If there’s one thing that California has taught me, it’s the power of iteration.
But I’m not just talking about the type of iteration that goes with the typical design thinking process, even though that’s been on my mind lately. I’ve been immersed in a world that is constantly trying to create and recreate, that it’s started to add layers of meaning to what it really means to be alive. And as I settle into what is soon to be my late twenties, it’s becoming clear to me that the power of iteration transcends the concrete and physical: The power of iteration is the driving force of life.
Almost a year ago, I was in a completely different place, a completely different mindset, and a completely different state of being. Anxiety bubbled in my blood as I made a decision that would very literally change the course of my life.
I decided to bring a discussion about gay marriage into the classroom.
Little did I know that this would bring me a harsh reprimanding, a tarred reputation, and a demerit on my summative evaluation, having nothing to do with my impact on children or my contributions to my school and my district. Little did I know that it was going to bring me months and months of tension, conflict, and identity crisis. Little did I know that it would challenge every fiber of my morality–that it would test the very core of who I am as an individual… that it would cause me to challenge the authority that stood so waveringly above me.
I remember that day so vividly, blood seething through my veins, my supervisor looking me in the eye telling me that bringing the LGBT community into the classroom willingly was irresponsible, that she couldn’t believe I would make such a decision, that she was disappointed in me. And for a moment, I felt low. I felt beaten down, and I felt ashamed of myself.
“I’m actually really proud of us,” my colleague said, for we had made this decision together. We partnered on the lesson, thinking it would be a great success.
I felt a release in the tension that tightened my body. I was proud of us, too, actually. We took a risk, we tried something new, and we failed miserably–not necessarily because we made a mistake, but because perhaps the world wasn’t ready–at that moment–for a discussion like that.
Or maybe it was just the powers-that-be that weren’t ready.
Immediately after, we had very little choice but to make the best of a situation we had created. The months passed, the tension ebbed and flowed, and we continued to iterate on the situation we had created for ourselves–a situation that seemed to compound upon itself and become increasingly worse throughout the year, leading me to do something I thought I wouldn’t be doing after only four years in one place. And that was find a new job.
My friend and I traveled to San Francisco in February of 2014 and met with someone who owned his own education technology start-up company. We hadn’t intended to meet with him necessarily. Originally, we were actually just getting out of town for the weekend–mostly because of the brutal cold of “Chiberia” this past winter. California was our escape–our safe haven.
Through months and months of iteration within this situation, I eventually had an opportunity, a new job out in California. And the opportunity seemed like it was brimming with possibility. It was the kind of job I’d have killed for, but instead, it was very simply being offered to me.
Of course, the story ends with me taking the job, with me loving it, and with me feeling like I can actualize the goals and dreams that I’ve wanted from working in a school system–a place where innovation is welcome, mistakes are appreciated, and all are accepted and actively included, regardless of condition or orientation.
I suppose, though, at the end of the day, we are dealt the cards we are dealt, and sometimes we even deal those cards to ourselves. With those cards, we build a house that resembles our respective situations. While we could simply knock down the house or throw out the cards, a great deal more lies in the power of iterating on those cards. We can add layers or angle the cards in all sorts of ways. We can look at them from the back and from the front; we can change our perspective.
In the end, the power of iteration allows us to make something out of nothing, it allows us to make greatness out of challenge, and it allows us to build something we never thought we could build. It helps us to see that every new moment is merely an iteration of the preceding moment, and that as our moments compound into minutes, and our minutes compound into years, that we have no choice but to be grateful for the challenges that have been placed before us.
Better yet, these challenges and mistakes help us to create love for the ways of the world, and better yet, love for ourselves.