When the “Finish Line” is in Sight

 

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As the Boston Marathon starting gun sounds, I sit comfortably in my house, thinking about those poor runners, embarking on their journey of 26.2 miles in this miserable cold and rain, and I am deterred. I usually attend this event, perched on the down side of Heartbreak Hill across from my Alma Mater, Boston College, to cheer on the athletes as I eat another tuna sandwich or take a break from the cheering to grab an ice cream cone at White Mountain.  A tradition of over 40 years for me and my family, I beg off due to the nasty conditions this year, welcoming a cozy day at home.

As I consider “marathons”, I realize as I survive each day, a marathon can be short or long. It can last a day, or a year, or a lifetime. It can be physical or emotional, of a duration dictated externally, or a hell we create for ourselves.  In any case, sometimes, when we are in the midst of one of these personal “marathons”, we lose sight of our goals, our resolve, or our sanity. We persist, or we bail. But just what motivates us to stay the course or go home?

As I contemplate today’s marathoners, I liken their challenge to the place where I am in my career. As I mount the “Heartbreak Hill” of my years in education, I look back on what I have accomplished and think too much about quitting.  I am tired and defeated. The reasons for my vocational passion have clouded over with doubt and everyday is a mini marathon within a greater one. Yet, I persist. And I question what is next. Every day. Every minute.

When I chose to become a “Guidance Counselor”, in true educator style, I employed a graphic organizer – a two columned “Pros and Cons”- what did I like about what I had done and what I must avoid in a work setting. I loved working with kids, especially teenagers. I loved summers off. I had experience on school boards, P.T.O.’s, and in the business world. I liked working in schools but not necessarily in the classroom, due to tendency to boredom and need to move.  After assembling an extensive list, I settled on the idea. Now for a plan – grad school?  Am I smart enough? (In retrospect, a silly self-doubt – have you met the people in grad school?) And a test – I chose the Miller Analogies, and if I did not succeed, I would scrap the plan and regroup. The result of the test placed me in the 98% percentile for my chosen field (and apparently a ticket to MENSA, imagine!) so one hurdle was eliminated. As a test run, my husband and I decided to commit $3000 to the experiment and I enrolled in two graduate courses at Suffolk University before applying for the program. On the evening of “Open Registration”, I appeared at the event, armed with a charge card and a boatload of trepidation, and as I inquired of the program director if I was too old (at 39) to embark on this “marathon”, he assured me with an edgy, “We’ve had older” and, taking my $3000 without hesitation, my grad school career began and, ultimately, my guidance career.

Over the course of my years in education, there have been very high highs and ridiculously low lows.  I rose to the ranks of the Guidance Director within five years, partially due to my age and life experience, and I, like Goldilocks, found just the right temperature “porridge” twelve years ago when I landed my current position.  Despite being happy overall, a nagging desire for something else overtakes my thinking, tormenting and taunting me persistently. The challenge that is every day’s marathon defeats and exhausts me. The things that brought me to my profession, the kids and the schedule, still exist and are a driving force. However, the externals – societal changes, technological interference, and parenting style shifts – have made the job nearly impossible, leading me to question if this is how I want my personal “marathon” to end.

Due to overload, I work long days and invest myself fully, bringing everything I have to the task, which is why I take comments like “You have failed my child”, or “Nothing you say matters”, to heart. Yes, both of those comments have been said to me and, in each case, due to a failure on the home end and not my doing.  Still, mean words hurt. As educators, we bear the brunt of parental shortcomings and busy schedules, putting much of the responsibility on schools to pick up the slack. And as educators, we must sit there and take the mean words, and step up to help since we would be deemed unprofessional otherwise. But must I? Is my self-respect that easily sacrificed for a paycheck? Haven’t I already done my part by parenting my own children? Is it my responsibility to raise society’s children as well?

So now with my “Heartbreak Hill” looming in the career marathon, I know it’s most likely too late to make a career change since “we”, the mature members of the workforce, clog up the process by hanging on as it is. But I am not ready to give up either- at least I don’t think so. I cherish time off as a means to refuel and go back into the race for a few more miles.  So for know, I’ll take a break from it all, at the educational water station of life, or school vacation.  Or I could pull a Rosie Ruiz, and just hop in at the end, in a new place, and still “win” the race. I guess I could.

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