Finding Purpose with No Expectations

Summer days are waning.   Crickets chirp while my butterfly wind chimes lay still. The porch light illuminates two empty wicker chairs. All the other porches on my street are silent and empty. The space beside me on the wicker love seat is empty, as usual. I’ve accepted it may be empty a while longer. Not forever, but for now.

To my right, the vines of my evening glories climb. But if your gaze would wander beyond the railing, just below, you would glimpse a quiet wonder likely overlooked by neighbors and passersby. One solitary white blossom.

Twelve weeks ago, I planted a handful of seeds. It was the same week I made my online dating profile. I remember my delight when the first shoots of green broke through the soil, my excitement when I had to put in a trellis to give the first vines an upward playground, and my joy when I first wound the vines around the slats in the front porch when they had outgrown the trellis. The plants in my front garden bed prospered from seedlings or mature plants, but the evening glories were part of my very first attempt starting from seeds; every milestone they’ve reached has brought me unexplainable satisfaction.

Nevertheless, though its vines climbed quickly and made measurable progress week by week, there were moments I doubted if it would ever bloom. A teacher’s summer off gave me plenty of time to observe its daily growth. In those moments when I wasn’t looking, the tips of the vines would make one more revolution around the slats in the porch. Perhaps I was beginning to lose faith because they bloom summer through fall, and a couple of training sessions each week this month for school keep me ever aware that summer is nearly over.

To be honest, I am looking forward to the start of school next week. Last year at this time, I was the new kid on the block, meeting my administrators and seeing my classroom at Kecoughtan High School. Today, I was introduced to the newest kids on the block as they did the same.   While fully immersed in the daily grind of preparing lessons and grading papers, focusing on the end of course testing demands and yearbook deadlines, I was oblivious to my own measurable progress. Over the course of a year, I unintentionally accomplished far beyond that which I strove for relentlessly at my six-year post in the Nashville public schools.

Back in those days, ambition defined me. I was constantly networking, vying for recognition and promotion, shaking hands and making connections, completing my graduate studies, believing that my career would be more meaningful if I were teaching teachers rather than students. In my previous post, I could spout off the name of everyone at the district office and had made myself personally acquainted with any of them who might have influence over my future placements. It did not occur to me to be grateful for a teaching position with tenure, a positive community, or stellar principals. I wanted more.

I could have never anticipated how grateful my career would be for my divorce. I didn’t just leave my husband. I left the quest for significance. I left the striving and the networking and the vying. I divorced ambition. I spent two years out of the classroom, the wealth of it working in an administrative cog-in-the-wheel position for a government contractor where the qualities that had made me an excellent educator – creativity, sound judgment, independence, self-motivation – were cause for derision. Perhaps the best cure for the grass-is-always-greener syndrome is to get what you thought you wanted and contract a critical reality check.

By the time I laid eyes on my classroom at Kecoughtan, I was simply grateful to be back in my element. My world consisted of my students, my lessons, my classroom, and my colleagues. Teaching is in my blood, and hindsight taught me a crucial lesson about the folly of my ambition. Of taking for granted. Of wanting more. I’d been given a second chance in education, and I was starting over. A new state, a new district, a new testing system, a new school, a new set of administrators. I never bothered to learn the names of the leaders in the district office.

When I was asked to lead a technology workshop in December, I was as delighted as I was to witness those first shoots of green from my evening glories. At the end of this past school year, when I was asked to be a part of the building leadership team, and a week later, the technology teacher leader team, I was as excited as I was to buy that trellis for the vines to climb. When I got the phone call from my principal this summer that I will serve as head of the English department, I felt the same joy as in winding those vines around porch slats.

The delight and excitement and joy were sincere. Why? Because I had no expectations. When I planted my evening glory seeds, I had no expectations. I noticed and appreciated every inch of green. I could be satisfied by even the most minor proof of progress, even if not a single blossom ever emerged, simply because I valued the growth for growth’s sake.

It took twelve weeks for my evening glories to bloom. It took fifty-two for me.

I do not have expectations for the countless other buds of my evening glories to open and blossom big and white. If they do, I will be pleasantly delighted. I do not have any expectations for the future of my career to open and blossom into greater responsibility or promotion. If they do, I will be pleasantly delighted.

Neither do not have any expectations for the seat beside me on my writing perch to be filled with a hunk of a man with his arm draped lovingly around my shoulders. My divorce of ambition saved my career. I am contented to be where I am, doing what I’m doing, without ungodly striving to pursue discoloring my rose-colored glasses. In the same span of time it took my evening glories’ seeds to thrive with a single bloom, my online dating seeds simply did not take root.

Perhaps it wasn’t the right season for planting. Perhaps the conditions of the soil or the temperature or the climate of my life weren’t favorable during this attempt. As the summer wanes, the promise of an abundance of teacher and leader responsibilities floods the horizon. Admittedly, online dating has served as a part time job this summer, and I don’t anticipate the luxury of such free time or energy to pursue it when the school bell rings.

But maybe like my divorce saved my career, my dating future will be saved by the bell as I put expectations aside and opt instead for a quiet wonder. A hope that in twelve weeks’ time or fifty-two weeks’ time, a single white blossom will emerge. The product of hope. Not expectation.

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