Servant Leadership (Part I)

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The past two months have been an absolute whirlwind. Not only am I a first year teacher, but I am also the only one at my school teaching 7th grade Pre-AP math. The prior teacher “is no longer with the district” and left none of her material, so I am having to develop all of my own lesson plans, including quizzes, tests, and differentiation activities for my students at different learning levels. I have duty before and after school twice a week, I am coaching the school’s math club, and the choir director found out I was a three-time All State Choir member, so on Thursdays I am using my conference period to do voice lessons for our choir girls.

I spend my weekends grading papers and attending mandatory GT workshops where I spend 8 hours of my Saturday learning about how to better reach my Gifted & Talented students. Though normally a neat freak, my state of my apartment has devolved into one of barely controlled chaos. I no longer sort my laundry by color, I actually leave dishes in the sink, and I can’t remember the last time I did a deep clean of my kitchen or bathroom.

I used to cook dinner for Seth about once a week, but these days, he usually gets to my apartment before I do and either has dinner cooking or has brought over take-out (which I then pack as my lunch for the next day).

This first year of teaching has been the most chaotic, involved and stressful of any job I’ve ever had, but it’s also been the most rewarding. More on that later. But suffice it to say, I haven’t felt like I’ve been a great girlfriend lately, and I tell Seth all the time, “I want to do something for you. Do you want me to try to get to the grocery store to make dinner tonight? Do you want to go for a bike ride after work? We used to do that all the time. Could I give you a back rub?” I want to do something! Seth has been selflessly serving me and patiently holding this relationship together while I try to keep my head above water. But he always just smiles (I can hear his smile over the phone) and tells me he’ll take care of everything. And he does.

The one thing I’ve been able to offer our relationship the past two months is gratefulness. I notice and appreciate everything Seth has been doing for me, from the big things (grocery shopping and cooking dinner) to the little things (picking up a dead roach in the front entryway). He even scrubbed the toilet bowl at my place a couple of weeks ago. He is so selfless and kind and loving, and he does it all joyfully, which has stirred my heart to love him all the more.

In the midst of my nonstop schedule, my friend Emma texted me and asked if I was up for a girls’ weekend trip. She’s a 9th grade math teacher, and her roommate also works in education, so they get it. And they suggested that the three of us take a mid-semester break to recharge. I was so excited and relieved at the thought of a break that I even agreed to give up a precious vacation day to take off Friday so we could make it a three-day weekend.

Seth and I attend bible study on Wednesday nights, and last week as we were walking back to our cars after bible study, Seth asked, “Could I come over and make you breakfast on Friday morning? You’re going to be gone all weekend, and it would be nice to see each other before you’re gone for three days.”

It was a sweet offer, and I wanted to see him, but he’s been doing so much for me lately that I felt a bit guilty at the thought of him doing one more thing to serve me. “I’d love to see you! But you don’t have to make me breakfast.”

“I want to.” He smiled.

I did like the thought of having a homemade breakfast together. And it would be nice to have some quiet time together before I left on my girls’ trip. “You really don’t mind?” I asked.

He wrapped his arms around my waist and gave me a gentle kiss. “It would be my joy.”

So I packed Thursday night and looked forward to not only my girls’ weekend but also some quality time with my sweetheart.

Authentically Aurora

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Building Character, Not Just Academics

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On my very first day of teaching EVER, I invited my students into the classroom and instructed them to write on the board in response to three prompts:

  1. What are your expectations of me as your teacher?
  2. What are your expectations of each other as classmates?
  3. What are your expectations of yourself this year in my class?

After about five minutes I had everyone sit down, and we reviewed their responses as a class. These would become our social contract for the year.

In each of my six class periods, I was largely pleased with their responses. Some students wrote a teacher expectation of “no homework” and the like, but for the most part, I saw phrases like “be patient with us” and “be kind, not mean”. Against such things there is no law.

However, in second period when I asked, “Is there anything else anyone wants to add that they may not have written up on the board?”, a large, dark-haired boy in the front row raised his hand.

“Yes…” I checked my seating chart, “…Art?”

