I appreciated it when she would give me pointers or redirection.  I was not afraid of being called down to the office; in fact, I went down there frequently to ask for her input.

I ate lunch in the teachers’ lounge and enjoyed a lot of laughter with my co-workers.  This was not the negative stereotype, of teachers gathering to complain about students.  Lunch was a fun, positive time.

My second year, I was inducted into the Ooga-Booga tribe.  The students gathered for an assembly, and all the newer teachers were asked if we wanted to participate.  We were led into the gym, by a math teacher dressed up as a cave man-type character.  He directed me to lead the students in “We Will Rock You,” and then I was told to sit on a chair…which, of course, had a wet sponge placed on it!

This does not mean we didn’t work hard.  I taught students with cognitive impairment, and I helped a number of non-readers make significant gains.  In fact, there are likely people who are reading this blog, because I taught them to read during that time!

My third year, I was attacked by a student, and my shoulder was seriously injured.  However, I had the full support of my administration, and we were able to devise a plan to help this student become very successful.  He had no more violent incidents after we implemented the plan, and the next year he made all A’s.

I often told people that teaching gave me an inner joy.  Yes, I complained about the two 30-minute staff meetings/trainings that we had each month, but I honestly loved my job.  And it left me with plenty of free time to spend with Rob.  One of my friends commented that my job was worth it, because they paid me in days off (even though my monetary pay was relatively low).

Like I said, I loved my job, until I didn’t.

It happened gradually, but by the time Iliana was born, teaching definitely had a culture of fear.  The threat of sanctions–which in Michigan at that time, meant most of the staff being fired and the school being taken over by a charter company–put administration on the edge.  Because they were afraid, they targeted teachers who may not be hauling their weight.  And the changes to unions and to tenure law, made that course of action easier.  Teachers became afraid of being fired, and began to throw each other under the bus.

Gone were the days of the fun lounge conversations.  I started to eat in my classroom.  And there was only one more Ooga-Booga induction, after mine.

The demands on our time increased.  I would often arrive before the sun came up and return home after sunset.  My inability to advocate for myself, led to me being thrown under the bus, repeatedly.  I started to dread being called down to the office.

I started sailing in the summer.  We loved it, and we thought that all of our problems would be solved if we moved to a warmer climate, where we could live aboard full time.

And so we moved to Texas, with the intention to eventually live aboard.  I made sure I had a job secured first, accepting the first teaching job I was offered.  We started out living in an apartment.

My first year started out well enough.  I received little feedback, but I felt good about what I was doing.  Sure, the school day was an hour longer, and we had staff meetings (with no defined ending time) once a week.  We had no supply budget.

Then, out of nowhere, the calls to the office started.

We moved onto a boat, hoping that would fix things.  But I was unhappy in my career, yet living on a boat.  We moved onto a larger sailboat, and I began to make friends.  Things were okay, except for the job.

I started to look for a new teaching job, until I was offered a different position within my school.  It was okay.  There was still a lot of backstabbing, but the calls to the office temporarily stopped.  There were even more meetings after school, which I resented.

I began to practice yoga, which led me to carve out a space for myself and to begin to process my emotions, regarding my path in life.  My yoga practice began to become more important than my job, although I had not considered leaving…yet.  But I had begun to make myself and my own needs a priority.

We bought a larger boat.  It reminded me a lot of our first trailer house.  We had tweaked our living space so much, but I was not finding what I wanted to find.

I was unhappy.  The living space, or the state of residence, was not the issue.

It was my career.

I have a Master’s. An MAT, to be exact.  Master’s of the Arts in Teaching.  I am not trained to be an administrator, nor do I aspire to be one.  I am a master of the art of teaching.

Yet, for most of my career, I have hated it.

Not the teaching, but everything else.  The paperwork.  The drama.  The meetings. The buying of supplies.

I was unhappy.  I tried having a side hustle.  But I did not like the marketing, and I was never good at it.

Finally, last year, things got so bad that I left.  I considered leaving after the first week of school, and I submitted my resignation, effective at the end of the year, when we came back from Christmas break.  And even then, I went on FMLA as soon as there were 12 weeks left in the school year. I was stepping out into the unknown.

