School’s out: My year as a tutor

Photo credit: Clemson Libraries/Flickr
Photo credit: Clemson Libraries/Flickr

As the school year comes to a close in the next few weeks, I will be finishing my final sessions with the students I’ve been tutoring since last summer. When I went into this gig, it was to explore the idea of teaching, to see if I wanted to go into education in some capacity, and because I’ve always wanted to try tutoring. I walked into the tutoring and test prep center in my neighborhood and cold applied, acknowledging that I had no teaching experience, no experience working directly with kids, and no experience in special education. But I did have a passion for the English language, and for helping students communicate better and succeed in school and in life.

All these months later, I hope that I’ve made an impact on my students’ work, now and in the future. For some, I know I have – the test scores and the grades prove it. And beyond the grades, I think that I’ve been able to expose these kids to new ideas and concepts, empower them to express themselves more confidently and creatively, and to utilize their resources and surroundings to find solutions, not only for their homework, but for some of the bigger questions and challenges they will face as they grow up.

For me it’s been a test in patience, a challenge to be creative (with curriculum and style), an opportunity to learn about new things, a refresher in some of the basics (hello, functions and graphing), and a chance to nerd out on some of my favorite subjects and topics. Browsing NPR.org and The Atlantic for articles for my ESL student to read wasn’t homework for me – it fit right into my daily routine. Rereading Much Ado About Nothing, or The Bell Jar for the first time, or working through the rhetorical and literary devices in prose and poetry are all up my alley, and while my students may not be over the moon about those assignments, I got to be a little excited and I hope some of that rubbed off on them. And even when I was working through middle school math, I got to explore different learning styles and approaches to fundamentals that I hadn’t touched in 20 years, and it gave me a new appreciation for what it’s like to be the student – it helped me to be a better teacher.

As with any job or extracurricular, there were tough moments, too. You’re dealing with parents, juggling schedules, disinterested kids, and sometimes really tough subject matter. And while I won’t be pursuing a new career in education right now, the frustrating moments of this past year have been as enlightening as the satisfactory ones. I am grateful for the opportunity to have worked with all of them, and I’m glad I took on the challenge for myself. I look forward to continuing it in the future.

Have you worked as a tutor? What have you learned from the experience?

Remembering my motivation

fortune cookie

In high school, the goal was to get into college and get scholarships. In college, the goal was to get on the newspaper, get internships, and get a job after I graduated. Once I moved to DC, I needed to find a place to live (a few times), find a new job (a couple of times), pay rent, let relationships go, and make friends and connections.

And for all of these things, I was motivated to do them because, essentially, I had to. You work to eat to live, and you find ways to make it all work.

In the year I’ve spent in California, I’ve been really lucky. I don’t have any obligations other than to pay a couple of bills. I still don’t even have a car. I don’t have to pay rent, and I’m still making money as a consultant. I’ve had the freedom — the privilege — to take my time and explore what I want to do with my life, and how I will get there.

But there’s a funny little thing about motivation: sometimes, when you don’t have to do something, it’s easier not to do anything.

That doesn’t mean I’ve been lazy. As I said, I’ve been working with multiple clients for a year, I’ve been working on my health and fitness (10 lbs. and counting down to prove it), and reconnecting with people from my past to feed my emotional growth.

What about THE thing, though? The whole “figuring out what I want to do with my life” part? That’s where it’s been easier, many days, to think and stew and be afraid, rather than to act. I’ve journaled, I’ve whiteboarded, I’ve talked things to death with family and friends, but the getting shit done part has been the challenge. Recently, I got the reminder (again) that there is no better time in my life than now to try to make my life what I want it to be — this is the big chance I get — the chance that many people never get. That ripe age of 29 going on 30 with no kids, no mortgage, no debts, no health problems, nothing.

What do I have? I have a lot of opportunity, and I have a lot of support. I have things I care about, but caring only goes so far. It’s time for action, and it’s time to act like I have to do these things — like there’s no other choice.

