This four-part series outlines how my work and money struggles made me vulnerable to “school”. It illustrates how “school” played my vulnerabilities and celebrates the irony of how leaving school rectified this struggle – I have more work than I can take on right now.
I invite you to share your post-school successes, either via comments, or by writing your own post-school-success story. Someone once told me that, “The best revenge is to live well.” It’s true — school-less life is good!
Part 1: How I came to believe – the set up
Recently I realized that my most life-altering and informative moments have come from mistakes; which begs the question — were they mistakes, or simply life experiences that I needed to have? Were they simply part of the path I was destined to walk? Had I posed this question to my father during his last two years of life, he would have responded, “People do things when they are ready.” This had become his mantra as he approached his departure. After dedicating decades to intellect and academia his incurable cancer had fostered this philosophy which connected head to heart.
During his fading years, I had my own brand of academia, “school”, and I was steeped in the “school” propaganda that one must do everything NOW. In trying to live this creed, my long buried, but constant feelings of inadequacy, and paralyzing anxiety bubbled up to the forefront of my psyche. On top of that, witnessing the death of a thousand cuts drove home the reality of human impermanence. Each day, the disease stole another piece of my dad’s physical ability — his intellect, however, stayed sharp, only bowing to morphine at the end (which drove this consummate academic crazy). After his death, I said to a hospice grief counselor, “We don’t get to finish things.” To which she responded, “No, we don’t.”
I started seeing my life as a bumbling and bouncing from job to job and relationship to relationship. “How”, I asked myself and God, “had I gotten so lost and wasted so many years?” The George Bernard Shaw quote, “Youth is wasted on the young” pummeled my psyche. I wondered, “When will I be ‘ready’? Why do some people get to be ‘ready’ early in life and some people bumble and bounce along as though living in a pinball machine? Why have I been delegated to bumbler-hood?” Even as my father bestowed this philosophy as a final gift, I believed that this allusive state of “ready” did not apply to me.
When I bumbled into “school” in 2006, I had just graduated from a publishing and communications program — an attempt to change my career path. I was confused about what to do next. Vocational counseling would have been a logical next step; instead I found “school” (or it found me). It felt like a God send. Three years later, I had a job that paid decently, a fiancee, “school” guidance and a very ill father — so I was grateful for “school”. Overall, my life had improved considerably. However, my relationship to work and money continued to be a glaring area of weakness and vulnerability. I found the boredom and tedium of the job — copy writer for a software company — nearly intolerable.
“School’s” work and money prescription reads as this: any job will do. This doctrine mirrors its marriage doctrine of any man, or woman, will do. It also mirrored my long held, but unconscious, beliefs that labeled my longing to have, or create, meaningful work as selfish, precious and immature. My inner judges said that meaningful work was for other people; if necessary, I should work in a coal mine and school reinforced those voices.
In looking back, I often feel that God reached into my psyche, scooped out this dysfunctional belief, and placed it center stage manifesting it as a play called “School”, nodding to Shakespeare, the world a stage. Of course my new millennium theater was more sit-com than Shakespearean; even so it called on my ears to listen and my eyes to recognize that something wanted me to wake up. As with so many “school” ironies — despite its claims to be all about awakening — the institution did everything it could to keep me and my colleagues hypnotized. But my ever-present ache fought this, collaborating with God, needling me from the inside, interfering with my ability to falsely present myself as a woman I was not. My tolerance for “any job” diminished with every commute and cubicle-imprisoned day.
Had I some faith in myself, I would have heeded my discontent and made changes accordingly. Instead the dark judges in my psyche condemned the inner dreamers and seekers; they mercilessly dismissed and disregarded those urges. In desperation, I turned to “school” for “help”. “School” doctrine corroborated the judges; according to it, I didn’t know who I was anyway; the human condition is thus and all humans need “help”from “higher beings”. I bought it spending roughly $20,000 over five years, at $350 a month, to have “higher beings” point me away from my inner compass. However, the inner rebels kept whispering “Given the 40-plus years I’ve tripped around the planet, in this body, living this life, I do know something about myself.”
At certain moments their whispers broke through my “school” stupor – like when Robert shamed students in class. At these moments, the inner rebels furrowed their brows and looked at him in puzzlement – why the public shaming, they pressed. What was his intention? Most times, though, I lost their voices in the cacophony of “school” doctrine and judgement.
School targets those who doubt themselves as such. Generally speaking, “school” affirms the hopes and dreams of its newest ( i.e. “younger”) students. The affirmation phase lasts roughly two years, during which “school” positions itself to simultaneously tease out insecurities. At certain opportune moments, “school” seizes on those insecurities and assigns specific roles to students, dismissing anything that falls beyond the purview of these assigned roles. It feeds on insecurities, growing a childlike dependency in its students, crafting lost souls into “school” cogs that keep the wheel spinning.
Its cog-crafting technique includes consistent reminders that any success we experience is due “school”, mostly achieved via “school”-sponsored “aim”. Those of us who buy into this give “school” license to increasingly hold us to its governing principles — principles that benefit “school” because they are really just an increase in “school”-related demands — i.e. the three lines of work — deemed essential to each student’s evolution. If these principles, i.e. demands, damage the students personally — say causing tension in a marriage, or a job — it is always due to flaws within those students; for “school” established its demands to feed its “higher calling”, the institution’s secret “aim”; thus these demands could never be damaging.
School doobies come to believe that if school’s aim takes top priority, then our lives are rightly ordered and everything else should be informed by that. Other elements should fall nicely into place — family, work, friends, health, wealth, personal passions and callings. However, “school” kept its secret and sacred “aim” a mystery to the plebes, even as we worked for and towards it. If anyone asked, “What is the aim of the school?” our “teachers” would infer that the inquiring student was not ready for that knowledge. Increasingly, students would ask for “help”, confessing that he or she was failing in the struggle to meet both “school” and life demands; Increasingly, opening him/her self up to more criticism and manipulation.
Imagine buying into this doctrine, as I did, only to discover after leaving that “school’s higher calling” is to ensure that its invisible Queen, Sharon Gans, could outfit her Park Plaza condo with high-end red bathtubs and such and retire in luxury. Queen Gans appeared in Boston only twice during my five-year tenure; both experiences were surreal and revealed her as creepy, crazy and mean. After leaving I learned that this exulted leader was a two-bit actress, who had been in one movie and married the cult’s former leader, a charming sociopath named Alex Horn.
But, I needed to believe that “school demands” were feeding the betterment of society — however they made me squirm (see recruitment post, i.e. third line of work); that we “schoolmates” were foot soldiers in God’s army, spreading the word far and wide. For initially these governing “school principles” had worked for me and my life had improved; that was the hook. The fear of being “school-less” set in and became the basis of my choices, feeding a sense that without “school” I would lose everything, setting me up nicely to ask for “help” from my wiser “teachers”; certainly those who knew me better than I knew myself would not lead me astray when it came to the important area of work and money. I learned well not to trust or follow my inner compass. But it never stopped pointing me away from “school”.