For as long as I can remember I have always dreamed of being a teacher. I will never forget the day that I received a phone call from my first principal offering me a position as a kindergarten teacher. I had worked so hard for it, earning not only my bachelor’s and teaching licensure but also my Masters of Education. Then I had to spend a year as an assistant just to get my foot in the door since I was in a district where teaching positions were very competitive.
Around the same time that I finally became a teacher, I also married Dan so I was completely over the moon. I was so proud of the letters added to the beginning and end of my name: Mrs. McKenzie, M.Ed. Two of my biggest dreams had come true! Plus, we had just finished our great adventure living abroad in Costa Rica. So, 2010 – 2011 was overall one of the best years of my life at the time.
My Turning Point
My first few years of teaching were wonderful. While we all know teaching has its challenges, I absolutely loved it. It was extremely rewarding and I was using my gifts and talents while living out my passions. Then life happened. I now understand the meaning behind John Lennon’s popular quote “life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans” because that is exactly how it happened for me and Dan.
I’ve shared our story before but shortly before we received Dan’s diagnosis, I also lost my only brother unexpectedly. So in a matter of a few short months, my life had been completely flipped upside down and I would never be the same person. My entire perspective on life changed at that time. That following school year was really tough for me. With all the appointments we had at the fertility clinic, grief counseling, and my overall uncertainty about everything in my life, I noticed my love for teaching started to slip away. My heart and mind were elsewhere. Meanwhile, the demands of the profession and overall expectations became greater.
Why I Wrote This Post
I don’t want to focus on the challenges of teaching in this post, but there are many articles including this one that do a good job of painting a picture of the all-consuming profession. It’s no secret that teachers are not in the profession for the money. The job is part of our identity. The role that the teacher takes on in a child’s life is not one we take lightly. I wanted to be nothing but the best for every single one of my students and no matter how hard I tried to leave a day’s work in the classroom, I couldn’t help but bring things home with me. I spent many nights laying awake worrying about some of my students and what else I could do to meet not only their academic needs but their emotional needs as well.
The reality is, every day I stepped into the classroom, I was not just a teacher but I was a mom-away-from-mom, a protector, a nurse, a counselor, an entertainer, a motivator…the list goes on. But, these are all responsibilities I took very seriously. That being said, the pressure that came along with that was immense and sometimes didn’t outweigh the benefits.
The point of this post is not to share about my experience as a teacher or even why I left the profession. The vision I have for writing this is to hopefully inspire others to follow intentional detours regardless of the tough decisions that may lie ahead. Getting to this point, where I walked away from what was once my greatest dream, to explore myself and my new passions, wasn’t easy at all for me. It is still very scary and I really don’t know what lies ahead. Here are the things I had to overcome in order to follow this intentional detour. Many of you can probably relate to these struggles.
Listening to My Heart
Everyone has a little voice inside them. This voice comes from your heart and there’s a reason we are all constantly told to “listen to your heart”, or “follow your heart”. I personally believe this voice from our heart is God and my faith tells me this is His way of sharing the plans He has for me and my life. The past couple years I’ve felt this stirring in my heart. telling me there’s something different out there that I need to go find and explore. It could be influenced by certain circumstances, sure, but I have a strong feeling that my destiny lies elsewhere. Ultimately, I feel that I owe it to myself to listen to that. The book The Alchemist (an incredible book about following your dreams and a must read!) talks a lot about following your heart. The author, Paolo Coelho, says that “wherever your heart is, there you will find your treasure”. In my opinion, this “treasure” is our strongest desires and dreams. It’s when we go after these treasures, that we find our greatest potential and happiness.
People often ignore their hearts and are too fearful to follow it. So instead, as Coelho explains, many people live their lives according to “fate” and miss the path that was intended for them. You can’t ignore your heart and it will never stop repeating itself to you so you might as well listen. I realized that I had been trying to find reasons or excuses to justify or downplay why I was feeling this stirring in my heart. Finally, I feel like I’m listening to it, and my heart feels more “quiet” now and at peace. I’m excited to see where it leads me and, like the shepherd boy in The Alchemist, I’ve made a promise that I will always listen to it.
Listening to My Body
Along with this little voice inside my heart, my body was also giving me signs that I wasn’t in the right place. I was getting headaches more often, waking up in the middle of the night, having mild panic attacks, was clenching my teeth so hard it caused me to break a tooth and need a crown, and then some.
