The other night I helped my friend Erin set up her 4th grade classroom. It’s something I’ve done before when I’m here at home before school starts, and we always have a good time arranging furniture and putting up bulletin boards and getting everything in order for the year to come.
As we were leaving we poked our heads into a few other classrooms, seeing how other teachers had set up their rooms. And out of the blue I had a sinking feeling in my stomach, thinking about how that could have been my life. I could have been the one writing lesson plans and assigning nametags to lockers and making a caterpillar out of gigantic green construction paper for the Reading Corner. I could have been the one coming in over the summer to set up my classroom. And I would have dreaded every single second of the countdown to September, knowing that I would soon have to return to a classroom.
I was almost a teacher. I was going into the second semester of my junior year when I defected from elementary education and made a last-minute switch from education to English out of pure desperation to be anything but a teacher. The prospect of student teaching looming just up ahead was just enough to break through five semesters of denial and come to terms with the fact of the matter: I hated teaching.
Oh my word, did I ever hate teaching.
On paper, it seemed like a good job for me. I love kids. I love being a mentor. And I love being in school and learning. Why wouldn’t I love being a teacher?
There was something I couldn’t quite put my finger on that made me panic at the mere thought of spending days and weeks and years inside of a classroom. Aside from the actual teaching part, which had always been a big flop for me (I’m supposed to explain things…out loud…in a way that makes sense?!), there was something else. And I didn’t know what it was until just a few days ago.
I was Skyping with my friend Ally and we were sharing about our career journeys. She had spent some time as a teacher and mentioned that it didn’t suit her either, because, as she put it, “I’ve always been a bit of a free spirit, and teaching was just too contained for me.”
YES. That was it!
I’ve always kept my distance from the term “free spirit” because it sounded a little too hippie dippy for me. I’m grounded, responsible, and hardworking. I have ambitious goals and hold myself to a high level of accountability. And to me, “free spirit” always sounded like the opposite of all of those things.
But that’s exactly the reason why looking into those classrooms and seeing my almost-future made me queasy, the reason I couldn’t pinpoint back when I knew I would be miserable as a teacher. It’s the same reason why any job that requires sitting at a desk or being in a building all day makes me feel like I’m slowly watching my life slip by before eyes.
I’m a free spirit. I need wide open spaces and lots of variety and the ability to come and go freely. I need to be able to spend time outside and not feel like I’m breaking the rules. I need to be able to live life and fit a schedule into it, not have a schedule and fit life into it. Mostly, I need to feel like I’m using my gifts and talents effectively on something that matters.
It would have been easy and expected for me to be a teacher. Today’s economy notwithstanding, it would have meant relative job security and a respectable title and a known existence. I could have had conversations with people and said, “Oh, I’m a teacher!” instead of, “Oh, I’m miscellaneously employed because I don’t fit into a job description quite yet!” People tend to receive the former better than the latter.
But choosing English instead of education was one of the first steps I took into really knowing and becoming myself. I’m a creative risk-taker, and that was one of the first big out-of-the-box risks I had ever taken. It set a precedent to take more unconventional risks in the years that followed, and now it’s so normal that it’s become my lifestyle. I’ve had lots of experience in zigging when people thought I should or would zag, so I’m not even fazed by what other people think about my non-linear life anymore.
(And for the record, most people have been nothing but supportive, even if they don’t understand why I’m doing what I’m doing.)
Every step so far has been bold and brave, and I like that a whole lot better than I like the comfort of doing what “makes sense,” because it really doesn’t make sense for me in the first place. This way – forging an unexpected career from the ground up – makes sense for me.
I’m just so glad I don’t have to be a teacher.
(Psst! If you are a confused college student (or a confused anyone!) and you are reading this, wondering whether or not you should change your major or your career altogether, I would love to talk with you and hear your story! I’m far from having it all figured out, but I’d be happy to share what I’ve learned so far, especially if you need someone in your corner to encourage you to just go for it, whatever “it” is for you! Please please please shoot me an email anytime and we’ll chat.)