His brows drew together angrily. “One of my expectations of you as our teacher is that you get kids out of here who don’t deserve to be in this class.”

The previously silent classroom seemed to get even quieter. Perhaps I had heard wrong. “Excuse me, what?”

He repeated himself. “Like those two.” He pointed down the row at two smaller boys, Ernie and Kevin. “They’re not smart enough to be in Pre-AP, but their parents put them in here anyway. You should kick them out of your advanced math class or they’ll hold back the whole class.”

Stunned, it was purely by the grace of God that I managed a reasonable response. “Well, Art, that leads us nicely into our next topic, which is ‘Expectations of Each Other as Classmates’. You’ll see all over this board words like ‘kind’ and ‘respectful’.” I looked pointedly at him. “So we’re not going to have any more comments like that in my classroom. Is that understood?”

Art stayed behind after class. He told me again his concerns. Totally flabbergasted at his blatant arrogance and prejudice, I suggested, “You know, Art, I’m happy to have you come alongside me as the teacher and help tutor some of these other students if they need to be brought up to speed. Instead of tearing down our classmates, let’s work together to build them up, okay?”

Art laughed – a hardened, angry laugh. “They’re beyond help.” And he walked out of my room.

Yesterday I gave my first test of the year, and I marveled as I graded the papers from second period. The high-and-mighty Art only got 20% right. And little Ernie got an 80%.

Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. -Proverbs 16:18

Authentically Aurora

Diego Turned Angel

On Child's Level.pngI’ve never considered myself to be certifiably insane, but – deciding to be a long-term sub for the last month of the school year? – maybe I should reconsider the state of my mental health.

After I resigned from my cushy (and soul-numbing) corporate job in April, I took a three-week long term substitute teaching assignment at a nearby elementary school. I figured it would be a good opportunity to learn some key teaching skills before I started my full-time teaching job in August. And I was right.

What I hadn’t taken into consideration were the facts that:

  • These 5th graders in my class had already finished their state testing and so felt like there was no more learning to be done.
  • They believed that they ruled the world (as the oldest grade in their school).
  • Summer (and graduation from elementary school) was less than one month away.
  • It was a Title I school.
  • I had basically zero experience with classroom management.

Suffice it to say, I nearly died those first few days. I had kids threaten to have their parents sue me when I said the wrong thing, had kids tell me they hated me and I was the worst teacher ever, had parents calling in wanting a parent-teacher conference because they believed their child was being bullied, had to get a counselor involved because a fifth grade boy was following girls into the bathroom and touching them inappropriately… It. Was. Madness.

But I survived. And I am better for it. And, looking back, it was actually a lot of fun. Because – for the first time in nearly eight years – I actually had purpose. I actually felt challenged. And I finally made an impact.

Diego was one of the kids I nearly sent to ISS the first day I subbed. He talked incessantly and, as soon as I got the class calmed down and on task, he (as a natural leader and the class clown) had the power to get them all off task again. I felt like I was constantly battling him for the class’s attention.

And Victor. He was the most simultaneously hateful, cynical, apathetic person I have ever met in my entire life. He loved to argue with me in front of the class just for argument’s sake. He knew I couldn’t physically touch him, so he openly defied me on a daily basis when I asked to speak with him privately outside. He refused to go in the hallway, and I couldn’t physically force him, so for a long time, I lost the daily battles of power struggle with Victor – the most arrogant, abrasive student I can imagine I will ever have in decades of teaching.

But as the weeks went on and I learned students’ names and personalities and values and insecurities, I slowly learned how to individualize not only my teaching but also my motivation and discipline of each one.

On my last week of subbing, the students were supposed to be engaging in silent reading time. Diego repeatedly got off task, reading out loud in an intentionally loud voice and distracting other students. When I asked him to read silently, he claimed not to be able to read without saying the words out loud (this was a lie). He – like Victor – refused to go into the hall with me, so I knelt down on his level and whispered to him quietly.

“Diego,” I sighed. “I know you think I don’t like you, but I do. I think you’re adorable. You’re smart, funny and a natural leader. You have so much potential!”

