A Cringeworthy Memory…and What I’ve Learned Since

The past two weekends I’ve been at college graduations, one for my brother and one for my girlfriend’s sister. (Congrats Jake and Kirst!) Sitting in those unceremoniously long ceremonies, I started to think about my own mindset shortly after I graduated…

What Am I Doing With My Life?

The year was 2012, and I was just starting to seriously consider my future career. Through a network of connections, I was put in touch with the Superintendent of a local district who was gracious enough to talk to a recent grad he didn’t know about education. I knew I was interested in the field, and being a teacher had been rolling around in my head since I was in high school, but in that hazy and overwhelming period of time shortly after graduating college, I needed some guidance.  I emailed the Superintendent introducing myself, after which I asked him the question that still makes me cringe:

“Is it worth it?”

I’m paraphrasing, but basically, I wanted his input as to whether or not teaching was a field worth entering in terms of job prospects, financial outlook, and work-life balance. As an overwhelmed college grad, I can’t fault myself for thinking about these things. In fact, they’re things I think we all consider throughout our work lives.  The cringeworthy part is that I asked a Superintendent, who has dedicated his life to the field and progress of education, to tell me if becoming a teacher was worth it. Had he known me personally, he probably would have understood that my general stress over finding the right career led to this question, and that it didn’t reflect a flippancy towards the field or my interest in pursuing a career in it. (Side Note: If you have something to say that could be misinterpreted or taken the wrong way, do not communicate via email!) His response was exactly what I needed to hear, and it helped push me to an important lesson that’s been refined and reinforced in my own teaching career.

The Message

To paraphrase again, he told me that it was an impossible question for which to generalize an answer, as it’s an immensely individual decision.  It wasn’t the answer I was looking for, but it made me realize that no one else could guide me to the right job. (Side Note #2: If you’re feeling stuck in or overwhelmed by the job search, find a company or industry you’re interested in and do everything you can to get your foot in the door, even if you feel overqualified for the position for which you’re applying. It’s much easier to get the job you want if you’re already in the building making human connections.)

Over the course of my own journey as a teacher, the Superintendent’s message to me has been marinating, and it’s led me to an important lesson, one that I want to share with recent graduates, that I tell my own students when they ask for career advice, and that I want to make sure to never forget myself. You need two components for a successful career:

  1. Passion for your chosen field (or at least that initial spark that could turn into passion given more exposure).
  2. The raw aptitude and/or grit and perseverance to become proficient in the skills necessary in that field.

To simplify it even more:

        passion + proficiency = success

Success might mean something different to each person, but what I tell my students, and what I wish I could have told myself in 2012, is that if you find something you care about, that lights that spark, and something you have the natural skill for or you’re willing to dedicate the time to, and make this thing your career, everything will fall into place. (And if it doesn’t after a few years, reassess!)

After years and years of structured school settings, it’s easy to be confused by how messy life after school can be. I think the only way to move forward is to focus on your passions and your skills, find a field in which those two things overlap, and give it a shot!

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