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This year was probably the most challenging year I have faced professionally.
I was relocated to a new school, where the administration was disorganized, unclear, and inarticulate in communicating the most basic of expectations and procedures.
The kids were challenges, too, but kids are kids. They were no more challenging than kids from anywhere else that I had taught.
To say I was stressed was putting it mildly. I couldn’t focus on anything other than my job. I would work incredibly late and then come home and work more.
No matter what I did, I never felt like my hard work paid off for me.
It helped my students. They made gains and grew academically and socially. But, I just couldn’t seem to get ahead or win the favor of the administrators.
Before the end of the school year, I quit, and it marks the first time I have left a job without having another one set up and ready to go. It was terrifying, but freeing at the same time. I didn’t know what I would do next, but I immediately felt relief.
If you had told me a year ago that I would have quit my job, I wouldn’t have believed you. And if you had told me that I would have left my job without a firm plan and new job lined up, and I wasn’t waking up soaking in sweat and having daily panic attacks, I would have told you that you must be partaking in some pretty heavy drug use.
Don’t get me wrong, I had thought about finding a job besides teaching for at least the last five years. But something always held me back. So I tried different schools and districts. I listened to my friends, colleagues, and family when they told me I was a great teacher and that I couldn’t leave the profession. They said that some years are just more difficult than others and I would find the groove again. I kept trying, but the job I had fallen in love with was no longer the same.
So I listened to myself and the blaring signs and signals that it was time for something new.
A lot has happened since then. But there were three surprising things that came out of quitting my job:
1. My anxiety diminished.
I haven’t felt so relieved of anxiety since…well, I am not sure I’ve felt this free of anxiety my whole adult life. Even as a teacher, who lived in Hawaii and had the summers “off,” I never felt like my work was done.
No matter how hard I tried, I was always stressing about my job. It wasn’t always detectable by people around me, but it was right below the surface. No matter what I was doing, there it was: a shackle around my ankle that never let me thoroughly enjoy time with my family, parties, or even sleeping.
From the moment that I decided to quit, I felt lighter (according to the scale, only figuratively). But the removal of this metaphorical weight has improved my productivity in many areas of my life.
I don’t feel like I need to come home at the end of the day and commit myself to a mindless activity because I am just so stressed from being at work. I don’t dread simple tasks like the dishes or laundry.
Don’t get false ideas of quitting your job and gleefully bounding through fields of laundry; this isn’t a Gain commercial, after all. I still don’t necessarily love doing those tasks, but since I resigned, they no longer feel like climbing Mount Everest.
Now, some of you may be thinking, Of course you don’t feel stress if you are relaxing on the couch. But that’s not what I have been doing.
I start my days between 4:30 and 5 a.m. every morning and put in hours and hours of writing, researching, and job searching. Admittedly, sometimes I am in my mismatched and/or stained pajamas doing it. But regardless of what I am wearing, I have been working my tail off despite not being at a physical office space, punching in on a clock.
I am not trying to prove to anyone that I am working hard, just how surprisingly light I have felt since my resignation despite all the stress that comes from being unemployed.
Without this extra stress, I have been able to put my focus on completing tasks that have been annoying me for months or even years. Cleaning and reorganizing the shed, garage, and closets? Done. Starting an exercise regime that I want to do and enjoy? Done.
Quitting was not a magic button to a stress-free life. But it has stopped the endless progression of anxiety-driven thoughts around my job. And I don’t think I am capable of articulating just how much that has affected my outlook.
2. My self-esteem has gone up.
Contrary to what I thought would happen from being jobless, my self-esteem has gone up. It feels like I took a brave step toward doing the right thing.
Not that it is an honorary thing to quit your job, especially teaching—and, truth be told, I still feel guilty about leaving kids that I could be helping. But, I do feel like I did the right thing for me. That somehow by quitting I acknowledged that for years people have been beating up teachers and that by leaving I was saying enough is enough; you can’t do this to people, and I won’t be a part of it anymore. Securing the courage to leave may have been difficult, but the benefits so far have been immeasurable.
I will always love kids and enjoy teaching. Initially, it was difficult to leave something that has not just been a job, but a way a life—something that was woven into my identity. You would think that missing that essential part of me would negatively affect my self-esteem. But it just isn’t the case.
There is fear. The same type that I remember from being a freshman, starting at a new school and not knowing entirely what to expect. I am a newbie again, needing to learn a million things, of which I have only a shallow understanding. But somehow, here I am feeling great about it. Maybe I am disillusioned about where I will go or how this will work out.
But so far, this exhilarating ride has given me the courage to be open and honest about things I have kept in the dark for years, and to feel good doing it. So, for the time being, I’ll put on my seat belt and see where else this ride and road take me.
3. I realized that I was a bit of a job snob.
I don’t know where the set of ideals came from, but at one point or another, the concept of a “real job” came to be in my mindset. Real jobs being jobs that required a degree, had a physical location, were from the same company, and consistent or predictable hours. Jobs like doctors, lawyers, managers, consultants, or secretaries.
That’s not to say that I was under the impression that my young adult jobs as a grocery store clerk and lifeguard were imaginary, but they were not the long-lasting, career-building, life and family-sustaining jobs I had falsely believed were vital to living a happy life. I cannot pinpoint when or where I began to have that understanding, but it was wrong. Case in point, the GrubHub delivery drivers rolling up to my house in their Benz behind my dented and aged Subaru.
I have had to hit the delete button on my old way of thinking and reeducate myself about jobs. There are immense groups of people who make money—more money than I made at my “real job”—and are happier for it.
I am working on the making money part, and we will see how it goes. But, I learned that I had this false idea that I needed to have one of those real jobs to feel good about myself, make money, and to be secure and successful—whatever that means. And it just wasn’t true.
These outdated and judgmental assumptions needed to change not just because they were wrong and demeaning to my community, friends, and family, but also because they were self-limiting. Those ideals kept me on a treadmill trying to prove to anyone and myself that I was living the “right” kind of life.
Those deep-seated and culturally entrenched thoughts and assumptions that I was basing my career and life choices on were physically and emotionally creating turmoil in my happiness.
I don’t say these things today because I want to cause an uprising of everyone quitting their nine-to-five, but so that maybe others can find a little freedom from their well-established beliefs around careers, working, and enjoying life.
I have seen countless success stories on shows like “Shark Tank” or read about entrepreneurs on Kickstarter, and I had always found them interesting and intriguing. But, I will say that taking the ride myself has been absolutely thrilling and taught me more about myself and my personal growth than decades of walking the treadmill.
I wish all small business owners, entrepreneurs, writers, and hustlers the best of luck in your endeavors. But I may just save my prayers for those of you nine-to-fivers who are dissatisfied, depressed, and stuck in your careers, unhappy and unsure where to start.
Because I know that dark place, and I wouldn’t wish that torture on anyone else.