Daring Greatly

I resigned my teaching position this past Tuesday.

It was one of the most difficult decisions I have ever made, and yet, simultaneously, it has been one of the easiest.

It is hard to leave what we know. We like the familiar. We enjoy routine. And…we also like regular paychecks and the stability of having a current position. Additionally, I truly love teaching! It is a passion of mine, and there is nothing quite so rewarding as watching students studiously engage with Shakespeare after discovering that there is a treasure trove of bawdy jokes hidden underneath his foreign language and seeing a struggling student truly get a difficult concept for the first time. It is invigorating to see students engage in our current events through the lens of the classics, and I will truly miss that.

I gave a lesson to my students earlier this year about identity, in which I had them make identity charts to practice characterization. When making my own identity chart, I wrote the following, “daughter of God, wife, mother, teacher.” I told the students, “These are the four things that most define me, and they go in that order. I have to be a daughter of God before I can be a wife, a wife before I can be a mother, a mother before I can be a teacher.”

Our lovely Mariana Caeli was born in October, and I went on maternity leave. Mariana’s life has brought so much love and laughter into our home. She is so different from her older sister, Madeleine. Mariana is a quietly happy, sensitive soul. She reminds me to find the quiet and choose joy, while her sister Madeleine shows me the joy in exuberant laughter and persistence. Mariana’s life has in and of itself been a new beginning for our family.

It has not been without darkness, however.

At Mariana’s first well-appointment after we brought her, her pediatrician’s office had concerns about her weight. This prompted that pediatrician’s office to schedule office visits for the next four days in a row. They had me start a routine of triple feeding in which I nursed Mariana, gave her a bottle, and pumped, every 2-3 hours. They had no plan for me to stop this, though this is supposed to be a short term intervention lasting a maximum of 72 hours. They knew I had a history of anxiety, and yet, the urgency with which they were talking about Mariana’s weight made me feel that they were concerned that she might just waste away.

We switched pediatrician practices, and were told that all this was wholly unnecessary, but by that point, the damage had been done. My anxiety was on high alert, and now I needed to work with an IBCLC to stop this routine without absolutely destroying my milk supply.

Once the isolation of Covid was added in along with my chronic pain, it was a tried and true recipe for postpartum anxiety and depression.

Each week I was grateful to be home with my girls. And each week I dreaded going back to work. I began to have panic attacks about work. Would I be able to keep up with pumping? How would I fare with the commute? What about sleep? How could I take care of myself and be a good wife and be a good mom and be a good teacher?

I kept trying to turn off the thoughts and just enjoy the time. I kept telling myself, “I can do hard things. I can make it through this.” I felt so much guilt for dreading the return to work, because I truly do love teaching. I felt like I was drowning.

As I reflected and prayed on the matter, I recalled that I start each year with a lesson on Theodore Roosevelt’s “Man in the Arena” speech. For those unfamiliar, I’ve put it below:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Theodore Roosevelt, 1910

After reading the speech, I then prompt students to reflect on what it means to fail while daring greatly. We discuss the value of failure and the lessons that can be gleaned from it. We also discuss the final line, “so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” I ask them to consider what this may mean in light of their faith, and I lead them in discussing what it is to live their faith on fire for the Lord. We discuss the stories of the martyrs and look at how they have failed in the eyes of the world, but in the eyes of the Lord they know the “triumph of high achievement.” I want to instill in my students the value of failure and by doing so help them to embrace a radical vulnerability. I want them to welcome failure as a friend. To see failure as an opportunity for growth.

As I recalled this speech and the lessons I wish my students to clean from it, I had to ask myself: Am I daring greatly? Am I embracing the possibility of failure? Am I meeting life with a radical vulnerability?

And so last week, I reached out to my school to prepare for my return. And last week, they offered me a lifeline: the opportunity to resign if I felt I could not handle it. And as I reflected on the desire to be willing to fail while daring greatly and to be radically vulnerable, my decision became clear. I will be forever grateful to my administrators for their understanding.

Leaving was hard, not only because I felt an obligation to fulfill my contract, but also because I struggled with wondering if I was just giving up. I thought about my students, and I was sad that I wouldn’t see them again. But then I remembered what I had told them: “I have to be a daughter of God before I can be a wife, a wife before I can be a mother, a mother before I can be a teacher.” And then the decision became easy.

Throughout this entire postpartum period, I realize I have been consumed by fear. Fear of failure. Fear of giving up. Fear of being an imposter. Fear of being not enough.

I realized it was my fear holding me back. Would I be able to get a new position if I chose to return? If I took this time for myself and my family and explored these different things, would I fail? Would I be a terrible stay at home mom? Would I be able to break out of survival mode without my work?

And then I remembered the lesson I give each year on daring greatly and realized none of that matters.

It doesn’t matter if I fail. It doesn’t matter if no one likes my work. It doesn’t matter if I’m not always the best stay at home mom. What matters is that I try and do it anyway in spite of my failures, so that I will not be one of the poor and timid souls that know neither victory nor defeat.

