I was the kind of kid and teenager who was the perfect target audience for motivational speakers and coaches who sought to inspire and motivate through their words. I listened to (almost) every word spoken and soaked in the wisdom that oozed from their mouths in an attempt to get me to work harder, aim higher or simply cheer louder.
Those speeches worked, almost every time. I was an idealist then, and even though more of a realist these days, more than a hint of idealism still flows through my bones, especially after reading a particularly good book or after an interesting conversation about positive change or progress with a colleague or friend. And while some of my ideals lacked a strong focus early on, through expanding my world view via travel and immersing myself into the different communities I have taught in, I am motivated more than ever to create real change for the benefit of those I work with and for and for those who simply can’t do it on their own.
While I still have to check myself often and edit my thought process, I remain highly motivated in my attempts to better myself for my family, my students and my daughter. I read constantly, nonfiction and historical fiction, biographies, newspaper articles and social media threads. I check my sources, search for logical fallacies, and really work to understand what I read and its connection to me and my life.
This all sounds pretty ideological right? It is. But my realist and overly optimistic sides both help to keep me balanced. Humans are complex. I didn’t ever hear that growing up. I was taught “right” from “wrong” of course, but no one ever explained to me how overwhelmingly complicated it would be to simply be human. I didn’t know that I needed to learn more about myself and who I am in order to be more in-tune to others and more empathetic.
In my late 20s, after mistakes in love, life and friendships, I decided to dive deep into myself to get to know myself better. Among other things, I realized that my intentions were strikingly different than my outcomes. While my head was swimming with interesting ways to help my community and be active in my daughter’s education, I found myself drained from a long day of teaching and coaching and barely able to get dinner together for her, let alone volunteer for hours to organize a bake sale.
My intentions were always spot-on and selfless, but my outcomes were lackluster and selfish. As a single mother for eight years, I struggled to balance what I wanted to accomplish with what I could realistically accomplish. Some days were about self-preservation while others were filled with educational trips to the zoo and two book readings before bed instead of one. Because I am human, and being a human is tough. I am an extroverted-introvert. I am multiple intelligences instead of one strong one. I am a realist with heavy idealistic and optimistic influences. I want to change the world at 8 a.m., but by 7 p.m. I’m already in my pajamas snuggled with my dogs, playing games with my family. And that is OK.
I am learning to balance what I want to do with realistic expectations of what I can do. I still believe that I can do a lot of good and create real, positive change both in my own life and in my community, but I am better at reaching out for help, bouncing crazy ideas off of my principal or colleagues before jumping right into projects and taking time for rest and reflection. I am a product of great (though not all) people who have taught me valuable life lessons and mistakes that have helped me grow as a human. It’s early in the day as I write this, so right now I want to change the world, but let’s give it a few hours before I decide Kevin, Russell and Jj want to cuddle and Kennedy wants to lose at Mario Party or SkipBo!
Bethany Zavada is a resident of Streator and English teacher at Putnam County High School. She loves to geocache with her family, cuddle her three adorable dachshunds and all things Harry Potter. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.