Professional Fulfillment (or a Lack Thereof)

This fall I will start my twelfth year teaching (how can that be how you spell twelfth?!) I’m only 35, which means I’ve been at the same school, teaching the same thing, for almost the entirety of my adult life.

To say I feel a lot of ambivalence about that would be a grave understatement.

My thoughts on my job/career/profession are all over the place. It’s impossible to pin them down. Frankly, I’m surprised I’m attempting a post about this subject because I really have no idea how I feel about it. Maybe this is a desperate attempt to shape these chaotic thoughts into some kind of meaningful narrative, because right now they just bounce and spin, relentlessly.

There are some days when my job seems perfect. I love what I teach. I love the freedom I have to teach it in whatever way I see fit. I love my staff and my administration; generally I feel appreciated and supported. I like my hours–starting early and ending early is good for productivity. I enjoy my vacations and summers off. I recognize the pay is pretty good (finally, after 12 years and a Masters degree) and that if I keep at it I can retire with full benefits at 55. I like that one of my classes has changed over the years so that I usually have something new to keep my interested–I definitely would have gotten bored teaching the same thing for 12 years without that wild card class.

Then there are some days when my job seems… less than perfect, and I contemplate leaving. Most of the time leaving looks like moving up to high school, but sometimes I consider abandoning the profession completely. Either way I recognize that it doesn’t make sense for me to make a big change now, while family life is so exhausting. Maybe in a couple of years I’ll seriously consider seeking something new.

And yet there are days when the temptation of better pay or a more stimulating day have me dreaming branching out sooner. I did some contract work for a student’s father this spring and it was the perfect balance of novel and interesting, good pay and easy to accommodate, time wise. I would love to work 10-30 hours a month (on top of my full time job) doing something that felt worth my while both mentally and financially (and could be done after the kids go to bed).

Last month one of the blogs I subscribe to promoted a writing course that her friend was offering. It was all about becoming a marketable online writer (the title was something like, Make Money Writing for Blogs!). If it weren’t for my spending freeze there is a good chance I would have invested a hefty chunk of change in the pipe dream of getting paid to write. Luckily the spending freeze helped me take a step back and with that distance I was able to recognize that I don’t actually want to make money writing for blogs (if I even thought there were decent money to make doing that). What I actually want is to be successful at something, especially if I could be successful in ways that other people recognize. What I really wanted was to be the woman giving the “class” on getting paid to write blogs, to be able to say, “I kick ass at this, I can help you kick ass too.”

I was proud of myself for realizing that I don’t want to write to make extra cash, so I spent a little time thinking of what I would be interested in doing. Writing curriculum has always interested me; one of my favorite parts of my job is creating stories, activities and worksheets for my Spanish classes. I did a little job search and found a Spanish Curriculum Designer position on the peninsula, closer to me than my current school district. I had everything they required and almost all of what they wanted. It was a full-time position but I applied anyway. Maybe they would hire me part time, even for just a few months, while they found someone who could come in full time. It all just seemed too perfect not to give it a try.

Of course they never called. I was kind of shocked, stunned almost. I was perfect for that job, how could they not even call me? It was a sobering wake up call that made me simultaneously more grateful for the job I have (and that I don’t have to find something new) and resigned to the fact that I’ll never be able to leave it, even if I wanted to.

Not getting a call for that job reminded me of the dozens of online Community/Junior College positions I applied for after I got my Masters. It was clear I was never going to get a job like that, and I still believe that I couldn’t. Maybe I could land a position at a nearby CC/JC (when the hiring pool is not nation-wide), but I doubt that will happen if I don’t have experience teaching high school aged kids. It seems clear that I need to get a secondary level position before I can ever work at a community college, so even the possibility of that is a long way off.

And yet my friend just got a position teaching at the College of Notre Dame’s teacher training program (that she’ll teach after the regular school day) and she’s never taught higher than middle school. She also has this amazing fellowship position this summer. Watching her do all these incredibly interesting and fulfilling things professionally (when she’s taught half as many years as I have) makes me realize how stagnant my professional life has been. Right when I should have been changing things up I had kids and everything came to a screeching halt.

Blerg. I just don’t know. About any of it.

{See, I told you this post would be all over the place.}

I guess the abbreviated version is that I like my job, except when I’m sick of it. I’d love to make some extra money and stretch myself creatively (or at least do something different) a few hours a week, but there aren’t many options that can be done after the kids go to bed. I am interested in teaching at the junior college level but don’t think I can get that kind of position without experience teaching high school (and am worried I might not even like it, once I get to that level). Basically I don’t know how much faith I have that I’ll like teaching any other age level enough to make it worth changing jobs. I’m as terrified to leave and find another position unsatisfying as I am horrified at the prospect of staying in the exact same position at the exact same school for the entirety of my career.

Much of the time I wonder, is this is? Am I ever going to do anything that feels really and truly meaningful to me? Am I ever going to accomplish something that makes me proud? Will I ever be a person that is recognized for what she does, even in some small way? Or will I spend my life teaching the same thing to different kids year after year after year, until I retire into the same obscurity of teaching? Most likely my life will look like the latter. And I guess I just have to learn to be okay with that.

How do you feel about your life, professionally? Can you articulate your professional goals? Have you met them? Do you expect to meet them? Do you find fulfillment in what you do?