I shrugged my shoulders and continued as I knelt beside his desk on his eye level. “You are not a bad kid. But right now you are making bad choices. I can see the kind of man you could be, and I really want to see you reach your full potential. You are natural leader with a lot of power to do a lot of good in the world. But in order to do that, you need to start making better choices.”

To my surprise, Diego’s eyes started to water. He was tearing up, and I realized he probably had never been told by anyone that he had potential; that he had value and worth and power to do good in the world. So I went on, “It’s really up to you. I only have a few days left here, so it won’t affect me either way. But every day, you make choices that have consequences, and those can be good or bad consequences. I hope for your sake – and the world’s – you choose good.”

Diego just hung his head and wouldn’t make eye contact with me after that, so I left him alone, but he was surprisingly quiet the rest of the day.

The next morning, the class was working individually on a math worksheet, and – to my surprise – Diego raised his hand and asked for help understanding how to add fractions. He’d never expressed interest in learning before. Encouraged, I knelt by his desk and gently explained to him how to find common denominators so he could add (or subtract) fractions easily. I watched the lightbulb flash in his eyes as he “got” it, and he worked a few problems on his own to show me that he understood the concept.

Later that afternoon, some girls got in trouble for selling homemade “slime” (that ended up clogging the school toilets), and a lot of the kids – exposed to this entrepreneurial spirit for perhaps the first time – were trying to figure out how they could make some side money selling something at school. Diego came up to me and asked simply, “Will you give me five dollars?”

“Why would I give you five dollars?” I asked, not unkindly.

Diego looked thoughtful. “What if I gave you something?”

“Like what?” I asked, forcing him to think through what he was asking.

“Hmm… like a cake?” he suggested.

“That sounds nice,” I told him. “What kind of cake?”

He furrowed his brow, thinking hard. “Maybe chocolate or strawberry?”

I smiled. “Diego, if you bring me a chocolate cake tomorrow, I will give you five dollars.”

I had little to no expectation that the little man who’d given me so much trouble would actually follow through in baking a cake, but the next morning, Diego bounded into my room, beaming with delight he tried to hide a bit as he dashed up to me holding a little 9″x9″ foil pan.

“I brought it!” he exclaimed, and I peeled back the foil to see chocolate icing covering what looked like a homemade box cake.

I smiled at him and pulled a $5 from my wallet. “Here you go,” I told him. “You earned it!” His delight as he accepted the money made me smile all the more.

In retrospect, I probably couldn’t have done that exchange with Diego if I was a full-time teacher or if I hadn’t been about to leave that school campus, but I’m thankful for the way it worked out because not only did I finally make a meaningful, positive connection with a formerly disruptive student, but Diego also learned some important lessons about entrepreneurship, determination, and the power of our choices. He finally had someone show him tough love and believe in him for becoming more than he was.

The next day was my last day, and I had essentially no hope for a reconciliation with Victor, but even he surprised me. Early in the day, I kept Victor outside of the computer lab to talk with him before he went in. I gave him a similar speech to the one I’d given Diego, and like the other boy, Victor started to tear up. I don’t think either one had ever experienced a loving “I believe you for better” heart-to-heart. And at the end of that school day, Victor – the thorn in my side and bane of my existence – was the first to volunteer to stack chairs on the desks before recess. He picked up loose papers and helped me tidy up the classroom without being asked, and my heart was warmed by his transformation.

After a tough few weeks, God gave me two amazing reminders of why I’m going into teaching. It’s going to be hard but good. It’s going to be challenging but worth it. There are days I will want to cry in frustration, but I believe there will be great purpose and impact on individual lives. And that’s what I want to be about in this next year and in this next season of life.

A few weeks later, Seth and I were at dinner with some friends – old and new – and one of the new girls asked what I did for a living. After a few moments, we made the connection that she had formerly been a teacher at the elementary school where I’d subbed. “Oh my gosh! You’re THAT sub! I heard you did an amazing job, and all the teachers there want to have you back as the sub for their classrooms!”

I smiled and thanked her, storing up those words in my heart. As we drove away in his truck hours later, Seth turned to me and said with a squeeze of my hand, “Your reputation precedes you. I’m proud to have you by my side.”

