This morning I woke up in the dark, felt my cat stir against my head, and made my way downstairs. I walked across the cool wood floors to the cold tile of the bathroom and began my old morning routine. It’s funny how these day-to-day routines come back so naturally even after being abandoned for new ones. The smell of coffee soon permeated the house, and I stared at the crescent moon while eating my oatmeal. Soon I was in my car headed west, watching the light break over frosted pastures and fields of corn stubble as I was brought back to a previous life.
As mentioned in an earlier post, I was a high school biology teacher for most of my second decade of life. Through a lot of hard work and determination, I became exceptionally good at my job. I had the ability to make difficult content understandable and interesting for many of my students. Most aspects of teaching came naturally to me, but others required a lot of effort. As an innately introverted person, it took a lot of effort to be a leader at the head of the class everyday. In the end, I created a very successful science curricula and gained respect within my school and community. That’s why it was so difficult to leave.
After much thought and deliberation, I chose to leave my teaching career to help my husband with our small business. Being the left-brained thinker that I am, I made list after list of the pros and cons involved in this decision. I thought of the money and carbon emissions I would save by giving up my long daily commute but also of the money we would lose by having to pay for our own health insurance. I thought of the extra time I would have to spend with my husband and of the increased flexibility I would have in my daily schedule but also of losing a regular paycheck. I ultimately went with my gut. I knew in the long run that leaving my job would be better overall for my happiness, but it was the guilt that kept placing seeds of doubt in my mind. I not only felt guilt about abandoning students and coworkers, but also about abandoning something I was good at. I was raised to work hard and see things through, not to quit a task when it became difficult or you grew tired of it. I was very good at teaching. How could I simply quit something I had worked so hard to build up?
I eventually got past this guilt, realizing that I am good at a lot of things, but those things need not define me. It seems so simple now, though it was a difficult thing to accept at the time. Just because I am talented at something does not mean I'm obligated to do it or even enjoy it. I may have been a good teacher, but teaching is not who I am. Once I felt deserving of a lifestyle that puts happiness ahead of perceived obligations, I was able to move forward. I was finally able to accept that it was okay to make decisions based on my happiness and well-being. That realization was very liberating.
It’s been a year and a half since I left my career, but I'm often presented with opportunities to be my old self by subbing for my replacement. On these days I’m transported back in time and become Ms. K in my old classroom, teaching my old curricula. I get a chance to remember why I enjoyed teaching but also why I'm not interested in returning completely to my old role. I get to reconnect with my colleagues and students but avoid those things that wore me down. These opportunities help me appreciate my past life and to acknowledge the courage it took for me to bet on a new one.