The dip: knowing when to quit (and whatever doesn’t kill you won’t necessarily make you stronger)

From early on the potential red flags poured in.

However, when a person is told much of their life that they are too sensitive, or that surely they didn’t read the situation correctly, second-guessing oneself is par.

But, from the first meeting when my husband said the old man hiring me had the eye for me, to the interview when she who would be my closest colleague refused to acknowledge me or pose a question, to the customs official curious to know if I was THE Montessori teacher at a particular school (the one, she informed me, she had just gladly pulled her son out of because he could barely read)–the red flags started early.  I also wanted this so badly, I wondered at what point does one pull the plug.  I wanted to make it work, badly.

Toward the end, it wasn’t that I had been lied to about the hiring decision (I was told repeatedly that my team would select me – they had not).

It was less that my closest colleagues changed languages when they approached topics around me and avoided speaking to me except for to be critical.

And not even the genuine feeling of being lost in how to rectify the confusion– it was my other colleagues that worked in other places on campus approaching me asking if I was ok, saying they didn’t know what my boss was thinking and expressing sympathy for me (because they knew the pinch I was in).  That and going home every day feeling like I had just had the hardest day of my life everyday for 2 months.  These were the final warning signs that brought me to writing the letter that brought me home.

The decision to uproot a five-person family and thoroughly inconvenience everyone was not undertaken with whimsy or light-heartedness:  it was a culmination of a 20-plus year goal.

Imagine stepping out on to ice and slowly testing its strength with each ppi of weight pressure to make sure it wouldn’t crack and swallow you up –and there is a pretty accurate description to how carefully each decision was made.

Despite the support I had been guaranteed, I had been set up in an impossible situation;  put to work with small children in a team that had an axe to grind against the person who brought me in and had no intention of ever accepting my role there.

In the moment there was a tremendous storm inside me.  I had gambled high, but the bet was not looking good.  So I gathered the chips that remained and walked.

Some interpret this as failure.  One acquaintance was unaware that this was not my first time working overseas and I had successful experiences under my belt– he tried to console me.  I didn’t punch him, and that’s good, right?

So often I have wished that I had listened to that sensitive spirit and intuition that I have rather than ignore it and regard it as me being “too sensitive”.

I have been raised on a steady diet of “fail till you succeed” and “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”.  I am not sure that it is always the right way to approach things.  In the second half of life,  it’s safe to say that we are more aware of that which is worth the effort and that which will only leave us ragged.

Seth Godin’s book “The Dip” was initially interesting because of its concept of knowing when to quit, and that quitting is often the wisest of all possibilities.  He puts out there that extremely successful individuals quit all the time–using their skill and knowledge and intuition of that which is achievable and that which is just going to be wasted effort.  I found myself agreeing with him.

Sometimes, it is not only ok to quit, but it’s the best option.




Beginnings, culture, know thyself, parenting overseas, S-bee, vocation

Thar be dragons

It is December.  I am not in the Dutch Caribbean, there will be no returning there.

I couldn’t be more ok with this fact.

And so, I made the road by walking, and, in confidence, and unlike other ventures, this one lead us back home sooner than expected.  And there is not the ever so slightest crumb of remorse or regret.  Each decision was made with deliberation, with weighing and carefully considering all the real and potential;  the red flags, the “wow, that would be cool,” bonuses and the reality of what I woke and did every day, and how that would play out in the long run.


Most proud, I am, that I had the courage to make the hard choice of saying no to what I could see was a SNAFU situation.  In the past, I have not had that courage, and I have endured the unacceptable, I have persevered through that which left me forever different, but maybe not in the way that was best.  I could tell stories of harassment, toxic workplaces, unwanted advances and watching co-workers day-trade, sell and take drugs or steal on the job… and let it roll off (as best as I could).  It’s not even hard to think of ridiculous circumstances I have tolerated.  But this time, I said “No.”, and it was the right thing to do.

One of my favoritest and sweetest and most needing students wrote this the day I left. It says “Bye Ms. Heather,” with his Spanish native language phonetics.

Behind me are some wonderful people I met there, ones who saw what I walked into, ones who sussed my character and motivations, ones who knew the backstory and every day expressed concern.  Co-workers who wondered out loud what the decision-makers could have been thinking, who inquired if I was okay, who asked how it could ever work out and expressed concern for my handling of the case before me.  When I departed I was hugged and kissed and delivered to the airport with grief, understanding and mutual admiration.

This energetic, intelligent student wanted me to share his gymnastic feat so I got a picture of him to share with his mom.

