I can normally be relied upon to delve into the etymology and meanings of the words set as themes for the #MonthlyWritingChallenge. Don’t worry, this month isn’t any different and I’m particularly excited about this one!
I’ll start with modern definitions. According to the Cambridge Dictionary there are two meanings in use and the first is ‘the fact of doing something that is necessary or something that someone has wanted or promised to do’ . The fulfilment of ambitions or obligations are obvious uses in which the word has this sense. On the other hand, we also find that fulfilment is ‘a feeling of pleasure and satisfaction because you are happy with your life’. While we might associate feelings of fulfilment (pleasure and satisfaction) with achieving an ambition, I’m not sure we would so easily conflate those emotions with fulfilling contractual obligations.
Etymonline, always reliable for looking at the roots of English words, tells us that the word derives originally from Old English with a meaning that has only gently evolved from meaning to ‘make full’ , then from the mid-13th century it meant ‘do, perform, carry out’. Our modern sense of ‘complete, finish; satiate, satisfy, gratify’ dates from 1300 and thus the meaning has been relatively stable for over seven centuries. Interestingly, Etymonline also notes that the two elements ‘full’ and ‘fill’ ultimately derive from the same root and so to fulfil is quite a fun example of tautology.
When I think about teaching, I think about a very fulfilling career. Although I prefer the metaphor of lighting a candle over that of filling a pail, the latter can’t be entirely avoided and if I fill my students with passion and excitement for learning then that’s something I find fulfilling. Secondly, as a teacher, especially one with responsibility for young people, I have to fulfil a range of obligations and carry out numerous tasks. Then, there’s the pleasure of seeing satisfaction on the faces of my students, and feeling satisfaction or fulfilment myself.
I don’t have to tell fellow educators that there’s something inexplicable about the feeling you experience when you look at the face of a student who suddenly understands something, or when a certain student gets 5/5 in an exercise, or when a student asks a question you hadn’t anticipated and can’t easily answer. All three situations are intensely gratifying and give a great sense of fulfilment.