I’m glad to be there. It’s nice to be appreciated.

Authentically Aurora

A Job from Jehovah-Jireh (Part 5)

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I woke up in the pitch black of early morning on the day of the Kl*** ISD career fair. I pulled on a blazer over my white blouse and applied mascara to my sleepy eyes. Why am I putting myself through this? I already have a job offer. But I climbed into my little blue Beemer and drove north toward my childhood home.

Having attended three teaching career fairs at that point, I felt like I knew what to expect, but I was surprised when I pulled into the high school parking lot and saw hundreds of people marching toward the entrance like little ants in business suits. There were definitely over a thousand people in attendance – my largest career fair yet.

I waited in line for 45 minutes just to get in the front door and check in at registration. Then I waited in line at each of five junior high booths just to hand in my resume and ask if they had open math positions (three did; two did not). Of the three with math openings, one was my alma mater. That interview went very well, with one of the assistant principals coming over to sit in on my interview with another staff member because it looked like we were having so much fun.

They loved that I’m a former Warrior and spent half of my interview recounting how many of their current staff are alums, asking me if I knew one teacher or another. It turned out that I knew the head of their math department – a male teacher whose first year of teaching was my 8th grade year. He helped out with the math club when I was a student, and – in the words of the assistant principal – “he’d be thrilled to have you on his team!”

My alma mater wasn’t conducting second round interviews until one week later, and when I explained the fact that I had to make a decision about my Land*** offer by Monday, they nodded in understanding. “Well, you’ll definitely be getting a call back, but we can’t push up the timeline, so it’s up to you if you want to take the offer in hand or hold off and come to our final round interview.”

I walked away feeling pretty confident in my decision. Although some people might like working in their former junior high school, to me it felt a bit odd, like I was moving backwards in life to a place where I spent my most awkward years. Still further, even if I went to final round interviews, there was no guarantee I’d get the job. I would take the offer from Land*** and forgo further interviews with my alma mater.

My second of three interviews with junior highs that morning went fine but not great. The interviewer was a young math teacher who was not warm and friendly but also not cold and distant; she was just going through the motions, and the interview felt somewhat rote. I wrote off the rote interview and moved on to my last interview of the day: an open math teacher position at Ul**** Intermediate.

Petite Firecracker.jpgI liked the principal from the moment I shook her hand. A petite blonde with a pixie cut and energetic personality, the principal herself was the one to interview me. Like me, she had entered the world of education after working in industry, and we hit it off immediately. She loved all of my responses to her interview questions, and before long, we were going off script. “You know,” she began, “with your engineering background and creative interests, I’m actually thinking you would be a great fit for our new robotics program. This will be our first year to implement robotics at Ul****, and it will just be one class period, but would you be interested in teaching one class of robotics as well as math?”

I was ecstatic. What a fun opportunity! To get to teach a brand new program and make it my own, combining my love of math with hands-on creativity? It sounded perfect, especially when I remembered that Seth had taken 2nd place at a national robotics competition in college. I knew he would love to be a guest speaker and come help the kids with their projects.

When our time was up, the principal told me that her one concern – my heart sank – was “that I’ll lose you to another school.”

Relieved, I smiled; then laughed and added, “Funny you should mention that…” I explained about the offer from Land*** and that I needed to give them an answer by Monday.

“I was afraid of that,” she said with what I’d come to learn was her usual intensity. She leaned forward, elbows on the desk. “You’re a catch, Aurora. And I think you know that. You’d be an asset to any school you choose – and you can have your pick of districts. What you need to decide is what you want. Do you want to be at – ” she named my alma mater “- where all the kids are upper middle class? Or do you want to be at Land*** and a Title I school?”

Leslie explained to me that Ul**** has a mix of students from all walks of life. Some students came from mansions, others live on farmland, and still others come to school from trailer parks across the tracks. “It’s a mix, and that’s part of what I love about this school.” She added that she wasn’t sure she could get me an offer by Monday, but she was going to try.

“There are hundreds of people here,” she told me, “And you’re the only one I’ve wanted to give an offer to on the spot. I want you, but I don’t have an official offer to give yet. But I can tell you that it is coming – if not by Monday, then definitely by Tuesday.”

