I have a confession to make. Once in while, to make my little kids happy, I let them get Lucky Charms cereal. And I always tell them that they can’t just pick out the marshmallows, but that they have to eat the oat cereal pieces as well – as if the cereal pieces are loaded with tremendous nutritional value (which I know that they are not). At some point, my wife and I tire of policing it and Holly and Toby are doing what you likely expected as soon as you heard my mention the words Lucky Charms – they are eating just the marshmallows and leaving a bowl full of brown oat shapes to be thrown in the trash. Well a while back, my wife and I were shopping in a discount grocery store and we found something pretty incredible – a large bag full of just Lucky Charms marshmallows – about half the size of a loaf of bread – that’s a lot of marshmallows! And to make our kids super happy (please don’t judge), we bought the bag of marshmallows for them to have as a special prizes for getting their homework done. An interesting thing happened. After their initial excitement and a few too many bowls full of marshmallows…..they got sick of them. Eventually, they didn’t want them as prizes or even as a desert anymore and we ended up throwing out over half the bag of just marshmallows. I was reminded of this recently when my wife and I bought another box of Lucky Charms – for the first time since last year – for my kids. Sure enough, they are back to picking out the marshmallows as if they are panning for gold.
I can’t help but wonder if we, as helping professionals – teachers, counselors, coaches, administrators, etc., sometimes act, respond, and expect similarly. We want things to be consistently easy and to have consistent, sustained success – to just enjoy the marshmallows that our work and life has to offer. But that isn’t the way that life or our work has been designed – Because, we have chosen to pursue professions which require us to tread difficult paths and to persevere across challenging obstacles. While it certainly seems appealing in the midst of a challenging school year, session, season, or semester, I imagine that (at some point) we wouldn’t appreciate six day weekends, 50 weeks of summer vacation, or even a graduate degree that was cheapened due to the ease in which it was obtained. Maybe we want every kiddo/client/employee we work with to appreciate us as much as we deserve and express that appreciation later in life as they hold up their Oscar, their trophy, their doctorate, or their Nobel Peace Prize. But like my kids tired of the bag of marshmallows, perhaps we would take these things for granted were they consistently poured out in excess. Maybe there is value in the occasional athletic scholarship, expression of appreciation from a client or colleague, or being invited to a previous student’s wedding.
Are you weary of doing good? Are you feeling under-appreciated by your students/clients?…your administration?….your teachers?….your professors?…..or the parents you work with? Are you tired of eating what seems like the tasteless oat pieces of life and ready to feast on a bowl full of pure marshmallows? If you are not feeling that way at this moment – then wonderful!…but I imagine that you might feel this way sometime, perhaps sooner rather than later. Most of us in the helping professionals grow weary of doing good at some point and self-care strategies are absolutely necessary to prevent and respond to those challenges. But I also want to encourage you to be mindful that you are doing amazing, life-giving work and, even if it doesn’t seem like it right now, you are having an influence and making an impact which will, eventually, make a difference. I’m reminded of one of my favorite scenes from Lord of the Rings when Gandalf is trying to support Bilbo, who is despairing his choice to carry an unbearable burden.
Bilbo:“I wish none of this had ever happened.”
Gandalf: “So do all who live to see such times; but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. There are other forces at work in this world, Frodo, besides the will of evil. Bilbo was meant to find the Ring. In which case, you were also meant to have it. And that is an encouraging thought.”
Take heart. There is purpose in the work and the sacrifices that you are making. May God bless you, your family, and the work you are doing and give you the strength and energy to press on. And may you find a marshmallow or two, along the way.