So here I was, waiting out my contract, looking for employment, with a Master’s degree.  I considered tutoring for awhile.  I love working with students one-on-one, and I would not be constrained by the standardized tests.  However, I would have to either find enough homeschooled students to work with, or work mainly in the evenings.  I did not want to spend so much time away from Rob and Ili.

I knew that I could look for another full-time teaching position, but I was very hesitant to do that, after having so many bad experiences.  So, I returned to my first teaching experience: subbing.

I applied in various districts, tracked down references, and signed up for orientations.  I am currently substitute teaching in two school districts and at a two-campus charter school.  While I had a lot of anxiety when I showed up for that first assignment, I found that a lot of what I thought were my weaknesses, were really just due to being put in impossible situations in my old jobs.

I have very good classroom management, when I have support from my administrators, if I should have to seek their assistance.  I run a classroom very smoothly, when I have sufficient support staff.  And I problem-solve creatively and remain very alert and engaged, when I am not tired and burned out from having to work extra hours in the evenings.

As a substitute teacher, I am no longer a part of the rat race.  Nobody is trying to “catch” me “being bad” or threaten me with termination.  There is a shortage of subs, so I always feel welcome in the building.  There isn’t even competition with other subs, because there are plenty of jobs to go around.

When I substitute taught in college, I would not know whether I would be working, until I got a call at 5 am that day.  Now everything is computerized, so I simply log on the the schools’ websites and choose any available assignments that suit my fancy.  I am currently booked through most of November.

And there are other perks to my new job, that I did not enjoy when I was teaching full time.  I never get bored, because every day is a new adventure.  One week, I taught third grade in the morning and high school algebra in the afternoon on Monday.  On Tuesday I taught pre-k, and on Wednesday I was an aide in a life skills class.  Thursday was my day off, and on Friday I taught a high school business class.

I only teach at campuses I like, where I feel supported by the administration and other teachers.  I started out working five days a week, but I found that I preferred to have one day off, to work on the house and enjoy some “me” time.

At the end of the day, I tidy up the classroom and finish grading any papers from the day.  Then I am free to leave.  No more indefinitely long staff meetings!

My favorite book to read to students!

The only downside to substitute teaching is the pay.  I make about half of what I made teaching full-time, and I will not be paid over summer vacation and school holidays.  However, when I looked at my expenses during my last year of teaching, I was spending about half of my paycheck, just to do my job.  I had a longer commute, I was spending about $100 a week on supplies, and I was buying take-out and processed foods because I did not have the time and energy to cook after a long day.  We have pared down, streamlined our expenses, and plugged some significant holes in the budget, so that we will not notice a significant difference in our finances, once I start getting full paychecks.

I recently read a question someone had posted to a forum, saying that he loved substitute teaching but did not feel like he was living up to his potential.  What does that even mean?  I know that substitute teaching is helping me to come closer to my “potential.”

I have the potential to no longer be a slave to a paycheck.

I have the potential to utilize my strengths and creativity, without being distracted by paperwork, stress, and drama.

I have the potential to feed my family and also spend time with them.

I have the potential to care for myself, as well as my loved ones.

I have the potential to be fully present at my job everyday, and to share my energy and enthusiasm with those around me.

So the next time someone asks me if I have found a full-time job yet, my answer is going to be, “Yes!  Living life is my full time job!”

 

 

Minimalism, Philosophy

Thoughts on Minimalism

I identify as a minimalist.

I recently had my third post published on Miss Minimalist.  I wrote a minimalist blog for four years and developed a small but tight-knit community.  I have before and after pictures of our house when we completed the first Great Purge of possessions.  At one point my entire family of 3 owned 75 possessions.

Early in my journey, a well-natured relative joked that we sucked as minimalists.  This led to more manic purging of items.  “Minimalist” was a label I wanted.  It was a clique I wanted to join.  In those early days, I worried about whether various things I did were “minimalist” enough.

As I became minimalist, I also became more “crunchy.”  I became obsessed with my daughter owning a few, non-plastic toys.  And absolutely no electronics or cartoon characters!   (Except for her v-tech piano toy, which magically kept her occupied for hours!)

