Stepping Sideways

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Those of you who know my story know that I went through a significant career change about a year ago.

I’ve had 3 careers now in my (relatively) short life, and all 3 have been interesting and engaging and taught me a lot.  I opened my working life in a university library, a place that taught me how awesome it can be to do a job you love (reference librarian) amidst people who are also good friends. (Brad & Chuck, you changed my life. lol)

I worked for the library director who was straightforward, easy to work for (IMO),  and considerate of me as an employee. He gave me ownership over my areas so that I could grow as a person and as a librarian.  Seriously, that was a great first job.

My role in teaching faculty & students to use the library led indirectly to my second, “main” career as a teacher.  I was minding my own business living life when an acquaintance approached us and asked if we’d consider becoming teachers.  He was headmaster of a small classical school looking to launch a high school, and he wanted teachers who brought a deep, rich liberal arts background to the enterprise.

Looking back, I do think it’s kind of crazy that Dennis was willing to trust that our teaching gifts would emerge more fully and hire us on the basis of our intellectual preparation and interest in ministry/people.  I don’t know that I would make the same gamble … but his call to serve in the classroom was truly Providence.

A decade later I emerged with such a rich collection of experience, accomplishments, relationships & friendships, and memories. Teaching is the hardest thing I’ve ever done — facing a classroom of students daily challenges you mentally, physically, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually.  So many of the posts here (reposted from my original blog on Xanga) emerged directly out of the soup (the storm? the hurricane? the surreal Dali-esque landscape?) of my classroom.

It was in teaching that I learned what Grace is, that adults must banish hypocrisy and pat answers when dealing with adolescents, that teaching is and must be a relational enterprise if it is to succeed.  I soar on the unpredictability of the classroom moment, the second-by-second mental challenge of assessing a classroom of learners on the fly and adjusting one’s flight path to avoid problems and confront misunderstandings head on.

Truly, as a mental and personal exercise, nothing has challenged me or forced me to grow like teaching did.

So why did I leave it?   Well, that’s a complicated answer.

If I were to boil it all down, it would come to this:  I looked into the well of creativity and realized I was dry.  I’d been doing the same thing for 10 years. And while a few classes had shifted here and there, and students are an ever renewable and changing resource, I found myself battling certain challenges without any new insight for how to overcome them.  Put simply, I needed a change.   And our life circumstances once again backed that up.

So we changed.

I feel like 2012-13 was a fog from which I’m just now starting to emerge. Perhaps in a while I’ll put that story  into words.

The important detail here is that I find myself now in a 3rd career, working in the communications office of a small liberal arts college.  It’s actually pretty cool.  Much of what I do during the day is interesting work — I get to meet plenty of people across the campus, help plan recruiting and marketing campaigns, bring order out of the chaos of project details, and learn about higher education from a position inside the industry.

And my office mates are cool peeps.  I think 25% of all conversations somehow end up referencing Top Gear.  In fact, ⅔ of anything we discuss will at least reference a British TV series.  Someone mentioned “shrubbery” the other day and we were off to the races with Monty Python quotes.  I definitely approve.

But I still feel like I’m turned sideways.  A year in, I’m still trying to get my footing in a position that’s linked to education but not to teaching.

We’ve been having a lot of discussions in the office about how to retool our team — we accomplish a ridiculous amount of work for only 4 people. To keep that under control, we need more carefully to pair us with what they we best, while continuing to consider what we each enjoy doing. (Because doing a job you hate but are good at is probably a special circle of hell.)

Those discussions have been really hard for me.

What do I do with this giant box tucked in a back closet of my mind, the box labeled TEACHER?

I can pull skills out of the box and lay them on the table…. in fact, that’s probably what I’ve been doing my entire life,  reapplying the teacherly habits of mind and skills to new situations.  They form the basis of my project management at work, my interview/client skills, long-range planning, an independent working style that’s still centered in meaningful collaboration, supervising student workers, enjoying the writing and revising process, brainstorming, flexible and creative problem solving (usually on the fly).

More than anything else I’ve learned working this year – and I’ve learned a ton – I’ve come to realize that while my job may always vary, my calling is to be a teacher.    Not really sure what that will do to my future resume.

Right now, it’s a daily Faith-building exercise to walk up the wall sideways rather than across the floor in a comfortable straight line.

I know this is where I’m supposed to be.  Time to dig in, make the paths fit my feet, adapt where they don’t, and glean all the good from the journey.

One comment

  1. I think more people can relate to this then you know. I certainly can. Thanks for opening up like this. It’s always good to be reminded that we all come to that “Ecclesiastes” point in our life where we look down in the palm of our hands and wonder where that particle of dust went that we spent our whole life trying to grab ahold of. I’m convinced that what you are going through-what all of us go through at some point with this, is vital to both our walk with God, as well as our understanding of ourselves, and what he created us for. Don’t give up. Your answers to why, how and where will come. Thanks for sharing.


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