You are in your twenties. You just got your B.A. in a field that you actually enjoy. Your whole life is ahead of you. Resumes have been sent to a bunch of places that you think would be fun to work for. You have interviews at some of these places and even get a few job offers. The world is at your feet! Jump a few years ahead and you find yourself unemployed with no viable options as far as you can tell. What happened?!?!?!? This was not how you had your life planned. Creeping up on 40, with a mortgage and kids to support you need to work, but what should you do?
You don’t know what you’ve got til its gone
Over the past five years I have been repeatedly asking myself that question: What should I do? Let’s go back a few years…
I was always a good student. I knew how to read at age 4, always excelled at math, was well behaved and liked by my teachers and so on. Just before starting 10th grade everything changed. My parents decided to move our family to the country that they grew up in. I found myself at the age of 14 living in a place I last visited when I was 5 years old and having to learn a new language all while going through puberty! I assure you, it was not an ideal situation. After a few months of not knowing what to do with myself, a friend (pretty much my only one at the time) invited me to join a youth movement. I found acceptance there and made more friends. Joining the youth movement helped me learn the language faster and I even started being a counselor to younger children. I found that I enjoyed the field of education.
Fast forward a few years to enrolling in University. My grades were high enough to study pretty much whatever I wanted to. Despite that, I made the less popular choice of studying Informal Education and History. In my last year of studies I also got my teaching license. Things were good. I quickly found a school to work for teaching history and the principle was pleased with my work. I had a great 4 years. In that time I developed as a teacher, took on more responsibilities at the school, became a father for the first (and second) time and in general was pleased with life. I was in my early 30’s at the time and my wife and I decided to move. We built a house in the town that my wife grew up in and moved there less than a month after my daughter was born. I thought that I would have no problems finding a new teaching position. After all, I had received praise from my colleagues over the last 4 years. I was very wrong.
“How would I know that this could be my fate?”
Two days before the school year was scheduled to begin I still had not found a school to work for. I was planning on going to the unemployment office when a school called me and offered me a job. Beggars can’t be choosers. It was an hour drive each way and I had to leave home even before my kids woke up in the morning. The school I was working for was meant to be a sort of last chance for kids who had dropped out or were kicked out of other schools. It was tough! I found myself fighting an uphill battle just to get 3 students to enter the classroom and hoping they would not leave 2 minutes into the lesson.
Teachers who work at schools like this and succeed in reaching the kids are saints. Many movies have been made about teachers like this. Sadly, at the time I did not feel like I was cut out for it and found myself hating going to work every day. I quickly started looking for a new school to work at the next year (No matter how hard it was for me, I would not leave in the middle of the school year). To my delight, 6 months before the next school year was scheduled to begin, I was offered a position at a school that I thought would be a better fit for me. At the end of that year I let my principle know that I would not be continuing the following year.
Everything started off well enough at the new school. I was actually teaching again and I was having fun. A couple of months into the school year my daughter, who was then just 16 months old started to have some medical issues. Over the course of two months she pulled out almost all of her hair. People started asking us if she was OK and thought she had cancer or some kind of rare disease that made her hair fall out. My wife still has a very hard time looking at pictures from that time. My wife and I started to go to counseling to deal with the issue and things started to get better. The problem was that I am (was?) a very private person and did not let anyone at the school know what we were going through. I was not 100% focused on work and things were slipping. I started feeling as if my bosses were not pleased with my work and that they would not renew my contract at the end of the year. I was right.
My daughter eventually stopped pulling out her hair and it eventually grew back. She is now 5 and a half and has a beautiful head of curls that is the envy of many women in our town. My confidence on the other hand was pulled out of me and would not grow back. I had been fired before from jobs in the past, but never from a job that I believed that I was really good at. I sent out my resume to every school in a 50 Kilometer radius. No one got back to me. Once again, I found myself just a few days before the school year was scheduled to begin with nowhere to work. That is when I got an offer to teach in the prison system. It was only a half time job, but it was teaching and we had some money saved up. I took the job teaching inmates to get an equivalent of 8 years education. My confidence started coming back. I was enjoying the work and my bosses were pleased. I was offered a promotion — to become an employee of the prison system and be an education officer. Honestly, I wasn’t sure I wanted the job, but once again I had sent out my resume to dozens of schools and had not heard back from any. I had a mortgage and 2 kids and I was being offered a stable job in education, with quite a few benefits. I said yes.
Working in a prison is a very unique experience that I might write about in the future, but for now let me just say that it is a complex working environment. Not only do you have to deal with the inmates, you also have to deal with the bureaucracy and hierarchy of the prison system. During this year we also started to have issues with our son, who had started first grade. He had gone through a change in the past year or two and had started to act out both at home and at school. He started biting other children (He did not even do that when he was a baby) and being violent.
After much turmoil and a few suspensions from school he was diagnosed with high level anxiety and started to receive psychiatric treatment. He had had physical issues all his life (sensory regulation, hypotonia, fine motor skills, weak lungs and more), but we had been taking care of those things since he was born and he was doing OK. The psychiatric issues were new. Once again, I was not 100% focused on work. I had gotten better at letting my co-workers know what was going on at home, but I barely understood it myself. Add to that the fact that I wasn’t entirely whole with my decision to take the job in the first place. Once again my boss was not happy with my performance and I was fired. That made 4 jobs in as many years that I did not last at for more than a year. My confidence once again disappeared. I was at my rock bottom feeling like a huge failure.
“I sure don’t mind a change”
Not being able to handle another rejection, I decided not to try to find a school to work at for that upcoming school year. I took a job paying minimum wage at a candy factory making chocolates. A few weeks after I started working there I was offered a job at a school and I said no. I could not deal with failing again and preferred not to risk it. My factory job allowed me to free up my mind and to start listening to audiobooks while I worked. I started to listen to autobiographies of actors, comedians, musicians and the like who had become successful. The common thread between them was struggling early on and despite that, not giving up. I realized that I had given up and convinced myself that I was a failure at life and that this is what I deserved. I decided to make a change.
I decided to start this blog as a way to document this change and to hold myself accountable in order to make sure I follow up on my decisions. I will try to post at least once a week, although life might get in the way. I will sometimes go in-depth about the things that led me to where I am now and sometimes I will describe in real time what I am going through now. I might also write some recommendations for books, websites, technology, blogs or whatever that have helped me make this change.
I hope that my journey can help you along yours. If you have made a change or on a journey of change, please share and let me know in the comments. We can all learn from each other!