What I Want to Be When I Grow Up

Almost without exception, my favorite teachers have always been English teachers. I grew up loving to read, and it turns out I have some natural talent for writing, as well. I had English teachers who introduced me to great books and set my imagination free. I also had some great teachers in history, over the years, and teachers in other disciplines from whom I learned a lot, but I can tell you the most about my English teachers.

At the end of high school, my mom made me promise that I wouldn’t be a teacher or a counselor. She’d heard that counselors had a high suicide rate, and didn’t want that for me. She also knew that teachers are chronically underpaid and overworked. I agreed, but it was a bit of a white lie of an agreement.

My major criticism of the teacher I most identified with was that she’d been a professional student and then a career teacher. She’d never used her degree for anything else, and she blew off my fellow student’s question “when are we ever going to use this?” as if it were not legitimate. I didn’t wonder what the value of what she was teaching us was— that was personally clear to me— but I did always wish she had a better answer for that question. I think it is a legitimate question, and taking it seriously is a mark of respect for students. I told myself I’d go use my degree in the world before I taught, so that I could do my students the favor of having a better answer to that question. But I always intended to come back and teach. Maybe homeschool my own kids, or go back and teach high school or college, after my kids were a little older.

“My kids” doesn’t look much like it’s going to be a thing. If you’d asked me earlier in my life, that would have been the worst-case scenario— the sign that I’d gotten my life pretty seriously wrong. But my life’s been too good, too interesting for me to regard it as a failure. I wouldn’t have wanted to have kids with anyone I’ve dated, with the possible exception of Grey-Area Guy, but he had his kids before I met them and doesn’t want more. And I’ve found other ways to express that part of who I am. And part of the way I’ve found to do that is through the teaching and tutoring I’ve done.

The last few years, I’ve known I wasn’t doing the work I was meant, in a larger sense, to do. Especially since I’ve transitioned out of being an editor. There have been moments that I’ve loved the work I’ve been doing— there are moments of it all the time— but it moved from being a labor of love to being a job. And that was a good thing. My identity and my worth was too wrapped up in it when it was a labor of love. I’ve spent a lot of time casting about. Maybe it’s writing. Maybe it’s entrepreneurial— baking or speaking or consulting or something. Maybe I just don’t like working in a 9-5— maybe it’s doing what I’m doing from home or for myself. But none of that truly fits.

I started listening to my 750th book on the subject this morning: Designing Your Life. I heard about it a month or so ago and put the audiobook on my wish list. I was about 30 seconds into it when I realized that it’s teaching English. It’s probably also writing, but teaching. Chances are good that I could teach anyone anything and be happy, but I probably want to teach literature and/or writing in a college or high school.

I always take teaching off the table, mentally, because it would be a pay cut, and I’m single. I need not only to cover my expenses, I need also to fund a retirement and cover my health care costs. But what if teaching could be my day job and writing could be something I did on the side?

Honestly, things would probably have to work out pretty well between Grey Area Guy and me for this to even be a conversation, and he’s been awfully quiet. He warned me he was going to be quiet while he got through an especially hectic week and I expect that he’ll be back when his fully legitimate reasons for being quiet are resolved, but I have no guarantee of that. And I don’t imagine that there’s any greater shortage of English teachers than there was of editors.But I had this realization that I’ve been talking myself out of what I always knew I was called to for decades, now. And the reason I can’t answer the question is that I keep pulling the answer off the table.

2 thoughts on “What I Want to Be When I Grow Up

  1. I’ve often discarded career idea because of money, and money was always such a charged topic in my life that the fear of not having enough has always trumped doing what I wanted to do such that I feel like I’ve lost any ability to identify what it is I really love to do. I’m trying to peel away those layers, and get to that, and maybe I’m closer to it, but, I’m also really good at convincing myself that something I “like” or “don’t find entirely repulsive” is actually a “love” that I can’t tell what is *actually* a love. So, I’m glad for you to know it and I hope you find a way to nurture it and act on it.

    • To me, the thing I wish I had known when I was 18 was that there’s really no such thing as something that determines THE REST OF YOUR LIFE, the way it felt when I was picking a college and a major. To me, the great gift is that when we know better, we can do better. So you keep peeling those layers and I’ll keep recognizing things I should really have known about myself all along. With each new day, we get another chance to get ourselves where we want to go.

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