I had a capsule wardrobe.  But mine consisted of 14 items.  When I started working out, I bought 3 tank tops and 3 pair of shorts.  For the two years at the gym and my first year at Moonlight, I refused to buy separate clothing for yoga.   All of my books were electronic.

Fast forward to today.  I am now an “old” minimalist.  I have no idea how many items I own, although I do know that it is time to get better about decluttering 15 minutes everyday.  I own lots of yoga pants, because sometimes I go twice a day and don’t want to be stinky.  (And I work out in yoga pants too).  I have a weird 1970’s chips and salsa tray, because it’s weird and someone gave it to me.

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And speaking of the 1970’s, I have a collection of vintage cookbooks from all decades, as well as the Good Housekeeping Housekeeping book from 1947!

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I have a full bookshelf and enjoy exchanging books with my friends.

So what does minimalism mean to me, after 8-9 years of practicing it?  And what lessons have I learned through those years?

Here are a few random thoughts about my minimalist experience:

1.  Question everything.

When you embrace minimalism, you question the amount of possessions we should own and the pursuit of the “American Dream.”  When you continue in this lifestyle, the questioning continues.  I have questioned and redefined my identity, my assumptions about myself, my living arrangement, my career, etc.  There is no reason to do ANYTHING, just because everyone else does it.

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2.  Minimalism is a mindset, not a doctrine.

Minimalism is not a religion. I don’t do or not do something, just because it is “more minimalist.”  If I want to own a gazillion old cookbooks, I will!  It is not about counting possessions.  It’s not a clique that you need to get into.  Minimalism is about simplifying, so that your possessions, your home, your committments, and your relationships are all in alignment with what YOU want out of life.  It is about having the minimum that you need, of all of these things, in order to live a life that best suits you.

 

3.  There is no “graduation.”

I’ve been done decluttering before.  That “done” lasted until we needed to get rid of most of our possessions in order to move to Texas.  I never decluttered our apartment, because we didn’t live there long enough to accumulate clutter.  This boat, however, is in dire need to decluttering.  Because decluttering is a process you keep coming back to.  Examining your possessions, as well as your home, committments, and relationships, is a lifelong process.

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4.  Minimalism leads to other changes.

Ya gotta put something where the stuff used to be!  I have found that making one major life change eventually leads to more changes.  We decluttered our house, and in doing so, we questioned a lot of what society was telling us we needed to have and do.  Which led to me leaving my job and moving to Houston.  Which led to us moving onto a boat.  Which led to me quitting another job.  And so on.  Once you get brave enough to go against the grain, you become brave enough to take it a step further.  And another step further.

5.  Eventually people stop giving unsolicited advice.

Because eventually you stop behaving in a way that communicates that you are asking for permission.  Living counter-culturally becomes routine, and you no longer feel like you need to make a big deal out of it or defend it.  It has been years since anyone has given us advice or voiced disapproval.

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6.  You meet like-minded people.

Every lifestyle change we have made, has brought us closer to our tribe.  Our marina is full of live-aboard, who also own few possessions, out of necessity.  In my yoga class, I have also met a large number of friends who choose voluntary simplicity as a lifestyle.  At my Weight Watchers meeting, we talked about decluttering our homes, and I said that I spend 15 minutes a day decluttering.  The lady next to me said, “Yup!  That’s what Fly Lady recommends!”  Your journey will inevitably lead you to other people who are on the same journey.

7.  Possessions become less of a focus.

When we first embraced minimalism, our live was very focused on possessions: counting them and, more importantly, getting rid of them!  Even though decluttering is an ongoing process, we don’t think about being minimalists much anymore.  We just live it.  Our life is more centered around experiences and doing the things that we enjoy.  Minimalism is just more of a guiding idea that has become a habit.

So now it is your turn!  What surprising lessons and observations have you discovered on your minimalist journey?

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Philosophy

Why Being Selfish Has Made Me a Better Person

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My name is Bethany, and I am a recovering martyr.

I entered adulthood with such a strong sense of purpose, that I would give and give and give and give.  I laughed at the concept of “me” time.  Instead, I got special permission to take more than the maximum allowed credits each semester, so that I could hurry up and graduate as a special education teacher.  Between classes, I did volunteer work.