It may not work out, and then I’ll have to try something else, but like before, I figured it out. And what’s worse than trying and failing? Not trying and then never knowing and being stuck in a continual cycle of what ifs and self-doubt. That’s my motivation.

To all my motivators out there — thank you for reminding me why I’ve made these choices, and what I’m capable of.

Honing in on my soul mission

Miraval

A few weeks ago, my mom and I were guests at a spa resort at in the Arizona desert called Miraval, known for its focus on mindful living. My mom had been a few times before, so experiencing this place she loves with her for the first time was long-awaited—not to mention, everything I expected and more. The food, the staff, the destination and the activities were all incredible. It really was the perfect mother-daughter bonding trip to start the new year, and the timing was perfectly on point. It was a nice, lengthy pause to reflect on all that I’ve done in the last year and to think about all of the great things to come.

As I’m inching my way toward my next steps in this journey I’ve been on since I moved across the country in May of 2013, Miraval’s emphasis on wellness in mind, body and spirit really resonated with me. I returned home with a few things to think about; things that I think are worth sharing for anyone practicing mindfulness and doing some soul-searching.

1. What you’re good at isn’t always what brings you the most joy.

This may seem obvious, but many of us gloss over the distinction between our talents and what Miraval’s wellness guru Tejpal calls our gifts. There are things we’re really good at, perhaps so much so it’s a job, but that doesn’t mean it makes us happy. And so goes for the things that we may not be that good at, but it brings us joy and inspires us to give back.

Our gifts and our talents may overlap a little, but to really find the answer, Tejpal suggests an exercise ofjournaling for 40 consecutive days, honestly asking ourselves, “What is my gift?” I have some ideas, but I’m going to start it this week and get to the heart of it.

2. Fear and uncertainty are a part of all unknown adventures. Acknowledge and embrace it, then move through it.

I’ve always loved adrenaline-inducing activities like skydiving, zip lining and roller coasters. But my mom’s not a big fan. While I’m having fun, she’s often terrified of the speed and the heights and the sheer uncertainty of it all. At Miraval, we participated in some group challenge activities and talked through our fears and how we hope to learn and grow from them.

For me, I think I often yearn for those big physical risks to counter my fears to take leaps in the rest of my life. I was reminded during those activities that the anxiety, exhilaration and breathlessness that I feel in quick succession is not unlike what it feels like to let go and swing when going forward in discovering our passion.

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Revelations on the journey to what’s next

Stopping to take a look around on the journey
Stopping to take a look around on the journey

I was in DC this weekend for a friend’s wedding, for the first time since I moved away two months ago. On the one hand, it felt like coming home, back to the place I had lived for six years. It was the city where I got my first three grownup jobs, where I ran my first races, and experienced multiple heartbreaks. It was where I learned to love sushi and wine, and that sometimes it takes four different forms of transportation to get home after a late night baseball game. It’s the place where I made friends for life, people that have seen me evolve from a naive, young college graduate looking to make my mark on the world to a (hopefully) wiser, stronger, more experienced woman… looking to make my mark on the world.

I visited favorite restaurants and bars, caught up with friends, and celebrated my friends’ marriage, but I realized that just two short (some days it felt long) months later, DC wasn’t my home anymore. And despite the fact that my parents’ house is only my temporary home, I already had that “I’m ready to go” feeling after a few days. Going into my visit, I knew I would be looking at it as a gauge on if I wanted to go back — because the thought had crossed my mind more than once in the time since I left. But as I walked around what had been my city, I realized that although I miss the people, and I’ll always go back to visit, I was indeed ready to leave and try something new.

And so what does that mean at this point? Although I don’t have all the answers yet, I feel like I’m a lot closer than I was when I got out here. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about my needs and wants, my priorities, and what it will take to make me happy in my career, in my passions and hobbies, my surroundings, and in my relationships. The most important thing I’ve realized in all of this (thanks, Dad!) is that it’s absolutely okay that some of these things have changed, multiple times, even since May. Because, really, this is not the time to settle. There were moments in life when I settled, for a job, for a guy, for friends. But now, when I have my health, and family, and really, no troubles or worries, this is the time to make choices that are only for me, and right for me — not just what’s good enough, or what works.