I thanked Leslie for her candor and let her know the feeling was mutual. “I know having good administration is absolutely key, and I think I would really enjoy working for you.”

Leslie shook my hand, told me we’d be in touch, and then – on my way out to my car – my phone rang. It was Leslie, asking if I was still around to meet the district’s Head of HR. I turned back around and met up with Leslie and the Head of Human Resources who reassured me that working for Leslie would be a dream job and that he could personally back the fact that an offer would be in my hands by Tuesday if not Monday. “You must be quite a catch for Leslie to be so impressed by you and willing to give you an offer on the spot!”

True to their word, I had an offer on Monday afternoon. So that Monday – April 3, my last day of an eight-year career in oil & gas – I sat in a corporate conference room, called Land*** to turn down their offer, and called Leslie to accept her offer as a 7th grade Pre-AP Math teacher for the 2017-2018 school year.

Mere hours later, I walked out of that corporate skyscraper for the last time ever. I walked out into the sunlight, never unemployed for a single moment, and marveled at the perfection of God’s timing. Our omniscient, omnipotent God is so intimate and compassionate toward His creation. He truly is Jehovah-Jireh: God our Provider.

Authentically Aurora

Provision Through Prayer (Part 2)

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“Are these high-tech engineering charter schools the only ones who will hire someone like me?” I wondered to myself. After attending three job fairs – and feeling like I’d had successful conversations at each – only H*****y Public Schools had called me back for interviews.

This charter school system focuses intensely on math and science curriculum as early as elementary school, so I understood why they would be interested in a career engineer transitioning into teaching. But after everything I’d read about H*****y and the sense of darkness I’d felt at the career fair, I was distraught at the thought that they may be my only chance to start teaching in the fall.

“Would I rather teach at a H*****y school or be unemployed?” This was the question I mulled over for the 24 hours following the career fair. And I was seriously considering unemployment. “I could continue substitute teaching. The pay isn’t great, and I wouldn’t have healthcare benefits, but I could find something to bridge the gap.”

My anxiety was doubled when I found out that the H*****y interviews were teaching a 20-minute lesson in front of an actual class, while the school principal looked on to evaluate your teaching style, ability and effectiveness. I’ve volunteered to teach math and art over the years, and I’ve been substitute teaching on and off since October, but to be under the microscope on how I teach for purposes of an interview had me nearly breaking out in hives.

Thankfully the H*****y career fair was on Saturday morning, so I took comfort that the very next day I would be surrounded by loving encouragement at my church where I would get to fight my anxiety and hopelessness with truth and prayer, buoyed by the hope and peace of fellowship with my church community.

Saturday night – hours after the career fair – Seth and I babysat for Crisitin again. We love watching her four kiddos; it brings us joy and is one of our favorite date night activities. While Seth talked with Cristin’s husband in the moments before the couple left for the evening, Cristin and I caught up about my job situation. She’s a great listener and patiently listened as I poured out my heart regarding H*****y and the other schools I’d hoped to interview with.

When I finished, Cristin gave me a hug, prayed for me and asked me gently, “Do you think you’re supposed to go to those H*****y interviews? Even though you don’t have any other interviews lined up, it’s okay to turn them down if you have this much unrest about them. Not every open door needs to be walked through. There’s wisdom in knocking on doors of opportunity, but there’s also wisdom in being discerning about when to say no. God is going to provide and put you where He wants you.” She encouraged me to pray and ask God for direction specifically about whether to put myself through going to the H*****y interviews or to just walk away.

At the end of our services, my church has a time set aside where anyone needing prayer can come to the front and talk with a prayer partner. Every week, dozens of people come forward to receive counsel, encouragement and words of truth spoken into the lies they’ve been believing. The week prior, the sermon topic covered finances and being a good steward of all we’ve been blessed with by God. During prayer time following this sermon on financial stewardship, many people went forward for prayer regarding their financial situations. Whether praying for peace to battle anxiety over a financial situation, requesting provision to have financial needs met or something else entirely, everyone was welcome.

