I remain continually grateful (and amazed!) each time I have needed support, guidance, mentorship in professional relationships it seems to be readily available. Indeed, friends, colleagues, and mentors all serve to help us maintain balance, and more importantly, perspective in our lives. But it often is the first step of letting go of others’ expectations of one’s actions, and consequently, trusting the process that leads to meaningful and fulfilling change.
Last spring, I made the extremely emotional and difficult decision to step back from my position as vice-principal to return to the teaching realm. Those initial concerns that kept me up late for many nights in June were very apparent. What would others think of my decision? Would the impression be that I couldn’t handle what is definitely a difficult position in any school? Could I remain at the school that I have come to love in another capacity? How would my relationship with the principal change? Would it change? How would the staff react? How would my fellow administrator colleagues interpret my choice? On a broader perspective, have I just committed professional suicide and disqualified myself from future school leadership opportunities in a very small rural district?
The overall response (a deeply moving one) was nothing short of a surprise: nearly everyone shared that they were moved by and deeply respected my decision (a decision based on both personal and professional rationale). Others went as far as to unknowingly valid my belief that both family relationships and personal health should be everyone’s priorities. Two administrator colleagues that I deeply respect confided that they, too, have often thought about doing a 180, but felt trapped (re: admitting defeat or that they were not good enough at their job). Sounds familiar.
And just when I felt that I had significant support, a long time teacher held in very high esteem among our professional community and within our rural community shared at a recent summer gathering that I was “the best vice-principal that [she] had ever worked [with].” Similarily, both the Superintendent and Director of Human Resources were extremely supportive. During three difficult and tear-shedding (me not them) meetings both reiterated that their responsibility was to ensure that above all else I held myself accountable for my health and that of my family. They understood.
And there were those backhanded compliments (the ones that I feared most) by that required a second-guessing of my decision. In numerous heartfelt conversations it was shared that it “was a shame” that I was “no longer a leader in the district” and that the “district lost out” not being able to “keep me” in my role. As heartwarming as was to hear (who doesn’t want to be needed?) these words of support, it also felt like sour grapes. I wondered if I was projecting my ego onto their perspective. Validation? Vindication? Sour grapes…?
And those middle-of-the-night thoughts of regret and of career suicide have long since subsided. With a sure-fire combination of healthy perspective, timely advice, and a little vulnerability, I have come to view this ‘change in responsibility’ as only a temporary one. I harbour plans to return to school leadership within the next 5-6 years. Different school. Different role. Same vulnerability.
My sleeping habits you ask? Never better. I now sleep with deep comfort. I end my days with a much healthier and supportive frame of mind (and I’m actually coming home earlier!). And while the many challenges at home continue, I now possess a better sense of balance and headspace to meet them head-on. Becoming more present both mentally and spiritually for my family is something that I now feel I have the capacity to harness. To offer. It is my top priority.
Never doubt what you know to be true in your heart. That never changes, never waivers when sometimes everything else does. That’s vulnerability. Embrace it.