As I look at the opportunities out there, I may get intrigued for various reasons, but I can’t jump at the first thing that comes my way. As I think about where I want to live, I can’t just go to the place that’s nearest, or cheapest, or easiest. As I meet new people, I won’t just befriend them or date them because they’re there. It’s time for purpose, and intent. And I certainly have time on my side (at least for now).

In the last few weeks as I have wavered over some of my decisions, or felt silly as I admitted feelings and desires out loud to myself, I’ve felt myself becoming more confident in this process, more content, and more excited than I was before about what lies ahead. It may end up being completely different from what I envisioned two months ago, but I’m on a path to really knowing myself and getting to where I belong.

Adjusting the journey is part of the process

writingI’ve been in California for nearly a month. Some days it feels like I left DC ages ago, other times, like I just left yesterday. These are the times I’m grateful for technology like social media, where I can check in to see what’s happening with my friends and in my former city. And I’m grateful to the friends that have been so great about keeping in touch in these first few weeks, texting me, emailing me, reminding me to stay strong and that things will all work out the way they’re meant to.

When I made the decision to come out to California and start this journey, even though I knew the first few months would be a transition, I was already running all the scenarios in my mind of how to immediately get consulting gigs, and how to get my writing published. I’m a planner, always have been. And it honestly scares me to think of not having a steady income after being so fortunate to have one since I’ve been out of college. It scares me to think that I could sit and write every day, all day, for years, and nothing ever come of it. As my dad said, I was looking for the silver bullet, and couldn’t stop planning, as opposed to just using this time to do what I wanted to do, which is relax, write, and reflect.

And yet, in the last several weeks, as I’ve split my time between part-time work for my job in DC, writing, and spending time with my parents, I’ve realized a few things about myself that I guess I didn’t think would be so important and immediate.

For one, living out in the country with my parents is a great way to spend time with them, to focus, and have some solitude. But it’s not for me in the long-term. And I’m not even sure I’d be ready to move to the nearby city of SLO … which means that I very likely may end up in San Francisco, where I can be around more people, more things to do, and more variety. And that’s okay. As my aunt said in a lovely note to me, I’m at a different place in life than my parents, and what’s right for them right now may not be right for me. So if what I need right now is to be in the city, that’s okay.

Another thing I’ve been thinking about of course is what I’m doing out here and what I want to be doing. As I’ve been outlining themes to write about, one common thread kept popping up  — connections with people. Whether it’s through food, health and fitness, technology, or family, all of the things that interest me and make me feel fulfilled involve interacting with people directly and either helping them do something they love, or telling their stories. It’s one of the reasons I enjoyed journalism so much several years ago, and why I loved meeting supporters for the campaigns I worked on at my second job. That personal interaction is key for me. And once again, my dad helped me sort through some scenarios; and I always chose the one that involved people, rather than writing in isolation.  So what does that mean? I crave being around people more than I thought I did, as much as I do cherish my time alone. It means that I need more structure to my day than I imagined, and that maybe writing isn’t the end all be all, maybe it’s just a priority, rather than the priority.

And that is okay, too.

There are lot of different routes I could take – I could do teaching, or coaching, or mentoring, and I can figure out how to incorporate writing into any of those.

I spend a lot of energy (too much!) trying to prove to others and to myself that I am capable of something, or that I will follow through based on the original plan. But life doesn’t work that way, and people don’t work that way. If I’ve changed the context of what I want to do a month after getting here, so what? I’d rather do that and be true to myself than force myself to make something work that I’m just not feeling. If I’m more suited to live with my parents for a few months and then move to the city instead of sticking it out here, so what? I’m still near them for frequent visits, and if I need that for my heart and mind, then that’s what I’ll do.

A friend of mine told me to think about things I wanted to accomplish while I had this time. Whether it’s reading 10 books, or trying 10 new recipes, or writing 10 blogs, if I focus on that, then the other things will fall into place in time.

And that is okay.