Welcome to my Second Acts Series!
Today, we have Carol Varsalona talking about her inspiring journey from the classroom to unretirement.
How many times have we heard the phrase, life is a journey? Is it about the destination or the how and why of the journey? I asked that question many times, discovering that life’s detours not only provide challenges but passageways if you travel with an open heart.
Several decades ago, I passionately engaged in my first act: entering the teaching profession as an idealistic young reading specialist working with urban youth. With hope and a zest for creating optimum learning opportunities, I traveled from central New York school districts to Long Island as a new bride. Finding a position was not challenging but adjusting to the patterns of life on Long Island was problematic at first. Life normalized until an unpredicted event caused a major detour.
Ironically on Labor Day, my first child was born under a set of harsh experiences that left him with both a physical disability and learning problems. In the early years of motherhood, I learned from hardship, strength of character develops. Despite the challenges, deep faith allowed hope to grow and with grace, I began to balance a career in education, marriage, and motherhood of two, but my career plans to become a leader of literacy were placed on hold.
Twenty-five years later, the realization of my dream came to be when I joined the ranks of district-wide literacy administrators. But life has its way of turning gold into dust and shortly after this new opportunity came my way, I was diagnosed with Stage 2 lymphoma. Faced with the brutal truth that the road to recovery was an arduous one, I journeyed once again with the support of family. It was the power of prayer and medicine that led me through a difficult, but gratifying, decade in educational administration.
As with all careers, there comes a time when retirement appears to be a next step in life, but for me it was not an easy transition. I never equated retirement with a state of complete bliss. I questioned its parameters while contemplating what life would bring. I accepted a change of direction but wondered what that entailed. In a matter of days following retirement from public education, I allowed faith to transition me onto a new path once again.
My life was reimagined as an ELA consultant using my expertise to build a customized suite of protocols that would challenge educators to new levels of thinking. With this shift, I crossed a metaphorical bridge to find my niche in retirement, unretirement that allowed me to pursue my passions in unique ways. Unretirement became my gateway to open paths where pausing, reflecting, redesigning, and renewing life became the stepping-stones.
With a resurgence in the process of contemplation, I recently shared my ten-year remission story during a #pfwchat conversation on Twitter. Although I have talked about the miracle of survival in face-to-face conversations, it was daunting to discuss it openly in a public forum. Speaking from the heart has become an avenue to help others find comfort in the challenges they face while providing me with the space to grow as a learner. It is through the spirit of openness that I have found solace in stillness, gratitude despite obstacles, and a reinvented me who left a first act to play out a second one.
For those wishing to pursue a second act, determination and strength of character will be your guide. Journey on, beyond rocky climbs and steep ascents to find stillness. Breathe, reflect, and step lightly on a new path where desires and expectations intersect reality.
There are roads beyond,
With twisting turns, questionable forks,
Straight paths that beckon
And burdensome, rocky climbs.
Step lightly; rush not.
Map in hand, mission in mind.
Search in stillness
To embrace the journey.
“Picture This Program Engages Junior High School Students in the Literacy Experience” Reading Today (April/May 2008)
“Engage Me! Building Family Connections Through Digital Storytelling” 2012 The English Record 61(3), 85-119.
Numerous Regional, State, and National Presentations on Re-designing the Literacy Classroom and Building Collaborative Communities.
Where to find Carol…
Thank you, Carol, for sharing your journey. I am in awe of the inner strength and determination that enabled you to transcend the many challenges you have faced. You are an inspiration to all of us.