He cried out, “Is there anyone out there who can help me?”
“I can help you,” responded a Voice from heaven. “Let go.”
The man cried out again, “Is there anyone else out there who can help me?”
You can only lose what you refuse to release.
Sometimes bad circumstances are the result of bad decisions. Sometimes your circumstances are impacted by someone else’s decisions. It does not matter what led to the circumstances you face – what matters is how you choose to get up and move forward.
Early in my career many years ago, I left a job I loved in a small college community and accepted a position at a large church in a large city. I loved empowering teens with leadership skills and equipping adults with tools to be effective mentors and role models. I received many invitations to speak to youth and adults throughout the Midwest. I had dreams of stepping into the national speaking arena.
I was fully aware I was walking into a difficult situation. The church community wrestled with conflict and rapid turnover of staff. It didn’t matter. I wanted to be a youth ministry superstar. I was driven by ego and ignored all of the warning signs when I accepted the position. I did not realize it would be impossible for me to launch successful programs until I got there. At the end of two years, I resigned. I was broken and defeated.
I discovered the skills I needed to get up and move forward in the heart of an urban school district.
The human resources director contacted me about creative writing teaching position at the district’s performance arts middle school. Throughout the 1990s, the school was a premier fine arts academy. When the school lost much of its funding, programs were cut. It disintegrated into one of the most violent schools in the district.
Two days before school started, I was told the creative writing program was removed from the curriculum. I was instructed to teach seventh grade language arts.
I was led to a classroom with no books, no instructional resources, no book shelves, or materials for students. No pens, paper, pencils – or pencil sharpeners. I was told if I wanted materials for the students, it was my responsibility to get them.
I bought books for the students. I bought paper and pencils and notebooks. They were not interested in them. They ignored me and my efforts to get their attention.
Students walked in an out of the classroom whenever they felt like it. They wandered out of their desks to talk to one another during instruction. Fights erupted among students during every class period.
I cried every day for three months. Friends would see me in public after school and walk in the opposite direction. They knew if they asked “How are you?” I would burst into tears.
One day at the start of class, the students argued about who was the most ghetto rapper.
“Ghetto” is a word that has multiple meanings. A ghetto is defined by Webster’s Dictionary as “a part of a city in which members of a particular group or race live; usually in poor conditions.” It also expresses outstanding quality (Your bling is so ghetto!). Or lacking quality (Those shoes is so ghetto!). Or lacking style (Your hair is so ghetto.). Or loud and mean (Your brother is so ghetto.). Or poor and dirty (Your house is so ghetto.).
I walked to the window and look outside. The school was located in the heart of the urban core. Like many poor urban neighborhoods. I saw houses with windows protected by black iron bars.
“This is going to sound like a dumb question,” I asked, “but where is the ghetto?”
The class was silent for the first time in three months. Then, they erupted into laughter.
“You stupid white-bread teacher!” shouted Jacheem. “You don’t know where the ghetto is? You’re in it.”
“We got nothing but fools like you for teachers,” agreed Shanice.
“Wait a minute! We’ve got a language problem here,” I replied. “I grew up in North St. Louis. Did you ever hear of Jennings?”
A few of the students nodded.
“I thought you was rich,” said Marcus.
“Not if she’s from Jennings,” James said.
Mauricia sat in the front row. She enrolled at the school two week’s after classes began. I never heard her speak. Until now.
“I know just what you’re saying, Miss Connor. I’m from the Bronx,” she proclaimed. “I see these little boys and little girls talk on about the ghetto. Hell, I moved here and thought I come to the suburbs.”
The conversation invited a dialogue. It was the beginning of a new understanding.
Theodore Roosevelt said, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” This is particularly true of relationships between teachers and students. And adults and children. And employers and employees. And speakers, performers, writers, and their audiences. Others become more interested in what we say when we demonstrate that we actually care about them. It is impossible to fake authenticity.
Life’s most difficult circumstances often equip you with tools you need to move forward and open doors to new experiences. Challenges are matters of perception – they can be obstacles that prevent you from getting up when you fall down … or directional arrows that point to new opportunities.
My students in the urban core profoundly shaped my life. They taught me how to be a good teacher. I learned how to fearlessly enter into the jaws of conflict and navigate courageous conversations about difficult topics. I learned how to build strong relationships with students grounded in trust. These lessons translated into other areas of my life. They sharpened my leadership and communication skills. There is not a day in my life that I am not grateful for their influence in my life. I hope they know how proud I am of them.
“Your life doesn’t just ‘happen.’ Whether you know it or not, it is carefully designed by you,” said Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. ”You choose happiness. You choose sadness. You choose success. You choose failure.” He added, “Every moment, every situation, provides a new choice. And in doing so, it gives you a perfect opportunity to do things differently to produce more positive results.”
Your attitude influences your perceptions. Your perceptions impact your decisions. And your decisions shape your life.
You don’t have to have a clear plan to move forward. You only need to believe you have enough courage within you to do take the next step.
How can you take one step forward?
Ignite your inner fire with these wise words from 11 Inspiring Quotes When You Need Encouragement.
Find more inspiration about how to move forward with these tips from What to Do Next When You Don’t Know What to Do.
Do you need something fun to do? Tap into the power of your imagination and Create an Awesome Vision Board.