Castles in the air

Did you ever read a piece which resonated so deeply you felt your soul begin to resonate, shivering at the edges as though a bell had been struck in the midst of silence. Have you ever sat as the words flow into your mind, create neural pathways of new thoughts, like trees growing at high speed? Have you shivered as goosebumps coated your arms and the hairs raised up along the back of your neck at the solemn importance of those ideas?

I read a piece last week by today’s author, which did precisely that to me. You can read it here, and then for your reading pleasure, you can return to this piece, which I *had* to ask her to write for us, expanding further on the theme of getting you back to YOU.

It is my great pleasure to introduce you to Lisa Listwa. Enjoy. -Lizzi

If you have built castles in the air

Sometimes when we tell a story, we tell it in the vaguest of terms, changing names to protect the innocent, so to speak. And while those vague reflections may be inspiring to a degree, what truly stirs is the story of the person behind the page.

To write something well-received is happy indeed. But to be able to share more deeply, as friends with heads bent close over a tiny table and a steaming cup of coffee; to be able to move another soul more personally, is truly grand.

In my most recent post for 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion, I shared my thoughts on meeting and accepting your truest self. Partly in the interest of keeping the post to a reasonable length, and partly in the interest of holding my truth close, I spoke in vague reflections. I had an underlying fear of speaking the truth out loud. Why? Because doing so makes it real. And real is somewhat terrifying.

People love to ask children, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Children are all too happy to answer and provide details about the hopes and dreams of their limitless fantasies. Children say, “I want to be a fireman!” or “I want be a ballerina!” They do not tell us, “I want to be completely confused about my path when I’m in my 30s and wonder what the hell I want to do with what remains of my life.” But for many, that final option is real.

When I was a child, I wanted to be a teacher. Whenever there was a game of “school,” I wanted to be in front of whatever makeshift classroom we constructed. I had no reason to believe I wouldn’t one day stand in front of my very own classroom. I talked myself out of a career in teaching, though. I heard horror stories from so many about terrible pay, terrible kids, terrible administrators. The landscape looked bleak at best, so I pursued other options. But in so many aspects of my life, I found myself in teaching situations and I loved every minute of it. And so, finally, after more than a few nudges from the universe, I went back to school.

I worked hard. I had a full-time job during the day and carried a full-time school load evenings and weekends. I had a goal in mind and I pushed to hit that mark. Some semesters, pushing meant carrying an overload of courses, giving up sleep, food, and anything even remotely resembling a social life. I was focused on my goal and I made it. Finally, I stepped into my first classroom. I had arrived.

The first year was nothing quite as happy as I had anticipated. I chalked it up to First Year Teacher-itis. My school was an hour from home and between the commute and the time spent grading and planning I was exhausted. I only saw the light of day from my car while driving. The second year I happily accepted a position at a school ten minutes from home – the school I wanted in the first place. I embraced the challenges of being, essentially, a second-year first-year teacher. I made it through.

The next several years followed in a fairly predictable, uneventful manner. I liked what I was doing, I spent a lot of time doing it, and I was happy to be there. Colleagues told me to get more involved, take on extra-curricular activities and really immerse myself in being a good teacher, connecting with the students. And so I did. And that was okay. But I realized that I was now spending an exorbitant amount of time wrapped up in either teaching, planning, grading, holding a club or activity meeting, running errands for those clubs and activities, working on an upcoming event or fundraiser…the list goes on. I watched teachers around me who did the same and saw them positively glowing with the joy of interaction and connection with the student body and the school community. They seemed to be having the time of their lives. I believed them when they told me that this was the way good teachers lived. I believed them when they told me I would feel a joy and fulfillment from teaching and extra-curricular activities. And I did, and it was all true for a while.

Until it wasn’t.

I can’t tell you when I started to realize that I didn’t quite feel the way other teachers seemed to. I can’t tell you how or why I started to realize that I wanted something different…but…I was a teacher and I was supposed to love being a teacher.

I believed that I had to stick it out – “Lots of teachers feel burnout at [insert number] years of teaching,” I was told. “You’ll get over it and feel fresh again next year”. But I didn’t. I had spent time, energy and money on building this version of my life. I couldn’t bail out. I wouldn’t bail out. No one would call me a quitter.

But does that serve anyone? Does staying where you know you don’t fit solve the problems of restlessness, discontent, and resentment? For me, it did not. It got worse. Unhappiness crept into every part of my life. It affected my health, my parenting, my relationships with friends and family, my marriage. I wouldn’t allow it to affect my work, but I knew in my heart that I wasn’t giving my best effort to that, either.

I finally admitted to myself that I wanted to do something else, but I fought myself again. I would not – could not – admit that my life wasn’t working this way. I didn’t want to be that failure. And to say it out loud made me a failure.

I spent a lot of time reading the words of authors I love who spoke of finding your true self; of realizing and accepting who you are rather than remaining stagnant in the idea of who you think you’re ‘supposed to be’ or who someone else expects you to be. I read Franklin, Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman…and so many others. I found the same sentiment screaming to me over and over – if you find that you’re a different person today than you once were, and you’re not happy about it, do something to change.

At the time I fought that notion, too. I convinced myself there was no way that I could ever leave a full time job with benefits to start a business of my own because who does something crazy like that? But things began to fall into place. The message was clear; the time is now. It seemed too crazy, too risky, too impossible, and far too irresponsible. Thoreau’s words from the “Conclusion” of Walden were never more applicable…

“I left the woods for as good a reason as I went there. Perhaps it seemed to me that I had several more lives to live, and could not spare any more time for that one.”

“I learned this, at least…if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”

“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”

And that is precisely what I did.

I built my castle in the air. Together with my family I continue to lay the foundation beneath it. And I can tell you this with absolute certainty. I am living the life I never imagined, but have come to accept was waiting all along. There is still much to be done, but the success I have already met in so many ways has been unexpected – and profoundly fulfilling.

Perhaps we are wise to remain child-like at heart, always seeking to answer the question, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” Perhaps it’s OK not to have a final answer at any particular point in life. But if working toward discovery of our truest self is part of that process, it’s a future I’d be happy to let my child – or my inner child – dream of.


Author Image 2 - Lisa A. Listwa

Lisa is a wife, mother, and self-employed recovering high school English teacher. She works as a freelance writer, editor, and tutor.

Lisa lives with her husband, her daughter, and three Rotten Cats. She spends her time stacking the pile of books to read ever higher, wondering if she should have been a chef, and trying to figure out where she last left her damn cell phone.

Lisa writes about life and all its fascinations and banalities at her blog, the The Meaning of Me. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.


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