Posted in Catholic leadership, Identity, School Leadership, Self-Care

The Benefits of Unicorn Status: Surviving a Job Change with Grace

I’ve made a variant of a Polish saying my mantra lately: this is no longer my circus, and these are now Father’s monkeys.

I say it a lot.

Whenever someone wants to fight over the gym and how and when it will be used?

Go ask Father.

Whenever someone wants to talk about the fish fries: Go ask Father (or, lately, the secretary he’s decided is in charge of them).

It’s not that I won’t help with these things; but the thing is my decisions have no meaning and are very short-term in nature.  The kids will be gone within two months and we’re none of us good at stretching work out.  We’ll be done with all we can do by May, easily, and yet we have contracts until June’s out.  Well, some of us do.  The rest of us are hourly, and I’d like to protect those hours, but heck if I know what it is we can all do.

So there’s a whole lot of punting.

I also leave as close to 3:00 p.m. every day as possible.  It’s novel for me, and relaxing.

I’ll be honest with you, I’m also listening to Audible books and have returned to playing Pogo games at work.  Not all day, but while I’m cleaning and organizing my office or whatall.  It’s relaxing.  And we have too little work and too many people in the office right now.  If I do this, then the new employee can get more hours.  I’m on a contract, and she isn’t.

There’s a name for what I am, but it’s horribly ableist: it’s a lame duck.  Lame ducks can’t fly, and they can’t do much but stand there, so for some reason people thought this was a good term to use for a president leaving office.  If I liked the ableist term, I’m the lamest of lame ducks: I can no longer fly, but the place where I’m standing is going to be gone, too.  It’s a special type of lame duck.

But even a lame duck is useful.  It can do duck things, I imagine.  Couldn’t a lame duck still lay eggs or fertilize them?  Couldn’t a lame duck still be annoying (like the one in Babe, the sheep-pig movie?).

Unicorns, Phoenixes, and Harpies

I think a better term for someone who is leaving an office is to sort them into three camps: Unicorns, Phoenixes, and Harpies.   They are all immortal and they will all get through this; the question is how will they survive?

The phoenix doesn’t go on as before; this person requires a transformation, and in leaving one place must change into a new person, or learn a new identity.  I was a phoenix a few times, most especially when I left teaching the first time and moved into office jobs, or so I thought.  Now, I accept whether I teach or not, I will always accept that I am a teacher.  I am no longer expecting a phoenix-like transformation since I know I’ll end up going back to who I always was meant to be.  It helps, though, that I now know that I’m Autistic.  When I didn’t, I thought there was something wrong with me and that I would have to transform.  I no longer feel like I have to; I’m just fine.

Next there’s the harpie.  A harpie is kind of like a buzzard, that picks the meat off a place, slashing and burning as it goes.  The harpie wants to make sure to destroy everything before leaving; the harpie will then settle a cloud of evil around a new place.  The person in the job before me was a harpie.  She’s having trouble finding and keeping meaningful work because I don’t think she understands the lessons she was expected to learn upon leaving this place.

A unicorn is eternal and will take him or herself to a new forest and put it under his or her protection.  No fuss, no muss.  It is, what it is.  As an added bonus, in this particular instance, I am the last of something: the last school principal this school will ever have.  I am now immortal, for good or for ill, I am immortal.

Once I got the mad out of my system, I think I turned into a unicorn, rather than becoming a harpie.  There was a brief window in which it could have gone either way, but the calmness of Mass, once Father came back and we could go on as before, I think, settled me back down.

Usually unicorns are too “rainbowy” for me, but I think this is what fits me best.

See, unicorns are rare, and they, according to the prophet Peter S. Beagle, as revealed in the book and movie The Last Unicorn, are what keep things in balance, and in order.  So often, they are revealed to be nothing but a horse, because most people don’t see the unicorn, and that works out well since people feel entitled to harass the unicorn and are blasé about a horse.

But the thing of it is, the unicorn protects the forest and things are peaceful when she is in residence.

That is, essentially, what I have done, as principal of this school.  The world outside the school has been problematic, true, but inside for these kids, it has been calm.

A unicorn is also eternal, so if she’s driven off from one forest, she’ll just go live in another, though she is safest in her own forest.  In theory, she can learn to make do in another.


[Image: A unicorn so white it seems to be glowing peeks out of a green forest. The trees and grasses are all glowing green, kind of like a mystic alien thing]
But she doesn’t have to change and she doesn’t have to pick the bones of her fallen enemies.


She just moves on.


The thing about being immortal is that you know you’ll get past this, and since our souls are immortal, regardless of what happens to our bodies, it’s sort of a useful idea to play around with in our heads.  Also, The Last Unicorn taught me that we should never run from anything immortal since it will attract attention.  We are too boring for the harpies around us if we just keep going, calmly, about our business.  We don’t need to run from the harpies.

Finding My Heavenly Helpers

I think a major difference between myself and my predecessor is that, while I do feel emotions intensely (thanks, Autism!), I also have much more peace inside me than she ever did.  See, she was never really Catholic, though she attended Catholic school as a child.  She was symbolic of the problem with contemporary Catholic education: the previous generation never learned to love Jesus and wasn’t even keen on following the motions.  The thing about the script we have as Catholics is that we can keep following it, even when times are hard.  Saint Teresa of Calcutta talked about actually talking to Jesus when she was younger, but then He stopped.  She stopped believing as strongly, but she kept going.  She could no longer feel it, but she kept going.  In Mass on Sunday, I was mad at Jesus.  Not intentionally, but I came to the faith as a convert, and for whatever reason just couldn’t connect to Jesus, but I was 100% game on connecting to Mary.  I learned, over time, that since Mary pointed me to Jesus, I’d be okay; she’d help me.

But I kept going through the motions, regardless.

This past year, I finally felt connected to Jesus, and was feeling like I was finally on the path to get to know Jesus better without having to go talk to his mom first.

So, I struggled.

Because I feel knocked off that path.

During Mass, I talked to Mary again, like I used to, and I was left with this feeling that that was fine; she was still there, like she always was, and, together, we’d get back to Jesus.

When I went to talk to my friend after Mass, she said I looked ten years younger and relaxed.

I told her it was an act, but now I wonder if part of it was Mary asking her son for me to give me some help to get through this next patch.

I’m noticing other changes, since I have foisted the circus back on Father and reconnected myself to Mary.  I’m dreaming again, which is something I can only do when I’m relaxed.  When I dream, I can write fiction.  This is the beginning of reconnecting myself to my writing, which I haven’t really been able to focus on since I started back in the classroom.

I feel calm.

Now, I’m not advising anyone to be a unicorn during a job loss.  Depending on the situation, a phoenix or even a harpie might be your right choice.

But for me, right now in this place, I choose to be a unicorn, and through the grace offered to me by my heavenly helpers, I think I’ll be okay.

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