Pat Brothwell discusses the unforeseen frustrations that come along with a career crisis.
I wake up every day, lately, and think about what I want to be when I grow up. The problem is I’m 27. Part of me thinks that maybe I should have had this figured out by now.
People keep telling me that this is normal and that the average person goes through 6 or 7 career changes in their lifetime. I’m not sure if this is a bona fide statistic or just something people say partially to make me feel better and partially to cover up the awkward silence that inevitably happens when I answer the question of “How’s work?” with some form of “I might need a career change.”
I get what they’re getting at—that countless 20 somethings just like me are struggling with the same problem. It does not make it any less disconcerting. I’m learning that coming to terms with my career choice also means coming to terms with myself. I’m not sure how thrilled I am with what’s resulting.
I got into teaching because English has always been one of my strengths. I’ve always been a voracious reader and love to write. I wanted, like so many idealistic college students, to have a job that made a difference. I didn’t want to be a corporate drone. I wanted to do something I believed in, that I had a passion for and that I enjoyed. Money is secondary to happiness. This is the guy I convinced myself I was.
Having a career as a writer was always part of the endgame. It’s an unrealistic dream, sure, up there with being your generation’s Springsteen or the guy who’s “going to Disney” after winning a Super Bowl, but it’s always been where I envisioned myself. I also knew a career as a “writer” was not something I was necessarily cut out for. It wasn’t the kind of smart move a smart guy would make. Being a novelist or freelancer has little to no job security. You never know when your next break or paycheck is coming from. The nice part about teaching, I had decided, is that I’d have summers and weekends to write. I’m an ambitious go-getter who would use the best of everything to my advantage. I had myself all figured out.
At least I thought I did. The thing is that maybe I’m not happy working for something I believe in, maybe I’m the kind of guy who’d endure the corporate turmoil for a comfortable salary. And maybe that doesn’t make me a sellout or bad guy. Maybe I don’t believe in exactly what I thought I believed in five years ago. Maybe I shouldn’t have shelved my initial dream for something smart and safe and maybe I didn’t use my free time as productively as I should have.
It’s crazy how time flies. I’ll be returning to my fifth year as a high school English teacher this fall and the only thing I’m positive of is that a change is in order.
When I really think about it, I haven’t been satisfied for a long time. I told myself that everyone’s first year is hard. I told myself that teaching is something that takes two or three years to get a hang of. Then I started feeling guilty that my parents had invested too much for me to give up and that maybe it was the location, not the career. I told myself I was being whiny in a really unattractive over privileged type way. I rationalized reasons to not move forward.
Part of me is saying, screw making a difference, go for the cash. I make a perfectly reasonable salary teaching, good enough that I’m sure some people would say I’m crazy for complaining about it. I can’t, however, remember a time when I was able to go out and freely spend without thinking about how it’d affect me. I’ve gotten good at managing my money and have been lucky enough to pay for some great experiences but I can’t help but think how nice it would be to do a job where I could actually save money and make “big” purchases without sending my bank accout into a tailspin. I think I could easily work a job I didn’t love for a hefty chunk of change. I’m currently working a job I don’t love for a not so great chunk of change. What happened to the guy who didn’t care about money? Why was I so desperate to hide him away?
And what about writing? It was my original dream. Why did I let it slide to the wayside so easily? It’s definitely not the smart choice now. I sort of need that steady paycheck. I’ve accrued student loans and car payments and high insurance that comes with being a not so great driver. I’ve become accustomed to a certain lifestyle where frequent weekend getaways and international travel are part of my budget. Going back to writing would be like going back to square one and I’m not sure I’m comfortable with that. Maybe I should’ve pursued that earlier, before I got comfortable with all this.
Another option is taking a position that allows me to work more on my writing while still getting a paycheck. Maybe I just need to bartend or do manual labor or something that doesn’t require a lot of thought so that I’m ready to write when I get home. One downside of teaching is that you take the work home. During the school year you don’t have a lot of time for personal endeavors. Weekends are free and could’ve been a good place for me to work out these issues but I always rationalized that weekends keep me sane. I may not be content with my job, but I’m content with my life. I have good friends and on the weekends we have a lot of fun.
This just brings more self-evaluation. I had these dreams of utilizing my weekends to write the next great American novel. I’ve used them to consume an inordinate amount of booze and bar food. It’s not great for my career and increasingly dangerous to my waistline. Am I too old for the fun that kept me “sane”? It was funny in Dazed and Confused when Matthew McConaughey got older while everyone else stayed the same age, but I don’t think it’ll be funny if that’s me in real life.
So maybe the real reason I’m dragging my feet is what I pointed out previously: Coming to term with my career path is also making me come to terms with how I always viewed myself versus who I actually am. Maybe that guy needs to just stop being so cerebral about the whole process and start being decisive.
Or maybe, part of me thinks—the part of me that I really try to keep under wraps—maybe I should just try to marry rich and be done with all of it, if girls can do it so can guys. The only problem with that plan is that no one wants to date a public school teacher with an existential crisis.
photo: drewcoffman / flickr