Although our pastor didn’t tell anyone to give financially, that week I felt prompted by the Holy Spirit to be the answer to someone’s prayer. I have received bountifully from the Lord, and I believe everything I’ve been given has been given with a purpose. I want to walk out the good purposes God prepared in advance for me to do, and I believed that morning there was someone God wanted me to bless with an outpouring of generosity, not to glorify myself but to glorify God and be a reminder to someone that God still provides; God still hears prayers, and He is swift to answer – sometimes through His people and sometimes supernaturally.

I wanted to be an encouragement to someone through very practical means, so that Sunday morning I went forward and was redirected to an associate pastor who, the next day, connected me with a widow who is struggling to make ends meet as she tries to raise two children by herself. Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you (James 1:27). 

Fast forward one week to the Sunday after my H*****y career fair; the day after Cristin reminded me that not every open door needs to be walked through. I don’t typically go up for partner prayer during worship time at church, but my spirit was so tumultuous within me that I dashed up the aisle almost before the sermon was over. I knew most of the prayer volunteers, and I wanted to meet with someone new – someone who could offer a fresh perspective without having their words colored by what they already knew of me.

Prayer PartnerI saw a young woman with long, brown hair standing up front and made a beeline for her. She looked about my age with kind eyes and a warm smile. When I approached her, she reached out her hands to take mine and squeezed them gently when I introduced myself. “Hi, I’m Aurora.”

“I’m Dani.” She hugged me as I leaned forward to speak into her ear about my situation, projecting my voice over the sound of the worship music playing behind us. When I finished explaining, I pulled back and was surprised to see delight on her face. “I’m not sure if you noticed,” she said, rubbing her belly, “But I’m pregnant and taking some time away from work this fall. I’m a 9th grade math teacher at ******* Christian High School. You should take my job.”

I was stunned. Dani’s eyes danced joyfully as I gathered my thoughts. “I’m not certified for high school,” I told her, still marveling at her words.

“That’s okay,” she told me with a wave of her hand. “I’m not either. It’s private school, so your certification doesn’t matter that much.” I told her my background and current teaching certification, and she told me that I’d be perfect for the job.

“I’ve been trying to help my principal find the right replacement for me,” Dani explained. “I’m so glad God brought you to me. Here’s my contact information,” she scribbled her name, number and email address on a piece of paper she pulled from her purse. “Send me your resume, and I’ll make sure my principal sees it.”

“Wow. Thank you so much!” I floated back to my seat, Dani’s paper gripped in my hand. She’d given me a job opportunity, but more than that, God had used Dani to give me hope again. I wasn’t relegated to teaching at a public charter school with discriminatory practices. There were other opportunities out there. I was free to say no to H*****y.

Just as God had worked through me to answer the prayer of a widow the week before, God had worked through Dani to remind me of His provision. Whether this job at ******* Christian High School panned out or not, it was a reminder to me that God is able to do infinitely more than we could ask or imagine. He’s a good, good Father who loves to give good gifts to His children.

Authentically Aurora

Lessons in Teaching

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I’ve started substitute teaching every other Friday while I finish up my teaching certification, and I already feel like I have some battle scars. Little kids say adorable things, but young adults say deplorable things.

A few weeks ago, I observed a 9th grade math class. I started talking to one of the boys near my desk in the brief moments before the bell rang. I don’t remember what we discussed, but I must have made some kind of impression because thirty seconds later, he asked me, “Are you sure you want to be a teacher? You seem too smart to be a teacher.”

It’s exactly this stereotype of teaching being a “less than” career option that made God have to spend 7 years humbling me in Corporate America before I would consider investing in young lives through teaching.

In another classroom, one of the boys called out in the middle of a lesson, “Did you just graduate from college? You look like you’re still in high school!” They thought I was 21 and were shocked to learn I am 29. Me too, kid. Me, too.

Evidently the physical appearance of a mere 5 year age gap was acceptable because, armed with the knowledge of my ancient-ness, one of the sophomore running backs promptly invited me to his Homecoming football game later that night. I politely declined.