I never said “no” to anybody, and my life was one of service.  I sang in my church choir, was a “big sister” to a boy with disabilities, and helped inner-city children with their reading.  And when I wasn’t doing all of that, I would volunteer in my mother’s classroom.

Generally, I prided myself on being “spread too thin,” and wore my stress like a badge of honor.  I did, however, feel a pang of jealousy when I saw my friend pencil in “naptime” in her planner.

After I graduated, I continued to burn the candle at both ends.  I taught in a lower-income school and would often arrive before sunrise and leave after sunset.  Then I began taking graduate classes while continuing this routine.  I was driven, I was giving back, and I was helping others.

The absolute worst insult that you can give a martyr, is to call them “selfish.”  I was terrified of this term and kept myself busy, trying to help everybody, so that I would never be deserving of that condemnation.

I stayed so busy, that I never realized I was running.  I was running away from myself, afraid to look inward.  Afraid of seeing who I really was.

I was not going to stop running on my own, so life had to force me.  First I had a baby with health problems.  Then the baby began to show developmental delays.  I got caught up in drama at work, so that was not going as smoothly as it had been.  I began to realize that I was no longer passionate about what I did.

Life came to a screeching halt, and I learned to be selfish.

Over the next 5 years, I became incredibly self-absorbed and very protective of myself and my needs.  I unapologetically put my needs first.  Today, everyone around me knows that I am going to go to yoga class daily, eat low-carb/high-nutrient meals, get 8 hours of sleep, and spend some time on my writing.  I quit my job in order to work part-time eventually, even though it negatively impacted my family’s budget.

My greatest fear was that being “selfish” would lead me to hurt others, in order to meet my needs.  I was afraid that I would be less kind, less caring, and less loved.  I martyred myself because I wanted to be valued.

None of my fears have come to pass.  I have actually become more kind, more caring, more empathetic, and more generous, as I have become more “selfish.”

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I guess I am a fake parent.

Here are some of the ways that being selfish has made me a better person:

1.  When I give, I give 100%.

I spend less time volunteering, but when I do help others, I am able to give more wholeheartedly.  It’s not an obligation, it is an act of love.  Because I am caring for myself, my mind is more settled, and I am able to see more small things that I can do to help out.  And my helping out is more sincere.  I give to others as an act of love, rather than as a way to try and gain approval or acceptance.  I give because it brings me joy, not because I am trying to gian something.

2.  I see others as equals.

I don’t know about you, but when I was giving all the time, without meeting my own needs, I felt kind of smug.  I was giving other people things I didn’t think that I needed.  By focusing on my own needs and asking for help when I need it, I have a better understanding of my own humanity and my own vulnerability.  I am sharing, because I realize that I have needs too.  I am sharing, because I am part of a community.

3.  I have become more understanding.

I spend a lot of time thinking about myself.  I meditate, I observe my mind and my thought processes, and I read a lot of books that help me through this process.  I am intimately familiar with my own mind and its tendencies.  And guess what?  I can see a lot of these same tendencies in those around me.  We’re all a lot more alike than different, and by taking the time to understand my own mind, I have become more able to understand others.

4.  I have become less manipulative.

When we’re not meeting our own needs, we try to get them met through others.  And not by asking directly, because that would be “selfish.”  So, instead, I would fish for compliments.  I would “hint” at things I lacked the courage to ask for.  And I would get angry if the other person did not take the hint.  My interactions had a lot more drama.

5.  People value me more.

When I don’t always say “yes,” people value it more when I do.  When I set boundaries, I become less resentful, which leads to more positive interactions.  When I was a martyr, people would freely walk all over me, because I had not set any boundaries.  It might sound cliched, but people do respect us more when we respect ourselves.

6.  I receive less unsolicited advice.

This was a surprising plus.  As I have spent more time on myself, and established boundaries, I have stopped seeking so much approval from those around me.  And people have picked up on this.  I rarely receive negative comments or unsolicited advice, regarding my lifestyle and choices.  In general, people have become much more supportive and respectful of the way I choose to live my life.

So what about you?  Have you overcome your fear of being “selfish”?  In what ways has learning to love, value, and care for yourself helped you to become a better person?