Last week I caught up with an old colleague, sparring partner, truth teller and friend. It’s not often you get all of these qualities rolled up into one person but he’s kinda special (just don’t tell him that, he’s already thinks he’s god-like!).
I often describe him as the first person ever to tell me No! I was always blessed with self confidence, inflated by naivety and a positive, can do attitude. I cruised into my first teaching job, slightly stunned that I was paid to have this much fun. I had no idea what I was doing, but I learnt fast and like everything before it – teaching didn’t seem that hard.
So 18 months in, I was fairly certain I had it nailed. Daniel (not his real name) arrived in town over the summer with two years teaching experience under his belt (to my 18 months) and had benefited from the tutelage of one of the best principals in the business. We met up and I gave him the low-down of what was happening in our little rural, special school – which included a boss who left the other teacher Michelle and myself in charge of pretty much everything. So when we met up at the Shamrock Pub, I regaled Daniel with how the school would operate next year, what programs we would be running and gave him a pretty clear indication that he was 3rd in the pecking order.
To which he replied “No – I don’t think I will be doing that.”
No emotion, no anger, no animosity just NO.
To which I thought,
I like you, no one has ever told me no before.
Maybe they have, I just haven’t heard it.
I hear you Dan and I like you.
Daniel is ambitious and I am easily bored so we spent the next few years hustling and finding our place in the system. Together and separately we travelled, applied for jobs in the city, won promotions, bought property and established our lives. We never found ourselves in actual competition but we kept a close eye on what the other was doing – supporting and goading each other on. Eventually we both settled into our own fiefdoms, seeing each other socially and at strategic forums. Dan continued to be honest to the point of bluntness around me – which I mostly loved- whilst others in the meetings gasped in shock.
There have been a few years lately where we don’t see each other much but when we catch up these days, it’s like slipping on a pair of old shoes. You know, the sort that hurt for a little bit until they loosen up and then you don’t even know they are there. Dan has a senior role in the education department and is highly regarded for his strategic thinking. I, on the other hand, left the education system 8 years ago. After almost twenty fabulous years, including twelve as a principal and a high profile in the special education community – I had a little burnout/midlife crisis/spiritual awakening. One day I literally walked out of my school and never went back. Ironically, it was Daniel who was sent in to my school to clean up the mess and support the young but fantastic principal. He rarely talks about it these days, at least not to me. I like to think that it is out of respect however, given what I have already told you about him, that’s unlikely. I surmise he was horrified by the chaos that I had created, or he was disappointed in me – for not asking for help, or for giving up so easily ….I don’t know what he thinks, it still hurts too much to ask. Some boxes are best left with the lid tightly screwed on.
After 2 weeks in the fetal position, I decided that I probably should find a way to replace my income. So, with all the aforementioned confidence and naivety, I started my own consulting business. BEAM Consulting has been lurching along nicely for 8 years and no one is ever more surprised than me that it is still operating. It will never replace the perks of a government job, it’s superannuation and long service leave, but some years it almost replaces the income (well it could be a multi million dollar enterprise but who wants to work that hard, and that would require staff – no way). The work is more satisfying, my hours more flexible and the stress negligible. I now have a second business supporting women in midlife, hoping that I can coach women to make it through the stresses and transitions of life in a slightly more dignified way than I did.
So, all that brings us back to Dan and I. We caught up last week because we were asked to judge some special education awards. 25+ years after our first meeting we were back in the pub, drinking cider, discussing quality education and talking about our ambitions. We talked about Dan’s current role and discussed where to next, with a senior high school principal being the only thing left to try. Having almost 20 more years left to work, this reality was both amusing and a little sobering.
And we talked about my work.
‘How’ s things with you, Cole?’
(Note – it has always been Cole. I think it came from a previous student who only uttered one word exclamations – so the staff were were Sharpe!, Warner!, Cole! etc)
He asks and I respond with the fact that I am really loving the variety of coaching, workshops and working with schools.
‘You’ve done OK, haven’t you, Cole?’
I hear you Dan and I like you.
Yes I have Dan, yes I have done OK, thank you for noticing.
Running my own business has been risky and it can be bloody hard work at times. The money can be patchy. Every September my heart sinks when I think I am going to have to get a “real job” and then every October things start to pick up. The absence of a safety net is both motivating and terrifying. I have challenged myself to master new skills and to stay abreast of what is happening in both schools and the corporate sector. As a human being, I have put in the work required to be more compassionate, more present, more intentional and more mindful.
‘You have done OK, haven’t you, Cole?’
You better bloody believe it, Dan. Better than OK – I am Positively Beaming!