A few years ago, I was involved in a volunteer project that operated a meal center for underprivileged students. For the first two years, I helped with cleaning the kitchen, shopping for food supplies, and meal preparation. I felt a sense of pride in helping to produce well-balanced, delicious, yet economical meals. My diligence was recognized by the organization’s leaders and I was given greater responsibility managing the funding and designing the menu.
However, in the third year that I was part of this project, the new management transferred the organization’s focus to providing remedial classes in English and science to academically struggling students in at-risk neighborhoods. The meal center was dramatically downsized and a significant number of the kitchen staff, including myself, were redeployed as teacher assistants. Most of the former cooks were glad to leave their unseen labors as kitchen staff and enjoyed directly interacting with the children, but not me.
The vegetables and the pots had never argued with me, but in the classroom I faced rambunctious and unpredictable students and a teacher who had his own opinions as to how I should assist him. The fluidity and uncertainty of the classroom, in addition to the loss of my cozy nest, the place where I felt accomplished and in control, was unnerving, and while I fulfilled my basic duties, I wasn’t giving the classroom the same enthusiasm and conscientiousness I had given the kitchen.
One day, I was complaining to one of my fellow ex-cooks about the new management. He sympathized, “Yes, it hasn’t been easy for me to see the organization that I’d given so much time to take on a different face.” Then he continued. “But change is an integral part of life, and sometimes it’s worth adjusting to the flow.”
“But I don’t like the way the flow is going!” I protested. “I feel like a fish out of water.”
“Remember how the kitchen was once a new place for you too?” he reminded me.
“Oh my, that seems like ages and ages ago!” I exclaimed.
“Exactly. You learned a lot about the kitchen, and you’ll learn a lot about teaching if you’re willing to move out of your comfort zone.”
Years later, I am grateful for my friend’s advice, and I still recall it to help me weather the painful processes of life’s constant changes. As long as I limit myself to doing things that I like and excel in, I stunt my personal growth. But if I flow with the current of change and allow it to propel me forward, I can gain new skills and enjoy new experiences.