As a preschool instructor for a Head Start program (based at the Children’s Museum of the East End in Bridgehampton), this time of year tends to hit me pretty hard, as yet another group of 4 year-olds has “stepped up” to kindergarten; many of whom I’ll never see again. 

Unlike a public school that enrolls students from within the borders of its own village, our program, the furthest east on Long Island, draws children from low-income families residing in at least a half-dozen of the surrounding districts, making future connections all the more unlikely. It being my 10th consecutive year working in this capacity; you’d think I should be “over it” by now, but alas, I’m not.

Nearly half of our class consisted of “returning” students; those who entered the program as 3 year-olds and therefore were entitled to complete a second year with us. Emotionally, these are the most difficult ones to see off; largely due to the amount of time, energy, and guidance that has been invested in each and every one of them. When it comes right down to it, half of their young life up to this point has been spent under our daily guardianship. 

Sitting down and conversing with parents at the end of the school year is often a wonderful time to reflect back upon the progress each child has made, and the special contributions that he or she has brought to the class. It’s not uncommon for both parents and staff to get choked up during these sessions, recognizing the essential role that each has played in supporting the development and readiness goals set forth early on. Consequently, it also becomes a moment of re-affirmation; to the dedication and commitment that’s required in the profession if one is to have successful outcomes.

For some, including myself, recognizing one’s own gifts, and finding the appropriate setting in which to apply them, can often become an arduous journey. Personally, it took nearly 20 years before I chose to make a career-altering decision after the company I’d been working for was “absorbed” by a much larger entity for the second time in three years. 

Occasionally, we may receive little “hints” as to which path might be worth pursuing, yet we choose not to act upon them. Then there are those instances when it hits us smack in the face, where we realize our true calling, and take the proverbial leap of faith by putting something into motion.

Ironically, it was after I’d already “made the break” from my career in corporate that I encountered Dr. Rick Jarow, an internationally-known specialist in alternative career counseling, giving a three-day workshop at the Omega Institute, in Rhinebeck, New York. For the 75 or so folks in attendance that weekend (many of whom expressed feeling lost in their careers), Jarow’s evocative sessions of self-reflection, chakra-based meditation, and time-management exercises provided a more holistic approach to pursuing a career based in authentic personal expression. 

He addresses this concept rather adeptly in his work titled, “Creating the Work You Love” where he states: “The image of abundance need not fit into any conventional category. Its power is not in its literal form. We accept who we are and what we want, but need not conceive of this as a problem. Rather, we integrate what is by seeing how and where we can make a contribution.”

Did I wonder if my skill-set would be appropriate and translate to a special needs classroom environment? I most certainly did, but hardly enough to deter me from giving it my best shot. I’m a firm believer that each of us possesses unique, yet-to-be-discovered talents, and it’s only a matter of time until they are realized.

Aligning our career with the values we hold to be true creates a pathway to a more fulfilling life, one with meaning and purpose. When enough of us do so, a “collective authenticity” begins to emerge. Or simply, as actor and comedienne Jim Carrey once stated to a group of anxious college graduates preparing to enter the job market: “The effect that you have on others is the most valuable currency there is.”

Dave Davis
Dave Davis teaches preschool for the Head Start program based at the Children’s Museum of the East End in Bridgehampton, NY. He is also a frequent contributor to “Who Smarted?,” a popular educational podcast for elementary school children.

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