I kept blaming myself that I just wasn’t taking care of my body the way that I should be and that I just needed to find a better work-life balance. Then I finally realized that it was my body telling me I needed a change.
I needed to eliminate the things in my life that weren’t allowing me to be at my greatest. Unfortunately, teaching had become one of those things. It became more of a source of guilt than pride. This guilt came from not feeling like I was able to give it 110% like I had in the past. The guilt was paired with the stress and pressure I mentioned earlier. Even on the good days, I would come home completely depleted and unable to give my energy to my family, my other passions, and myself. Teaching became an unhealthy situation for me and my body was clearly telling me that. If something in your life is affecting you physically, it may be time for you to make some changes too.
Understanding that Change is a Good Thing
I don’t know where I learned to fear change, but the uncertainty of it has often kept me from taking risks and trying new things. After reflecting on my decision to quit teaching, I finally came to accept that I have evolved as a person. I’ve grown and I’ve changed and I should celebrate that. It’s as if I felt that my dreams couldn’t change along with me. The more of life I experience, the more my perspectives change, my values change, and my interests change. Therefore, it only makes sense that my dreams and goals would change too. I had to tell myself that it was okay that teaching is no longer a dream of mine. My gifts and talents haven’t changed, though, and I will continue to use those in other settings.
Another reason I felt that I couldn’t make such a big career change was because of how much I had already invested into teaching. I have invested a lot of time, money, energy, etc. into teaching the past 6 years. I felt as though it would be a “waste” to not stick with it. But I never considered the fact that I was wasting my new desires. Or wasting the potential I have to offer the world in other ways. I am only 30 years old, so I’d imagine this would be much harder for someone who has been in the same career for much longer to overcome this. But I truly believe that it is never, ever too late to chase a dream or “listen to your heart”.
I’ve now come to love change. It challenges me, it keeps me interested and motivated, and it allows me to experience new, beautiful moments. Yes, it pushes me out of my comfort zone and that can be scary. But through change, I learn so much more about myself. I’ve gained new skills and talents, and am proud of who I have become. I think we’ve been trained to seek stability in life and while stability can be a positive thing, it can also inhibit us from growing. Undoubtedly change can be scary, but try to push yourself and I think you’ll be amazed at what you gain. It’s far greater than anything you have to lose.
Evaluating My Values
I had to really ask myself what I was placing value on and quickly found that my values were all wrong. The book called “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F***: The Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life” helped me identify this. I realized I was valuing what people thought of me more than my own well-being. I wanted to appear as though I had everything figured out. More so, I didn’t want people to think I was a failure or quitter. I worried about disappointing people who had placed their trust in me. But the book made me realize that I can’t value things that I can’t control. I have zero control over others’ opinions. The only thing I can control is me and my actions. Therefore, I needed to place more value on my integrity, my honesty, and my intentions.
This was the greatest hurdle for me to overcome. I almost didn’t resign from my teaching job simply because of the fear of disappointing others. But again, I can’t place value on that. When I started valuing my intentions more, I realized that I took on the commitment with the best of intentions. By valuing my honesty and integrity, I realized I needed to be true to myself.
Now, I’m proud that I stood up for myself. I value my health, my future, my husband, the life I want to live and the legacy I want to leave. In order to pursue those values, I needed to let go of interferences. And that’s when I made the decision that I needed to let teaching go. I stopped worrying about what everyone else thought of me and I asked myself what I thought of me. Quite frankly I wasn’t thrilled with who I was being and no longer felt like myself. I was denying the fact that I wasn’t happy. I was trying to justify or ignore the reasons I wasn’t taking steps to make myself happier. Now it’s only been a few days since I walked away from teaching and I already feel like I have gotten myself back.
So now I’m on a detour to figure out what will come next for me. I couldn’t be prouder of myself for making that investment in me and my happiness and overall well-being.
At this time in my life, I needed to stop giving so much of myself to my job and to others. I realize it’s time to start giving myself more time. I believe in myself again. I’ve taken the time to reflect on my talents and skills and how much I have to offer the world. I feel ready for wherever this detour leads me. And while the uncertainty makes me feel a little uneasy at times, I feel confident that I am doing the right thing by following this detour. My greatest hope for anyone who is reading this article is that if you find yourself in a similar situation and can relate to some of the obstacles I was facing, that you find the strength to follow your own detour.
I know it sounds like a bad breakup, but sometimes it’s true that when you love something, you have to let it go. That is how I feel about my dream of being a teacher. But someday…it may come back.