If I asked you who your current role models and mentors are, would you have names on the tip of your tongue? I know we spend a lot of time modeling and mentoring for others. But how about others who serve that role for you?
Sure there are people you look up to, because of their position or their influence…those connectors who may help you advance professionally. And there are those you don’t think of as models or mentors, but make you take notice from time to time as they speak or take action. That’s all good, but that’s not what I’m asking.
I’m talking about intentional selection of people who can help you to grow and fulfill your full vocation as an educator…not just improve your professional status.
Vocation? Yes, vocation…not just a job or a career. A vocation: the important life’s work you are meant to do. If that concept doesn’t resonate with you, then stop reading now and save yourself the next three minutes of your life you’ll never get back…
Still reading? Good. We give and do and make a difference because that’s how educators are wired. We find our satisfaction knowing that the work we do gets paid forward many times over. But what about giving and doing and making a difference within ourselves?
I’m talking about you, the educator, and how you feed your mind and your heart and your spirit. To not mindfully do so is to slowly starve yourself…personally and professionally.
After twenty-five years in public education, from teacher to assistant superintendent, I came to ASCD to find new ways to serve. By the end of my first month, July 2010, I realized I was learning and being challenged to grow in ways that I had not been in a very long time. It was a stunning epiphany. I thought I was learning and growing all those years, and on some basic functional levels, I was. But all those readings and meetings and conversations were more about the work than about me. I had been unintentionally denying myself the sustenance I craved and needed.
Looking back, I realize the shift was in my own thinking and perception. Instead of taking it for granted that I was running on all cylinders, full throttle, getting lots done, I began asking questions and looking for people who modeled the attitudes, values and actions that could lead me to answers. For the first time, I was intentionally choosing to make my own fulfillment a priority.
To be clear, this is not the traditional mentoring model we are all so familiar with: entering into an agreement with someone to regularly discuss challenges and opportunities around a role or job function. This is different. It’s a mindset…a way of growing and sustaining my self. And the most striking thing about it is, the more I mindfully I practice this mindset, the more the right people and ideas start to “find” me…creating a positive flow of energy that sustains me.
I’ll be 55 this October, so the case can certainly be made that after enough experience, I came to this conclusion…life has a way of teaching us in spite of our selves. I write this in the hopes that you don’t have to put in a good thirty years before you figure it out, too. Life’s too short, and it’s so much better when it’s fulfilling.
You don’t have to let people know they are a model for you. Just make the choice. Intentionally internalize what you can learn from them. Feed your heart and your mind and your spirit. And as you come to experience the nurturing and sustenance welling up inside you, you may eventually choose to let them know and thank them for the difference they have made. Because you can’t keep modeling and mentoring others,…giving and doing what needs to be done on their behalf…and not give and do for yourself. It’s the surest way to short-circuit your life’s work.
Consider it your very own personalized professional development; the kind of growth that no one else can possibly prescribe for you the way you can. As we embark on this month of March, nevermind the madness…focus on a new mindset that will pay you returns well beyond the next thirty-one days. Make this March your month to begin intentionally selecting the mentors and models that well get you where you want and need to be to fulfill your vocation…both personally and professionally.