Not an actual student

I went back to work this week. It has been six months since the high school shut its doors to block the pandemic. As a paraprofessional in the special education department, I get to return to work full time in person. The night before the first day of school, I tossed and turned. Two days prior, I received an email with my new schedule. I found out I would be in the DCD (Developmental Cognitive Disabilities) room. Last year, I also worked in special education but the majority of my students were in general education classes. They had physical impairments or minor learning disabilities but overall cognitively they were neurotypical.

New work challenge

In the past, I helped out in the DCD room for an hour or two here and there and genuinely enjoyed it. I had never been in that classroom full-time. I was not sure how well I would do there in a permanent position. Would I have the patience? Would I be intellectually challenged? Could I do the job well? Could I really serve the students?

Double down on fortitude

The morning of the first day of school, I reread a section on fortitude from Mark Divine’s book, Unbeatable Mind. It said, “The key is that when you hit the point where the fatigue, discomfort or pain is almost intolerable, where you feel you can’t stand it any longer, with fortitude you will activate a positive attitude and determination to double down on your efforts, while opening to the aliveness of the moment.”

Stressed and alive

I loved the idea of charging forward, using inner strength and at the same time noticing the ‘aliveness of the moment’. When we are in the middle of strenuous times, we are very alive. Fear is a sign we are alive and want to stay that way. When surrounded by chaos, it is cool to look around and see how active our lives are. There is no stagnation there, only wild life.

Divine also said that true masters “embrace the suck” and step up performance in anticipation of difficult moments.

What would a leader do?

All of this inspired me. I’ve been considering taking on more leadership in my life. Leaders need fortitude. Leaders do not passively or weakly fall to challenges. They take them on and move everyone forward.

I heard the actor Sean Penn say recently something to the effect of, “I’m either fatigued or I’m in purpose.” He meant he is either low energy and dragging or he is in action and serving a purpose. This prolific actor, director and writer is also a boundless servant of the people. He’s been known to hop in a boat and rescue people from the flood waters of Hurricane Katrina. He flew to Haiti after the earthquake and helped the residents rebuild their communities.

No meaning, low energy

Fatigue takes over when I spend too much time doing meaningless work. That drive toward meaningful work keeps me active and alive. It gives me the energy and courage to ’embrace the suck’ and the ability to look around and appreciate the aliveness.

Leaders exhibit fortitude. They find the strength by living their purpose and following through on meaningful work.

My new work experience comes with challenging, even tedious, hours of dedication to beautiful students, with bright eyes and fleeting smiles. My co-workers and I find humor throughout the day. That helps us carry on. I keep reminding myself to dig deep and show fortitude. I want to show leadership qualities. I want to serve others well.

There is fatigue but it is temporary so far. When it wanes, the purpose in the job shines through and keeps me going.

Where do you exhibit fortitude? What makes it easier to do so? 

Photo by Nathan Anderson on Unsplash