Taking the Leap

My first blog post! I guess the polite thing would be to start by saying hello and welcome. In my head I’m waving to you like the gif of Forrest Gump waving excitedly from his boat to Lieutenant Dan. That’s how excited I am that you’re here.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about leaps of faith. This blog, for me, is a leap of faith. The whole website, in fact, is a leap of faith. Maybe I should back track a bit. Humor me as we go all the way back to 2002. A seventeen year old version of myself applying to college knowing two things: that I wanted to major in English, and that I wanted to be a writer.

I am from a relatively pragmatic family. My father is an old school, Jersey Italian who believes in financial independence and the importance of a job with benefits. So when I told him I was going to major in English, his response was, “English? What are you going to do with a degree in English?” And out of absolute fear, I said, “Teach.” He nodded in approval because he understood teaching. It was a good job with a pension! Benefits! A noble profession that needs no explanation and required a college degree! But secretly I had made plans with the universe. I would minor in education, all the while charting my escape route into my post college life as a writer.

But then teaching got me. Sunk her talons into my flesh and pulled me up into the sky like a hawk. My first day of observations, I sat in the back of a classroom and heard the whisper. You know the one that Oprah talks about? That one. Like a breeze passing by my ear and on the breeze was a voice that said, “You’re meant to be doing this for the rest of your life.” I was nineteen. There was a lot of life left. There’s still a lot of life left, but we’ll get to that later.

I answered the call. Not that I completely lost myself to teaching. I still wrote a lot. I still planned on being a writer, but as college graduation loomed before me like a lighthouse I realized that my Plan B, teaching, had taken a lot of work. I figured there’d be no harm in making it my plan A. Teachers have great schedules, right? Off at three. Summers and breaks. Plenty of time for writing.

Except it took all of my creativity. Every. Last. Drop. And I was happy to do it for a long time. Teaching has given me some of the best and worst moments of my life. There is nothing like the high of when a lesson goes well. When the kids are into the activity that took you eight hours on a Sunday to research, prep, and plan. Or when they get it. When they learn the thing you’re teaching. But the lows in teaching are looooow. Classroom management issues. Apathetic students. That’s part of the game, too.

I carried on for thirteen years, and every once in a while when I found a free moment not filled with exhaustion, I’d write. It was never much. A few hundred words here. A thousand words there. An abandoned novel. Then quarantine happened, and I saw my opportunity. We were a world in survival mode forced by government mandates to stay at home. And I wrote. It poured out of me. Just a bottomless well of stories and essays that flowed through my caffeinated fingers. Gone were the Sunday scaries and the manic Monday anxiety that came with the commute. It was freedom.

For the first time since I was twenty one I started to wonder, “What if?” What if I went all the way with this? What if I actually put myself out there and started to be the thing that had been living inside me since I was a kid? What if I kicked my raft away from shore without another island in sight?

Teaching has been my entire adult identity, but we humans are not made of one thing. It’s foolish to put yourself in a box when you’re seventeen and think that same box will fit you at thirty-five. I still love teaching, but I’m realizing the type of teaching I want to do is changing because I am changing. And that realization is both terrifying and exhilarating.

So, I’m putting it all out there. The truth. I’m on a journey for my next act, which includes my Plan A that became my Plan B. And I thank teaching for teaching me so much about myself. For giving me stability and opportunity and independence and thick skin. For the relationships I’ve made with incredible people. For all of the laughs with students who kept me humble.

I was a thin skinned girl from the suburbs of New Jersey who shouldn’t have succeeded in Newark. But I did. And now, it’s time to leap.

Published by Robyn Neilsen

I am a writer and educator based out of New Jersey. My creative nonfiction essays and flash fiction stories have been published by Thought Catalog, Vocal Media, and On Mogul. As a lifelong learner, I enjoy honing my craft through writing workshops with LA Writers Group, Gotham Writers, and The Moth. I am currently querying my first novel and am actively working on my second.

4 thoughts on “Taking the Leap

  1. Welcome to the blogosphere! We’re almost the same age, and I too had dabbled in teaching, and had also ‘taken the leap’ to write, so it’s almost like we’re the same person. I can tell you’ll be putting out quality posts, so all the best and I’ll see you around on WordPress!

    Liked by 1 person

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