“It gets better.”
This quote has been a part of my journey for years. It stemmed from something my aunt once shared with me about following my instincts during an incredibly difficult time in my life. Whatever “it” is that is happening, good or bad, it will get better. I have realized that for me, the word “it” can stand for an array of words, ideas, or situations, such as worry, conditioned beliefs, the unknowns, things out of my control, relationships, my profession, or even others’ opinions.
In the last 5 or so years, I have grown keenly aware that I am on a journey. To where? I honestly do not have the answer to that yet. What I do know is that I have learned to listen to the little voice in my head telling me, “This isn’t it. You are meant for more, for something else.” That voice has been bugging me for quite some time, but I simply didn’t know what to do about it. Nearly 3 years ago, it began raising its voice. Now, it’s safe to say that it’s yelling at me.
When that little voice began speaking to me more directly, becoming louder and louder, it was during a particularly challenging year of teaching. Leading up to that school year, I experienced a lot of change, things that were out of my control, both in my personal and professional life. This was the perfect storm for teacher burnout.
Can I tell you something that you might find puzzling? I needed that year to happen. In retrospect, I needed to experience the burnout. I needed the anxiety attacks that ensued. I needed those public meltdowns. I needed the mental health days off when I couldn’t get out of bed. I needed the day I found my therapist and scheduled my first appointment. I needed the visit with my doctor to help me figure out how to manage the stress of my work. I needed the colleagues, family, and friends to reach out to me. I needed the kind hearted responses from my high school student artists who came to my side to comfort and support me because they recognized the struggles I was experiencing all too well. I needed to realize and admit to my low sense of self-worth, so that I could learn how to build myself up and believe that I was worthy of love and that I was enough. I needed all of this to happen on my journey to here.
During that year, I applied and was accepted to a master’s degree program. Although I had earned my MAEd in 2010, I knew that I needed something that I could control, something that gave me value and purpose, and hopefully, help me feel like school – also my place of work – was again my safe place. In my life, school served as my safety net. When my parents divorced while I was in elementary school, school helped me feel like I had a place of my own, a place that I found success, a place that gave me the structure I needed, and teachers and friends who welcomed me into their lives. For this reason, I became a teacher, and hopefully, someone who would one day create a safe space for youth who related to my experiences.
The path towards another degree brought its challenges, but the journey was transformational. While I was within a year of completing the degree, a new course arrived on the scene called Art Therapy for Art Teachers. The stars aligned, and I was able to switch from a prescheduled course and take this one instead. During this course, my transformation took a deep dive into healing from my teacher burnout. The combination of therapy, intentionally implementing self-care, engaging in a supportive educational community, and the self-exploration through art, brought closure to that experience of teacher burnout, but also opened the door to clarity of my true passions.
Last summer, amidst the craziness of the pandemic, I was inching closer to my Capstone Research. The end was within reach! One of the books we read and discussed in the Mission of Teaching course (which led to the Capstone Research) was Sir Ken Robinson’s The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything (2009). It was as if the words jumped off the pages, grabbed a hold of my shoulders, and shook some sense into me. While a ridiculous amount of the book resonated with me, these words firmly represent my journey: “Finding the Element in yourself is essential to discovering what you can really do and who you really are.” I can tell you from experience, when you reveal your element, it is a total game changer.
From that point on, I knew in my heart, that I wanted to use my passions of learning, growing and teaching to help others reach their full potential. For me, this is a loaded statement. There’s so much depth to my element, to my passion, that it has created an inner conflict within me of what to do and how to live in my element. That little voice I spoke of earlier, began pounding on my door once I came to terms with what I had realized. Yet, I still didn’t know what to do about that little voice, or how to navigate what it was trying to tell me. As I concluded my Capstone Research in the spring, that little voice not only pounded at the door as loudly as possible, but also prompted me to take action.
So now I find myself at a crossroads of exploration. I know that I do not want to continue on the road that has led to this point, but rather, I want to explore the possibilities that lie ahead. In my mind and in my soul, I have so many ideas buzzing around of the potential of my creativity in helping others grow. This phase of exploration leaves me wondering what my timeline will look like as I pursue my interests and trust in whatever “it” might be. As I described this journey to an art therapist, she assured me that I have already arrived. My emotions just need to catch up with my mind. Until then, I will allow the process to organically unfold and when I am fully ready to settle into my destination, I will know to trust my heart, I will be at peace in my world, and “it” will get better.