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Center for Enlightened Leadership

The Aging Process: What Effect Does It Have on One's Sense of Mission?

  Tom Vona
  Tom Vona
Senior Associate and Mentor

As one advances in years, the idea of a sense of mission or purpose in life begins to take on new meaning. I celebrated what to me was a very significant birthday recently, my 65th, and that milestone has caused me to seriously question my mission or purpose in life. First and foremost, of course, my roles as a loving and devoted husband, father, and grandfather have not changed; they give my life tremendous meaning.

What I do question at times, however, is how much I have left to give in my professional life. Do I want to continue doing the work that I have been involved in since retiring as a high school principal: working with new teachers and new principals? Do I still have what was the best in me to offer them as they start out in their new careers? Is my mission or purpose in doing this work the same as it previously was, or am I past my prime and not able to offer all that I once could? How does one know when it is time to give up the type of work one has always done and either really retire or do something completely different?

These questions weighed heavily on my mind as I prepared for a new semester in the New Pathways to Teaching in New Jersey Alternate Route Teacher Training Program. While I love teaching my three-and-a half-hour classes, I do not enjoy preparing for them or correcting the myriad papers engendered by this graduate-level program. I certainly take pleasure in going into classrooms to observe my students in the schools where they teach, but I often dread having to spend time writing the extensive evaluations that are required following each observation. When I weigh the pluses and minuses, the positive aspects of what I am doing still outweigh the negatives, and I believe that I do still have a sense of purpose in my work, but I just hope that I know when the time is right for me to leave before the passion is completely gone and I am not doing the type of job that I expect of myself.

As I have gone through this questioning of myself, I have certainly discovered how strongly my identity is coupled with my professional life. We wear many hats in life. I am known as someone’s husband, someone’s father, etc., but I am also fully associated with the professional roles I have played in my career, such as being the former principal of Allentown High School or now the Instructor/Supervisor of the New Pathways Program. They define who I am; if that is taken away, I don’t know who I become. I realize I am not ready to just sit home and do nothing, or simply become more involved in the charitable organizations to which I now belong, or to take up some hobby. I know that wouldn’t fulfill me or give me the personal satisfaction I get from working with new educators. 

       I recently had a two-month hiatus from teaching in the New Pathways program. My Stage I program with my new group of students ended in early July, and I didn’t begin Stage II until last night. I was really dreading last night. The summer had seemed to fly by, and as I prepared for the first class, I was not looking forward to getting back in the groove all over again. After all, I was beginning my 42nd new school year in education in one form or another. Surprisingly, much as I was not looking forward to it, I was amazed at how much I enjoyed the class. As soon as I got into my classroom, greeted each one of my students personally, and we got started, I felt like I was home.  The adrenaline started pumping and I was ready to go. As the slight, inexplicable dread I had about starting another year evaporated, and I knew I had at least one more year in me, my sense of mission and purpose became clear once again. It made me realize that my life’s work still gives meaning to my life, and that while the numbers as far as my age is concerned may be adding up, I still have more to contribute.

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