What is your purpose in this life? For me, it was always teaching. Starting when I was a little girl, if you asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said I wanted to be a mom…and a teacher. I idolized my teachers and played school at home almost every day. I was 26 years old and new to my short-lived teaching career when I questioned my purpose.
On questioning my purpose
It was October 2003 when I was a newlywed and a recent college graduate (with a degree in elementary education) and the tutoring center where I’d been the curriculum coordinator and preschool teacher shut down unexpectedly. A week after I was fired, I accepted a job as a 4th grade classroom teacher, taking over for a woman who was former military and very near retirement and hadn’t even bothered to put up any bulletin boards in her classroom.
That school year tops the list of the most difficult seasons of my life.
I spent most of my days dealing with discipline problems and barely keeping up with the lessons plans, state standards, grades and meetings. School field trips and assemblies gave me nightmares because so many of my kids had behavior problems. I couldn’t enjoy my lunch break or time when the kids were at specials because I knew a bad report was coming afterward and I’d have to deal with it. I had meetings with cops and with CPS about my students. And weekends? There was a cloud of doom hanging over them because I knew I had to go do it all again on Monday.
The things I thought I’d love about teaching were far and few between. I was so stressed I could barely eat and there were far too many days I came home from school and cried. I spent a lot of time talking to our special ed teacher and school psychologist, desperate for help, answers and reassurance (they were both wonderful–Carolyn and Max). The only relief I had was the days my worst-behaved students were all in detention or meeting with a specialist at the same time.
It wasn’t about how well college had prepared me or about my classroom discipline system (which did make a world of difference once I had help implementing it) or even about my particular students or strategies.
It was the first time I found myself questioning my purpose and the verdict was ugly:
I thought my life’s purpose was to teach and I had failed. I wondered, “Why am I even alive if I can’t do the one thing I was put on the planet to do?”
No wonder I had no appetite and cried every day.
I wasn’t having a hard time. It wasn’t a challenging season of life. I believed my struggle with teaching meant I was worthless.
After some intensive soul work (I’m working on writing that book, by the way), I came to embrace the truth: my worth is not based on my profession.
Years later I also came to realize my worth is not based on my performance or productivity, period. I don’t have anything to prove and I don’t have to earn my keep.
I do believe part of my purpose on this planet is to teach. And also to write, create, inspire, lead and learn. I have a purpose statement and teach and talk about living your purpose all the time. It can inspire me and guide me but it doesn’t define me.
In questioning my purpose, I discovered my worth is not wrapped up in anything I do or accomplish. I am worthy because I am a human being created in God’s image. I am living my purpose just by being me.
Granted, the more I come into my own and discover how God made me and how I can best use my gifts to make the world better, the more I live that purpose and walk in His divine design. But there is no “failing” or falling short in that.
Now I can live a life of peace, knowing who I am, living it out and resting in that…because of questioning my purpose.
Exploring your purpose–the unique way you can serve your fellow humans–is a worthwhile pursuit.
It’s also important to explore your beliefs about what you were born to do because if you have feelings of worthlessness or like that “thing” you’re supposed to be doing is just out of reach (or impossible), you might need to revisit your purpose, too.
I’ll be talking more about this soon. In the meantime, if I can help you navigate your purpose, contact me!