Then last week, my 8th grade math class found out that I already participated in early voting and wanted to know which presidential candidate I voted for. I decided it was wisest not to answer. Unfortunately, this meant speculation from the students.

A chunky Hispanic boy called out, “I bet she voted for Hillary because she’s a woman!”

A skinny African American boy countered loudly, “No, I bet she voted for Trump because she’s white!”

Telling the story to a friend later, I commented that I’m glad their political views will mature as they age to consist of more than simply a basis in race and gender. Then I realized, to my horror and dismay, that not much about their political views will change in the next thirty years. Just look at our adult population.

Authentically Aurora

Why Do You Work?

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Which is more important to you: time or money?

 

Why do you work? To be successful, to maintain a certain standard of living, to find your identity and purpose, or for some other reason?

 

I decided in 2nd grade that I was going to be an engineer. My reasons were varied and diverse:

  • My dad was an engineer, and I wanted to be like him.
  • I enjoyed math and science; problem solving was a fun hobby for me. I was always up for a mental challenge.
  • Smart people become engineers, and I wanted to be thought of as smart and successful.
  • I liked objective subjects, where no one could give me a bad grade without being able to justify their actions (like when I got a C on my first history paper because my teacher “just didn’t think it was well written” even though all of my facts were accurate).

Having earned an engineering degree and having worked at a major oil company for seven years now, I have come to find that working in the business world is not all that I imagined.

  • Though my dad was an engineer, he worked at a small company where he rose through the ranks and set the tone for a culture that appreciated creative problem solving and new ideas. This is not the case at a Major. When my dad’s little company got bought out by a giant, he disliked his once enjoyable career as much as I do now. Although my company recruits creative, self-motivated, intelligent individuals, it takes those brilliant minds and sticks them deep within the confines of The Machine, where they are no more than a cog in the wheel, and all individual thought is not only stifled but punished.
  • Problem solving is fun when dealing with a closed set – like an Agatha Christie murder mystery where all of the suspects are snowed in to a log cabin, minimizing unforeseen variables. But the real world is messy, and there are an infinite number of variables that are impossible to control or calculate into a solution. This is significantly less fun than the problem sets I solved for fun as a kid.
  • As I have written about multiple times, simply having an engineering degree – and even being a well spoken and intelligent person – does not mean that people will think you are smart and successful. My boss thinks I’m incompetent just because our working styles don’t align.
  • Although in school, math homework has a right or wrong answer, in Corporate America, workers get graded based on subjective opinions and perceptions, many of which are more a reflection of the manager than the employee being evaluated.

While our parents worked primarily to earn a living, Millennials are generally driven by a need for purpose and identity; to find meaning in their work. I hate to ever be a part of the crowd, but of late, I find myself fitting the generalization. Money is not much of a motivator for me. At this stage of life – having experienced all that I have at the hands of Corporate America – I would rather earn less and be more fulfilled in my work. Which is why I have started working on my Teaching Certification in the hopes of teaching junior high math.

Some fellow Christians will tell me (and have told me) that I should find my identity in Christ and not in my job. That’s true, but that’s no reason to stay at a miserable job. The bible says in Ecclesiastes that “there is nothing better than to enjoy food and drink and to find satisfaction in work” (2:24), and again, that “that there is nothing better for a person than to enjoy their work” (3:22).

Some lower-income friends will tell me (and have told me) that money is not a motivator now because I’ve never had to go without. While that may be true, I imagine there is a lot of character development to be had from learning to restrict spending as a result of voluntarily taking a pay cut.

Some friends will tell me (and have told me) that every job will have its frustrations and disappointments. While I acknowledge that to be true, I also believe that – if every job has its challenges, and every work environment has a couple of “difficult personalities” to deal with – I may as well enjoy the work itself. I’ve spent seven years not enjoying my workload in addition to dealing with difficult people.

There have been countless closed doors over the past seven years of trying to change careers. But I’m prayerfully considering yet another attempt at a new career path, and hopefully God sees fit to swing the right door wide open, whether it’s teaching or something else I have yet to even consider.

I’m hoping it’s teaching though. After all, teachers have the best blogging material.

Authentically Aurora