Was there a failure of creative problem solving?  Yes, but not on my part.  Was there massaged truths and misrepresented circumstances?  Yes, and they were of the variety I have handled before.  Was there dear little children and families in the balance?  Yes, and they may be better off with the light shone on the mess after my departure. Was I brought in to be a savior to a situation that I had no impact to change?  Yes.  A situation of questionable management?  Yes.  Were there good actors, hard workers and amazing families?  So much yes.

It was speculated that our leave-taking was caused by the intensity of the sun, but any international teacher knows that one just decides to like the place before they even arrive. Whether the place is liked or not just can’t be left up to the whimsy of chance.

My motivation for the trip was professional.  My reason for leaving was also professional.  We had settled in with a lovely apartment, a pool, a car, begun the school year and for over a month, daily ended the day with an unrelenting stress having to do with a situation I did all I could to insure against, and ultimately curtail and turn around.  Were it only me on the trip, I would have very possibly kept at it, but with my children in tow, it had turned into the very situation I had most wanted to avoid because I recognized it to be beyond my place to change.

The degree of settling in I did revealed my every intent to stay and make the best of the situation– the mess of which left me not sure of where even to begin to de-escalate.

Teaching overseas will always bring challenge, it is part of the immediate excitement, particularly in the initial stages.  Sometimes, part of the challenge is being dropped into a role that simply no one else will do, either because it is futile or for a whole host of other reasons.  I have taken those roles previously, and endured.  My two year teaching stint in Russia was precisely this way, and while I may have daydreamed of other options, my feet were firmly planted and I wasn’t going anywhere.  Same in China, where I was asked to require more of the students I was given than any 7th grader should be asked.  I lost a bunch of weight, worked my behind off and got it done.  But now, mid-career-almost 20 years of teaching under my belt, with children coming along with me, to pretend there weren’t considerations beyond myself would be obtuse.

This little lady was a champ to end all champs. She saw that I was struggling and wrote me encouraging notes, hugged me and ate lunch with me in the middle of the day, and did the best I have ever seen in stretching herself and being brave in a new place. I am very proud of her.


I hear “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” but families who follow into those situations causes one to question the old adage and how far its wisdom can go.  There may be unspoken judgements ascribing insufficiency to my capacity or character, but I know otherwise.  I am proud to have been courageous enough to evaluate the benefits and costs of persevering in the circumstance that I had been cornered into, and I am grateful that my partner stood behind me when I said “Not under these circumstances,”


Beginnings, know thyself, parenting overseas, vocation

Surfing, trails and hearts


Sometimes in life we make big, daring choices.  We dream big dreams.  We ride the very crest of our own learning curve, pushing ourselves and maybe those around us a little in the process.  Like a surfer balanced on the tip edge of a wave, using only luck, skill and practice to keep afloat and not get swallowed up, we lean into this gift we have to live.


The Dutch Caribbean experience I embarked on was a little like this.  Challenging myself with Montessori curriculum and method I hadn’t previously used and was still learning,  taking on an age group in a way that I hadn’t previously, going to a new country, a new school, a new culture, a new job and bringing my amazing 9-year old along for the ride, leaving family and network of people and coping tools back home was the crest of the wave for me.  Even if everything went as smoothly as could be, it still would be a leading tip of the wave challenge.  I was ready, all in. A racehorse at the gate.  I understood each area that I would be learning.  The school, the staff, the kids, the families were all kind and supportive.  My daughter was brave and courageous every day.  My husband worked hard to support me in this foray, and my family too.  I knew it would be hard, I knew that it was a challenge up.

What could go wrong?


Using the metaphor of backpacking, I carried an unusually heavy pack of learning.  Additionally I had people following behind me, relying on my lead.  Understanding that, I was ready and met that challenge.  I had agreed to one high challenge experience, and was given an even more challenging one.  At my peak level of challenge, I was given a challenge I would never have chosen with a crew of 30 following behind… all while watching my support network slowly step backward.  I can give only this pixelated view because it is sensitive.  Each time I evaluate what happened, I come up only with no regrets for any of it, grief that the situation ended as it did, but not regrets.

The challenge had been chosen carefully, and I knew the limits of my own capacity.  At a certain point, it became clear that the additional weight I was handed was beyond reasonableness.  It wasn’t just me hitting the bumps on my tuccus, my husband would grow weary of being leaned on, my daughter would deal with me shutting down each evening or watching me struggle as I coped without my usual support networks, the children would receive a teacher that was unable to bring her best because so much of my energy would be spent dodging attacks or coping with trail slides.  I bit off as much as I could chew and then more was heaped on my plate.brown

It is no news to those who know me:  resilient yes, also a soft heart.  I have made choices that work with my strengths.  There are no regrets.

This morning I received tandem emails: one that slammed a door shut and another expressing encouragement, support and positivity.

For my choices, they were well-considered.  I have no regrets.






