It wasn’t the first time my faith had wavered, but her death was the last straw. I had lived there for almost twelve years. I had grown up there: seen my first snowflake, kissed my first boy, ridden on my first EL. In twelve years’ time I hadn’t crafted the kind of life I’d imagined, but I had settled for it. I was resigned to it. I knew that I wasn’t happy, but happiness is for rich people.

In less than 8 months we’d lost six staff members, all of them to cancer. Hers wasn’t the last in succession, but it was the most painful for me. It woke me up. It shook me. It made me change my mind. “I can’t die here. Not in this city, not in this job, not like this Lord. Not like this.”

Work is not a marriage. No matter how committed we are to it, it exists to serve its own ends, not ours. There has to be a space that is only for us: a place where we can have peace without interruption and without consequence. I’ve had my share of professional failures, but the root of my unhappiness has rested in this.

  1. On passion: It’s easy to be passionate when our work brings us joy. It’s harder when we find ourselves in conflict with other colleagues, or in conflict with the mission, or in critique of the body of work we produce. In work and in relationships, passion is admirable (and exciting!), but it cannot sustain.

One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced in education is the constant need for self-reflection and self-care. Education is exhausting. Oftentimes there is a disconnect between the impact we crave and the feedback that’s available. We put in long hours because we are committed to quality care and customer service, but sometimes we don’t take care of ourselves in the same way we aspire to take care of others.

  1. On a shared vision: It was the height of Chicago winter, a brutal January night. I hadn’t worn warm enough socks, and the wind mocked my feet in subtle whispers. He’d messaged me on OkCupid three weeks prior, asked if I liked pizza, and if I wanted to hang out in about 3-4 weeks at a local chain downtown.

I didn’t have high expectations. It was my 10th or 11th OkCupid encounter, and I was starting to feel like I’d lost a very important bet. I was embarrassed that I’d starting dating online again (embarrassed that I’d dated online ever), but I’d hadn’t had any luck in the 10 or so years that I’d cared, so I decided to keep an open mind.

I knew that I loved him on our second date. He’d gone into a diatribe about dilapidated buildings and urban blight and why people throw away things because they are old, even when they aren’t broken. And when they are broken, why don’t we try to fix them? He wanted Aldermen to be more invested in their communities and to be held accountable; and he preached about the dependence on foreign oil and various political leaders’ abuses of power.

He made art, was a vegetarian, a dog-lover, a lover of running: all things that made no sense to me, but that I appreciated.

We shared a vision of what we wanted for ourselves and a hope for positively impacting our community. At work, I serve the mission of the organization. It is unique and specific, and I am in agreement; but it is not my own. I did not craft it. It’s possible to work with and for people who aren’t committed to the vision. It’s possible to work with and for people who don’t believe in the mission at all. In marriage, I believe, this can have catastrophic results. 

  1. On partnership: I knew that I loved him on our third date. We’d gone to the grocery store to get snacks for our walk, and he refused to buy anything with more than 90 mg of sodium. Later that day, I ripped the sleeve on my warmest winter coat, and he took a needle and thread and sewed it back for me.

Even in the best circumstances, work cannot be our partner. We can value the relationships that were solidified at work. We can value the projects we completed and the progress we made, but we work for IT. When we are sick, work cannot comfort us. When we despair, work cannot put us at ease. When we grieve, work cannot mourn with us. It can bring us wealth and purpose, but it has its own interests at heart.

Our time is short. I believe we should serve with passion, vision, and partnership. I believe we should aspire for balance and should nurture those relationships that edify us. There is work, but there should also be work-life balance.

I aspire.