Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Unstuck: A Mid-Life Career Change

For two years, I tolerated a job that sucked the life out of me, demanded constant overtime without compensation, introduced me to panic attacks and did not pay enough to support my family.

I've heard that the public education system was not always the way it is now. I also recognize that I started teaching 9th grade English the year Covid hit, so my experience was far from normal. Maybe it was the year I started. Maybe it was the system itself. Maybe it was my own fragile state of mind after trauma or simply my personality. 

But one evening in October 2021, I hit a breaking point when I realized teaching was not sustainable. I was falling deeper into debt, depression and despair. Teaching had seemed like the perfect answer when I needed a full-time job fast. I could get certified while collecting a paycheck, and my hours and holidays would match my kids'. Plus, I'd have summers off while still getting paid. 

False. I left the house before my kids woke and often made it home just in time to cook dinner or pick up fast food. My energy for my own kids, for maintaining the house, the cars, caring for our three dogs, taking care of myself - completely depleted. I spent school breaks mostly sleeping and summers teaching summer school in an attempt to keep us afloat. 

I genuinely enjoyed my students, and I've always enjoyed teaching. Unfortunately, the environment (wrought with behavior issues, cell phone zombies and insurmountable learning gaps) didn't lend well to actual learning. Add to that the violent fights in the hallways, the shriek of intruder alarms (sometimes drills, sometimes pranks, but always terrifying), and losing planning periods and lunches to covering other classes, the situation was untenable.

I felt trapped, like I had no other options. Until that night in October when it suddenly occurred to me that I did, in fact, have options. I submitted thirty applications that week alone. Within 30 days, I had my ticket out.

I've been at my new job in healthcare marketing and internal communications for a little over a year now, and it has completely changed my life (and my kids' lives, for that matter).

Oh, money is still tight. But not desperately. I work from home three days a week, where I can throw in a load of laundry in the morning, change it over at lunch, and say hello to my kids when they get home from school and work. 

But here's the real difference: this job feeds my creative energy, whereas teaching had begun to destroy it. Every day brings new challenges, new victories, new projects, new ideas. Conflict is handled with maturity and grace. And it's only a rare evening when my work follows me home. 

Sometimes I think about what would have happened if I had simply accepted my situation instead of charging into new territory. The time I would have missed with my kids. The depletion of energy. The toll on my mental, physical and spiritual health. The toll on my friendships. On my bank account. 

For two years, I fully believed I was stuck in a career that would be miserable for 20 years until I retired. Stuck because my confidence was waning, stuck for fear of failure and rejection, stuck because when I make a commitment, I keep it. Turns out I was never stuck. I learned and grew a lot during my two years as a teacher, and that part of my career journey was not a sinkhole. It was a bridge.

If you feel stuck today, I hope you're encouraged. Today plus yesterday plus all the days before might just be informing you of your next steps. 

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