Beginnings, culture, Getting settled, vocation

Thank God for Frank conversations

Coming from Oregon, no one is going to have any sympathy for a person who is living and working in the Caribbean.  If they do, it is a stretch.  From Oregon, it all looks like an island oasis with beaches and fun for days and days.

a mental image of “the Caribbean”

The “grass is always greener” syndrome.

So, to speak to teachers here who acknowledge that all sun, no green, no trees, mountains, rivers or bracing Oregon Beaches where children wear parkas over their bathing suits… gets old.  It’s not home.  No one knows your heart.  No one knows to trust you.  Most all the familiars are elsewhere.  Only Ella Fitzgerald and ones own clothes are the same as before.  What is abundant are new challenges, overwhelming situations and patient, persistent problem solving.

A hoodie or a full on winter coat is pretty normal on home beaches in Oregon.

But like I said before:  no one is going to have any sympathy for a person who is living and working in the Caribbean.  So the one option remaining, as it always is:  get above it.

Teaching overseas is alternately an education like no other, an unforgettable life experience, an incredibly uncomfortable stretch that leaves one, at least at first, longing to return to the land of comfort and familiarity.  But it is also a bug that bites you and makes a great many other things seem mundane, ordinary and not quite as interesting.

Those who have lived and worked overseas know that even the most idyllic place will wear thin.   I was drawn to this because of the challenge it presented in ways I want to be challenged, but it doesn’t mean that there isn’t self-doubt, fatigue, wondering if or how challenges will be met.

the kids are often the reason at the end of the day, the most unforgettable part of working overseas.

But…no one is going to have sympathy for a person who is living and working in the Caribbean.

This week I might have been able to get above the a sense of having my back up against a wall.  Starting off irritated Monday, around Tuesday I realized that walking around feeling overwhelmed, exasperated or whatever other negative thoughts I had been entertaining for the past week would not create success and that I had to get over it–and get on top of it.

So that was this week.

Because…no one is going to have any sympathy for a person who is living and working in the Caribbean.

Beginnings, culture, Getting settled, island culture, montessori, vocation

300 sunsets

From my balcony of the rental, the bright disk named sun slowly lower itself down behind the exhausts of catalytic converters, and through more layers of atmosphere causing it to turn a variety of warm blushing shades.


Never had such a view all to my own.  The retiring sun skips off rooftops and outlines hotels and is in no particular rush as it departs, but still it moves almost imperceptibly scurrying itself away to a sunrise somewhere else.  Each night the clouds smudge and glow and create a new piece of creation artwork.

In this place that gives me the contrary experience of feeling perspiration slowly making its way down my back on a daily basis without having to do any strenuous labor, making my face shine like a glazed donut and frizzing my hair so that I even more resemble a muppet, counting the best moments and letting the others go is simply part of what is required to complete the task at hand.

The task at hand is 26 people aged six to nine: their education and their childhood.  Just wanting it to be good isn’t enough.  Just being patient isn’t enough.  Just caring a lot isn’t enough.  There is more involved.

Ms. Montessori was a stickler for detail and had some very spot on ideas.  But like all great ideas, there are parts of it that may not translate well to every place and time.

Instead of counting the days till going home, daily survival requires active appreciation of the things I actually really do like here.

  • People in traffic stop in order to let cross traffic cross. Just because.
  • Strangers greet each other as a matter of culture and courtesy.
  • Even the smallest most humble amount of use of the home language here brings genuine smiles.
  • Party busses with buckets of candy just laying around for children (from the 9 year old).
  • People adopt street dogs, spay them, foster them and contribute to try to make things better for these poor canines.
  • People visit donkey sanctuaries, ostrich farms and sell you chicken nuggets that don’t actually exist.
  • The kids are SOOOOO excited to do ceramics.
  • People actually hang out with new people here–and they have parties.  Coming from the PNW, I found (along with many other visitors) that it was common to receive a warm welcome and to be held at arms length.  This always confused me, but I learned that many folk have their ways–ones which are protective and private because of how ready others are to judge and gossip.  Unfortunate.
  • It is not unusual to hang out in the bedroom (where the only air conditioner is) all day long.  There is such a thing as too much sun every day.
I went and found out why they are called asses, though this pic makes them look lovable.


Finally, I am going to have to actually step up my game.  Figuring out how to humbly step out in confidence to do what I know how to do, regardless of the support of my immediate peers.  Because moving to a new country, teaching a different curriculum/method in a new students with different community specifics, resettling with a dependent to care for in a new school– that’s peanuts (apparently).  I’d just be happy to find some beach chairs, but no, the call is to be different.  It is the opportunity and the challenge I may have wanted and felt ready for, but now the rubber hits the road.

I will be trying to get above the bummers and live into the good things.

Wish me luck!