April 2021 is when I told my boss that I was leaving teaching. I can’t believe it’s been two years already.
I was a high school English teacher for 13 years. And when I turned 35 and saw the expanse of 20 more years of teaching before me, I knew I needed to start my Act II.
When I was 22, right out of college, in my first teaching job, I dreamt of what a life outside of teaching would be. I thought it would be calm. Quiet. Mostly, I thought it would be impossible to obtain. For some reason I had painted myself into a corner that I didn’t think I could get out of. I had never worked in a corporate setting. I didn’t know a world outside of the classroom. I had been going to school since I was 5 and then transitioned to a career on the other side of the desk. Really, I was afraid.
What if I failed? What if I couldn’t find anything else? It’s hard to stay. But it’s hard to leave.
And then I left, and my anxiety came back, and life was a whole different kind of hard than it had been before.
So what do I wish I had known? Let me tell you.
It’s Easier to Leave than You Think
I wanted to be a writer, but I didn’t know how to be a writer. I didn’t consider the fact that most companies needed writers in some capacity for their marketing and copywriting efforts. Maybe I was too mired in the stress of teaching to see the obvious. But one conversation with a woman in one of the writing groups I was a part of made me see that my dream was possible.
Teachers have so many transferable skills that translate well to a non-classroom career. It might take a little bit to figure out what it is you want to do. But you owe it to yourself to do some digging to find out. Then, start applying!
Leaving Teaching is Only the First Step
I really thought that when I left teaching I would feel this sense of relief, like the feeling you get when something you’ve really been dreading is finally over.
It’s two years later, and I’m still waiting for that feeling.
Now, listen, I DO NOT regret leaving teaching, AT ALL. After 13 years and recognizing that something else was calling to my heart, it was definitely time. But what I quickly realized after leaving teaching, was that there was so much trauma and stress buried deep deep down beneath the surface.
Teaching kept me busy. It kept me exhausted. It kept me constantly running on adrenaline. It’s hard to see anything clearly when there’s something else that’s bigger than what you need to process. Or at least it feels that way.
What happened after I left teaching was that all the emotions I hadn’t dealt with, all the experiences I had that I hadn’t allowed myself to feel my way through, it all came to the surface and forced me to look it in the face.
That’s what I’ve been doing for two years. I’ve been getting to know who I am when I am not living in a state of eternal stress and exhaustion. For me, leaving teaching was the first step in getting to know myself.
You’ll Be Surprised at What You Learn
I thought when I left teaching that I’d have all this energy and patience to be my best self. I’d be able to say yes to every event I was invited to. I’d show up with presence and enthusiasm.
That’s not what happened.
For all these years, I thought that getting rid of teaching would make me some Ms. Honey level human. I’d be dressed in Laura Ashley, running through meadows, collecting flowers, and inviting my friends to come along for the journey. Mainly, I thought I’d go back to being who I was in my 20’s. Going to spin and Zumba. Overscheduling my days. Traveling constantly.
Turns out, I’m not that person anymore.
I like to go to bed early. I like to spend a lot of time alone. I like going on walks, but I don’t like the kind of exercise I loved when I was younger. I love to read. And write. A LOT. I like to do crafts. And cook. And bake. (Sometimes). I value quiet. I like spending time in smaller groups. I do enjoy a wild night out on occasion, but it looks more like drinks and dinner with friends that ends by 11, then the 2 AM bar close and subsequent diner visit of yesteryear.
I spent a lot of time thinking there was something wrong with me for not being who I was at 25. I thought leaving teaching was supposed to make me better. How was it that I was moving slower?
Who was this new person? And what did she like?
It’s Okay to Be Who You Are Right in This Moment
I am not 16. Or 25. Or even 32.
The things I loved at those ages, I don’t necessarily love anymore.
AND THAT’S OK.
It took for me leaving teaching to uncover this authentic version of myself. Turns out I was her all along, but I couldn’t reach her.
Leaving teaching has given me so much space to explore a whole new era of my life. And the journey has been both exciting and terrifying (depending on the day, of course.) And it’s forced me to really look at the way I’d been living in order to create a life I loved with more intention.
I stayed in teaching because I was afraid, and I left teaching because I wasn’t happy. But I knew I deserved happiness.
Right now I am taking life slowly, which came with a lot of guilt for a while. I’m letting go of the guilt though. Who says you have to be the best, do the most, reach the highest level? Who says you constantly have to be reaching outside your comfort zone?
For now, I choose comfort. I choose quiet. I choose happiness.
Until next time, friends. Choose what makes your heart sing.
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