14 Comments

  1. This is such interesting timing, as I’m just now considering acting upon the promise i made to myself a long time ago – to become a teacher by the time I am 40! I got my MFA in my twenties and I have absolutely NO interest in writing to support myself (I have seen way too many horror stories from my friends who freelance) so I’ve been in healthcare PR for a long time. I’ve loved a LOT of it but I also want to generate my OWN work and not spend the rest of my life promoting the work of others, so I am going to begin applying for teaching programs this fall. I waited this long because I saw my dad get so burned out on teaching and I didn’t want that to happen to me! Anyway, you have a great education and a talented writer – I think there are a LOT of options out there for you. Gone are the days we have to work one exact job from start to finish – I am so thankful the workforce is so much more dynamic and interesting than it was for my parents! Thanks for sharing!
    C

    1. Good luck finding a teaching job that you works for you. I hope you find something awesome. You were right to worry about burn out, it’s a very real problem in the teaching profession. It’s hard not to burn out. I honestly don’t know how I’m going to make it another 20 years.

  2. This is an interesting post. I really cannot add to the topic.
    However, perhaps I missed something but I believe I remember you telling/asking us to call you on it if you didn’t post re your spending every week. But you had this wonderful weekend. And I totally support THAT. SO how about I just suggest maybe you do “two weeks in one post” this weekend and then……. But only a suggestion. And Only because I think you asked us for this…. And, remember I am not doing this myself so no judgement at all is involved because I am still so impressed that you even did posted weekly more than twice. (You are SOOO Winning!)

  3. I don’t love my job or career. I like them well enough, I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished, and I don’t know what I would do otherwise. Ambivalence is what I have. I at least have opportunities to make changes within my organization and my projects are always different, so that keeps it interesting. I can see how it would be wearing to teach the same thing over and over and over again. Sorry I don’t have much to contribute!

    1. Ambivalence is the number one emotion associated with my job. One day I’m feeling really good about it, the next I’m totally frustrated and annoyed. It’s exhausting and it makes it hard to move forward…

  4. This post is fascinating to me because I’ve been trying to figure out the same sorts of things. I’m in this leadership program right now where a regular speaker is this fantastic organizational psychologist PhD who talks the group through creating a personal development plan. I struggle with it, but it’s become clear to me that I’m not where I want to be.

    1. Ohhhh, a personal development plan. That sounds really interesting. I hope you’ll share some of what you learn…

  5. I’m in a completely different field but I have the same feelings. I’m actually in my 2nd career. Sone days I love my job, everyone at work is great, I’m accomplishing something meaningful, etc. then I go thru phases where everyone irritates me, the bureaucracy drives me nuts, etc. Then I question why I switched careers, took this job, etc.

    1. I’m fascinated to hear more about you switching careers. Was it hard to make the change? What prompted you to do it? Are you generally happy that you did? What were the pros and cons of switching? I could ask you a million questions about this. I’m fascinated.

      1. It really was on a whim. I wanted to more than donate to causes I care about, and was frustrated about not getting manager jobs in my field. Of course, I then got one right after I made the decision. Not the best way to make a career change, and I didn’t do a whole lot of tease each into the job market (which for law crashed shortly after I graduated). I was lucky to get a fairly coveted position, but I took a HUGE pay cut (eventfully made up, but it took a few years and now I’m making more than I would have had I stayed. I was started at the bottom of the bottom-no credit for my valuable background even tho hr policy allowed for starting at a higher step–and I did try to negotiate. Irritating: I’m always hearing from my boss etc how valuable my background is..grr. My position has a huge spread–people at the top step of the highest level make almost 3x people at the bottom step of the lowest level.) Plus the atmosphere in our office was toxic (nothing to do with me) when I got there so I was like “what have I done?” But the manager job was in the Bay Area, and my elderly father and hometown were here, so it’s not like I would’ve stayed there forever anyway.

        I am getting to make a difference, in some respects, but it’s not like I have my dream fulfilling job. There are few and far between paying atty jobs in my desired field, they don’t pay well, and aren’t here or in locations if want to live, so that sucks. i tell myself when I retire I’ll do pro bono ( can’t do that with a govt job).

  6. You have a lot of stuff going on, money, husband, daughter, job… It brings me back to thinking about the Willpower book and how many different things to focus on to make progress on any one.

    related: did you end up figuring out your itemized spending for last week?

  7. I did enjoy my job, for a long time. But I will admit that I stagnated, got too comfortable. I worked with the same group of people for a long, long time — 15 years. And then, one by one, they retired or left and I was left alone. Too many things changed, too many new people around me who didn’t know me and what I had done, and I found it harder & harder to cope and to feel enthusiastic about my job. In hindsight, I probably should have changed jobs (inside or outside the department or company) about five years before I was shown the door — but I thought I could hang in there until I turned 55 & could take early retirement. Oh. Well. I have no huge desire (& thankfully no urgent need) to return to the corporate world. I have toyed with the idea of setting myself up as a freelance writer/editor, but I don’t feel any urgent desire or need to do that either right now. As Courtney alluded, there are a lot of challenges with freelancing…!

    You hear a lot about “doing what you love.” I don’t think most people love their jobs. If you’re lucky, you’ll find a job you like most days, with coworkers you like, that pays you a decent living (which is the #1 reason most of us work, after all). But burnout can be a very real thing. Maybe if you were able to move to a different school or switch to teaching a different subject or different grade — or get yourself an interesting part-time gig, as you mentioned — that might help you stay interested?

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