And so when I focus on daring greatly, I am so excited about the possibilities ahead of me. I am going to be writing here about life, faith, fitness, and motherhood. I’m going to chronicle my journey with postpartum anxiety and my fitness journey. I have the Great Books series planned out! I am going to explore freelance options and tutoring. I’m going to work on my novel. I have some exciting projects planned that I will eventually be able to share with you all. And most importantly, I am going to focus on getting myself well again so that I can be a daughter of God, a wife, and a mother to two beautiful girls. Once I am well again, I will consider returning to teaching.

Anxiety has been my dragon, but I know that it is a dragon I can slay with God, my husband, and my family all rallying to my support. And rather than living in fear, today I choose a new beginning. I choose to see an opportunity for growth during this period.  I will embrace opportunities for failure. I will embrace vulnerability. Most importantly, I choose to dare greatly, for it is not the critic who counts, nor the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or how the doer of deeds could have done them better. Rather, the credit belongs to the man in the arena, for if he fails, he fails while daring greatly.

Where are you going?

Reposted from my blog Aut Quo Vadis

I have been in Rome, the Eternal City, the City of Seven Hills, for nearly two weeks now, and I have had to do more challenging things in these past two weeks than in much of my life.  I have had to learn to be comfortable eating in a restaurant by myself, working through a language barrier, navigating a new and strange city alone with limited street signs and at times poor mapping directions, locating a supermarket and walking back with my groceries, figuring out where to buy various things such as pillows or blankets in a city with no Target, using a foreign ATM, and surviving crossing the chaotic Roman streets as Vespas whiz past pedestrians on streets never intended for modern vehicles.  I am learning independence.

Yet in the midst of learning independence, I become deeply aware of my total dependence.  As I read shampoo labels in Italian, introduced myself to shop owners, navigated a city with no order, and established new friendships, I knew that I could do none of it.  I become more aware of my glaring vulnerability, my inescapable incapability, my distinct dependence.  I am drawn deeper and deeper into silence amidst chaos.  I stand amidst the grandeur of human accomplishment and as I stare in awe at the vastness of my surroundings, I have a deep sense of my littleness.  I kneel in confession eclipsed by the vastness of St. Peter’s Basilica, as the priest asks, “What is God’s will for your heart?”  And in that moment, amidst the tomb of St. Peter, surrounded by the majesty of the magnificent Basilica, aware of the saints that had walked those halls, I could only answer: “To love.”

When I boarded my plane to Rome nearly two weeks ago, many had asked me, “Where are you going?”  And my answer was simple—”I am going to Rome.”  But I knew in my heart that I wasn’t just going to Rome.  I knew Jesus was calling me into the desert, into silence, into new life, but I knew not how He intended to accomplish that.  And so last night, I found myself going to Santa Maria Basilica to do my usual holy hour—yet something was going on in the Church, and I didn’t feel comfortable praying in the midst of community prayer.  I found myself wondering, “Where will I go?” as I remembered another church not too far that had its doors wide open at night.  I walked into the Church, and Jesus was there, staring at me in adoration as there was exposition at the time.  I had been starting to feel overwhelmed and worn down by all the work independence required, and as I stared at Jesus, I knew where I was going.  I knew that I wanted to love more deeply, to pray more fervently, to give more generously.  I knew within my heart that I could accomplish none of what I desired, that even the act of breathing required grace, that I was nothing before the King of my Heart, and yet He looked at me with Love and Mercy.  I recalled the words of the priest in confession—”What is God’s will for your heart?”—and I recalled my response—”To love”.

To love is to allow Christ to first love us.  How can we give what we do not have?  And so we are totally dependent on Christ— Author of Life, Source of Love, Fountain of Mercy—to love others.  Christ pours out His Love for us at the Cross.  His Love pours forth as Blood and Water from His Heart as a fountain of Mercy for us, but we must come to the Cross to receive His Love.  The Cross is not easy, and we are continually journeying towards the foot of the Cross with Christ.  It is only through a total trust in Christ’s Plan of Mercy and Love for our hearts that we can come to the Cross, which is death to self and renewed life in the Love of Christ.  There will be many points of anxiety, numerous occasions where we turn away, moments when we refuse the heavy burden of self sacrifice.  Yet Jesus continues to pour out His Mercy upon our hearts, to invite us to do the impossible and walk on water, and when we drown, we drown in His Mercy, our hearts being purified, before Jesus pulls us back up again.

I do not know how Jesus will use my time in Rome, but I do know where I am going.  I am continually striving to go to the Cross with Mary at my side.  In a city of great accomplishments and human achievement, I am made aware of my littleness.  In a city of saints and martyrs, I am made aware of my sin.  In St. Peter’s Basilica, I come to know the beauty of the Catholic Church.  I know that I will fall many times as I strive to walk toward the Cross with Jesus and Mary, but I know that each time I fall, Jesus will pull me up.  I do not need to fear walking alone, for I know that I am little, and my littleness assures me that I continually walk with Jesus and Mary, my Mother.

Aut quo vadis—Where are you going?