Investing: with unknown returns

Certain jobs, more than others, require a person to invest so much time, effort, emotions, and resources than one normally expects.

There is an interesting paradox that arises when someone engages in jobs of service such as many of the health-care related jobs, public safety, clergy, non-profit work, and, finally, teaching. I am not writing this article to hail myself and the work that I do…but I am reflecting on the paradox.

What is this paradox for the teacher?

For the teacher, this is the paradox of being so passionate to help others that you fall into a trap of neglecting your own self and your own needs and the needs of the people closest to your. The service that you do will likely have a positive impact on someone at some point – even if you don’t see the fruits of your own labor as a teacher. Yet, what are the costs of such service and self-sacrifice? At this moment in my life, the cost of my investment is building up and my return is very little.

I cannot help but go back to the time when my PhD mentor told me in response to telling him that I wanted to teach, “I think you are selling yourself short.”

I feel that I am investing in something that is providing me zero to very little return. I am satisfied that I can help my students. Yet, having received no offer from one of my employers to teach a second term at their institution made me feel as though ALL the efforts and the work that I put in to help my students was a waste. All the sleep-less nights to prepare a lesson or grade an essay seem like effort “Gone with the Wind…” Deep down, I know that my students appreciate me and they appreciate the work that I did – at the very least, some of them do even if not all of them do. Yet, feeling unappreciated by my peers and superiors is painful. I do not need my superiors and peers to appreciate me with words – but I need to know that I am still employable.

So, am I selling myself short trying to wait for an institution that does not appreciate my work to employ me? I am beginning to really think so…I do not think that teaching overall as a profession is where I am selling myself short. I think that not recognizing the amazing work that I do for my students and my potential to become an even more successful teacher is where I am selling myself short.

When I was being told that this institution could not offer me a position for the next term, I knew that I had done something wrong – I did not flaunt my strengths in their eyes enough for them to appreciate me. What I did instead was highlight my weaknesses, because I believed them when they said that all they wanted to do was help me improve and grow. This was a blatant lie. I would not be surprised either if they let me go because of my race or religion. I don’t hide either of those, so it is quiet possible.

Going back to the investment…investing in a service profession is very taxing on a person’s physical health, emotional health, spiritual health, and social relationships. A compounding and discouraging factor that adds to the cost of this type of investment is that superiors and peers do not appreciate a service-driven person. In that case, the only return that has value for the servant is to believe that what they do is worth the trouble just because it is being done – not because they are waiting for a promotion or a thank you.

I strongly believe that God sees every bit of hard work that we put into our jobs, relationship, and families. He sees how much we care in our hearts and He will reward us even if we do not see the reward here on earth. We will see the reward in heaven.

The key thing about surviving this paradox is to still find balance between personal needs and the needs of those being served. A person cannot pour him- or herself out completely to try to help others – because then that person will become nothing. This balance is hard to find and requires some periods of retreat to think and re-assess a person’s priorities in life.

So, if you are in a service profession like me…

Take sometime to think about your priorities and remove anything that is unnecessarily taxing on your life, even if it is a type of service. For every service you cut out, cut out a self-destructive habit, and add a self-building habit like reading, writing, or anything that makes you feel truly alive. Cut out the things that make you feel “lost” during or after experiencing them as though you are just numbing the pain. These are not likely going to help you find balance in your life of service.

Thanks for reading my rants!

PSA: Please thank teachers for the work that they do – even if you don’t like them. Perhaps those harsh teachers became that way because no one ever appreciated them. As a recent (and continuing) student, I know that being a student in today’s world is A LOT of work, but believe me, some teachers have to do a lot more work to help those students, especially the students who are struggling the most. A teacher has to find balance between equity (being fair to all) and mercy (making exceptions for some) – and that is NOT easy. So, thank any and all teachers that you see from now on for the work that they do!!!

thank you text on black and brown board
Say Thank You to all the teachers and professor that you meet! You never know how you might make their day! Photo by on




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