When Your Core Beliefs Are Challenged

I’ve written many blog posts about my core beliefs and how I’ve developed them. The core beliefs I hold, the values of education in which I hold sacred, are one of the most transformational gifts I’ve given myself. Developing them took work and patience and I couldn’t have sat down and written them prior to really living them out and determining what they were through reflection. All of this hard work means I love and cherish my values. I know what I stand for.

However, if you work hard and you align your core beliefs to your actions and you are constantly double-checking and reflecting that they are still in tact, there will inevitably be someone who comes along and challenges them. It may be because their core beliefs and my core beliefs are just different. Or, it may be that they have not taken the time to develop them so they are flying by the seat of their pants. Either way, I can’t control their beliefs anymore than they can control mine.

Some challenge to your belief system is good. It forces you to take a step back and evaluate what you are doing and believing. I’ve had to ask myself:


Am I fighting this battle for the right reasons? Is it about the impact of this decision or is it about the person with whom the challenge is with?

Am I making this personal?

Are my beliefs really what I think they are? Do they need an adjustment? Am I fighting against this only because I am upholding my beliefs or am I listening to the issue and recognizing that possibly the right decision goes against my beliefs? After all, I am not the be all and end all of deciding what’s right and wrong.


Any time I’m forced into deep reflection is valuable even if the reason it’s done (adversity/challenge) is uncomfortable. However, I’ve also been in situations where the challenge and adversity was too great. Where the situation was so against my core beliefs that I needed to make a decision to either walk away or go against my beliefs. And if you really have taken the time to develop your beliefs and you hold them as some of what makes you you, it feels like ripping a piece of who you are out and handing it over to someone else. It’s seriously gut wrenching. And at that point, you have a choice. You change your beliefs – you go against your beliefs – or you leave. George Couros wrote a post about it awhile back that sums up how I feel about the latter situation: When it’s time to leave.

There can be a lasting impact on a person when the adversity is so great and your beliefs are heavily challenged. Because education’s backbone is relationships it makes the work inherently emotional. We need to love and nurture other people’s children. It’s incredibly difficult but rewarding work. And because we have so much emotion tied up in the work if there is adversity surrounding what we are trying to do, it can cause an internal struggle that is unlike many other professions. If there is a teacher who is just coming to work, doing their job, and going home, we call them disengaged. We wouldn’t say that same thing about a postal worker, for example. It’s difficult to not take adversity personal because the job itself is so personal. So, when adversity strikes, I’ve found it can have lasting effects on us in many ways. For example:

Demoralization: In the book Demoralized: Why teachers leave the profession they love and how can they stay, Santoro described demoralization as the outcome from conflict between the moral obligation that a teacher feels to make the world a better place for students when they enter the profession and anything that goes against that moral code. It could be school-based or decisions by the administration but it could also be politically driven. When it happens repeatedly and the feeling of morality in regards to the students is threatened, it can challenge the very reason that a teacher went into the profession to begin with. When I speak or do workshops on disengaged teachers, I partially define that as someone who forgot why they began teaching to begin with. Some of our disengaged teachers could fall into this category.

Imposter Syndrome: Psychology Today defines Imposter Syndrome as, “…a psychological term referring to a pattern of behavior where people doubt their accomplishments and have a persistent, often internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud.” When the beliefs that you’ve worked so hard to live are constantly challenged you begin to wonder if they were right to begin with. Eventually, the wonder turns into a conviction that you just know the right words to say but nothing you believe really works in real life with the real people that are constantly challenging you. Therefore, what you believe, what you say, and what you stand for feels fraudulent.

However, I’ve also learned that standing up for what you believe and sometimes even walking away when it’s really, really scary to do so can bring on its own kind of strength. And that, really, is the power of developing core beliefs to begin with. When everything is going well, they guide your decisions and action and help you understand that you are on the path you most believe is right. When adversity strikes they allow for the same guidance, but the strength needed to continue to live by those beliefs can be taxing. Sometimes, it would be so much easier just to cave to those around you. However, in the reflection of any situation, there is a calming confidence that happens when you realize you can look back and say, “I never did anything that I didn’t wholeheartedly believe was right.” And in the face of real adversity, it’s at that point where you begin to heal and move forward.

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