2013 will be a very different year for me. Not because I’m promising to fulfill resolutions, but because I’m living differently. For one, I won’t be traveling in seven countries as I did last year. And I hope not to be unemployed and homeless for eight months out of twelve. But that had been the plan. And this year I don’t have one; usually I have a plan.
I made the decision to start this year unemployed. It’s a scary decision, especially when I feel I ought to be equally supporting my household, but it seemed necessary. As fun as people-reading was, and as important as I feel it is to fight for equality, it is not a career path for me. Because the job was more often draining than invigorating, regardless of my passion for the work, it seemed impossible to simultaneously search for career opportunities that better suited me. Plus, a week’s earnings were equivalent to my highest paying days when I taught in South Korea. In some ways, I can’t help but think it was stupid to leave Seoul a year ago, where I worked half as many hours and earned nearly four times as much than at my short-lived minimum wage job as a grassroots fundraiser.
But which career path best suits me? Probably not becoming a lifelong expat.
Even as a youth, I never thought I’d like doing the same thing for forty-plus years. I thought I’d have to change it up each decade, keep things interesting. This seems impossible to actually practice.
When I was sixteen I made the decision to work at an educational kids play place (think Chuck E. Cheese’s, but swap out the ball pits and slides for a bubble room, water tables, Lego building stations) simply because my friends worked there. Because I had experience with children and play, my next job was at an educational toy store called Zany Brainy (where there were no toy guns or Barbies, but science experiment toys and second-language-teaching dolls). I taught summer reading programs through the toy store, and performed basic retail tasks (cashier, store maintenance, customer service, gift wrapping).
In college I continued my path of working with children, yet branched out a teeny bit: I worked as an assistant teacher at a multicultural anti-bias education after school program and as a research assistant. Both jobs suited me. I liked research and I was good at it. I majored in English and minored in Chinese and Women’s Studies, and earned a certificate in Asian and Asian American Studies.
I don’t mean to tell a linear life story about my work experience. But I can’t help thinking how one thing led to another and to another. In school I remember learning about the apprentice system and I remember thinking something like: Omigod, that would totally suck to choose a career or skill (or worse, have your parents choose it) when you’re 12 or 13 and have to be a blacksmith or cobbler for the rest of your life. To be fair, people didn’t live as long then. But these days I’m reconsidering the prospect of apprenticeship; wouldn’t it be nice to become a master of a specific skill?
Oh wait, I am a master. I have a Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing. I’ve taught university courses. I’ve taught kindergarten, middle school, and high school abroad. I’ve taught writing workshops in a retirement community, a women’s prison, a queer youth center, in public schools.
In fact, all of my experience seems to be in education just because my friends Sam and Wayne worked at Imagination Works in high school and encouraged me to apply. But I’m not sure I want to be a teacher forever. It’s just what I started doing, and then I kept doing it because it’s what I had experience in. Because of a choice I made when I was 16. I don’t technically have a degree in teaching, or a certificate, so I can’t teach in public schools in America. I could teach at a private school or college or university. Is that what’s best for me?
I love teaching, but do I want to do it for the next forty years? It renews me and rejuvenates me. Sometimes I can feel drained or overwhelmed (especially during a heavy grading period), but often I am inspired when working. I connect with students. All the grading feels worth it when I see that a pupil gets it, progresses, improves. I myself feel self-improvement all the time when teaching. Teaching also wills me to write more (especially when I’m teaching creative writing or literature). This sounds like a great cycle to me. Why am I hesitating?
Well, I have other experience and training. I could be an editor or work in publishing. I could work in event planning, human resources, office management, as an intern or volunteer coordinator. In fact, I’m confident that with even a small amount of training I could perform a vast number of jobs with great competency. There are a couple of problems: I don’t know which to choose and employers want you to have specific past experience doing what they are hiring for. But I don’t want to do the same job over and over. I want to grow and bring all of my talents to a position.
I have so many interests and skills across the board that it’s difficult to narrow my focus. What if I choose the wrong thing because that was the job that was open and then I get stuck there for 20 years? This is an actual concern of mine. I feel like I’d fit in great at a non-profit because they often need a generalist rather than a specialist; I’m good at everything. People always tell me this and I believe it’s (generally speaking) true. I’m proficient in computer-related tasks, type 90 wpm, use Photoshop with ease, have terrific communication skills, am organized, and am friendly and personable. I work hard. When I’m paid to do a job, I want to do it and do it well. I forever want to exceed expectations. People who know me say things like, “who wouldn’t hire you?”
But I’m afraid my resume looks scattered instead of decisive. My career path has ten years of: Education. Academia. Education., even though I never really intended to be a lifelong teacher. “What were you doing in Korea for three years?” I fear a potential employer will ask. I imagine myself saying, “I love it there; my life was comfortable; my students were amazing and adorable.” It’s not a good enough answer. But I was teaching again because I had experience teaching. It was a way to get paid to travel and explore. I get the impression that people assume that I was running away, or goofing off instead of settling into a career, unless, of course, I’m applying to teach. Am I projecting? That’s definitely what some of my coworkers were doing–drinking their paychecks, escaping a bad relationship. For me, I was having an adventure with my partner, paying off some debt, learning a new language. It was awesome. I mean, if I could, I’d be a professional student forever, but I can’t invest in learning another new skill right now (I also picked up a yoga teaching certificate the year before last).
Many of my friends are in their fifth year of a career job. They are settled in; they’ve been promoted once or twice. Some have gone back to school. Some are married or own property or drive nice cars or all of the above. Some have children or will soon. It never seemed attractive to me to do the expected. I’m glad I’ve gotten to travel with Hannah; I’m bummed we still have student loan debt. But to be honest, I’m glad we don’t own property or have a dog (though I, at times, really wish we had a puppy). Even with a decade of experience in the education field, I’ve worked mostly on yearly contracts. I guess I like feeling free of all those things that can tie people down. Maybe I’m afraid of commitment? But I’m also ready to settle into Seattle instead of roaming again this year. Maybe starting in a “career job” would help; it would certainly help with financial stability.
I am beginning 2013 free from my former careerless job. I’m looking for something that will help me continue to grow while planted. With ten years of experience teaching, I am looking to branch out. This is a different kind of adventure I’m embarking upon—hopefully one of continued self-discovery. I also hope to realize that taking a job doesn’t mean I’ll be there for the next two decades (unless I want to be). While I tend to prefer a plan, it’s oddly nice to have the year unfold with little expectations. Is it a little crazy? Yes. Am I freaking out? Some hours of some days. It’s as if all the doors and windows have been flung open, then the exterior wall has fallen away or else been torn off by a single gust of wind. I’m standing on the second story, facing the ocean, wind in my hair, the camera backing away and panning to the endless horizon, the sheer cliff of possibilities. My mind is very dramatic. Happy New Year!