And now for something completely different…
That classic Monty Python transition line has never seemed so relevant. I should apologize in advance for this blog post being much more personal than the rest, but I’m in that place where feelings must be purged, and as a writer, I suppose this is where it all gets dumped. I’ll understand if you don’t read on.
You see, I’ve been a teacher for 30 years, and I’m planning to retire in just a couple of weeks. Yep, this is it. When I tell people that I’m retiring, their first question, universally, is the same: What are you going to do now?
And the answer is simple. I have no freaking idea. Until a couple of days ago, when
people would ask me the quintessential question, my answer was always, “whatever I want!” I don’t know if the immediacy of my departure from education is what prompted it, but now when people ask me, my stomach twists up in knots. I know I want to keep writing, but I’ll have to do something to make money, too.
And before you ask, no, I’m not having second thoughts about quitting teaching. There are a lot of things I love about the job, but it’s not what it once was (my diatribe about that is a whole other story which doesn’t belong here), and I’m ready for something new. Maybe something that makes a real salary (yet another diatribe).
I thought about my skillset, and it’s pretty good. I’m a good writer, editor, speaker, and learner. I’m good with people, and I’m a quick study with anything that doesn’t involve too much math. But I haven’t applied for a job in 25 years…and a couple of days ago, all those “what-if” fears started flooding my brain with negative self-talk.
No one will want to hire you for anything above a teacher’s salary.
No one wants to hire someone over 50.
Lots of people have your skills. Why would someone hire you?
And plenty of other things that were far worse than that. It all boils down to one thing: a couple of days ago, I went from excited to anxious, and not in the good way. The shit got REAL.
So I’m sitting here trying to process all of that. I sat down in my writing studio/home office/crafting room and suddenly felt overwhelmed. This space didn’t feel ready for me to start any kind of remote work. And then I tried to re-imagine it, redecorate it in my head, to purge some of the years of accumulated crafting supplies to make room for a place to WORK, not just PLAY. And I felt overwhelmed again. So here I sit, blogging, hoping that the written word will un-overwhelm me. Does that even make sense?
I’ve never been one to shy away from the unknown. It might have been scary sometimes, but it’s my basic nature to embrace that as some sort of adventure. So what changed a couple of days ago? I’m not sure, but I think I must have had some sort of epiphany that this is the first time in my entire life that I’ve embarked on something major without any plan whatsoever. Part of me wants to lean into that and roll the metaphorical dice and see what happens. I like that part of me.
The part of me driving the bus right now, though, is the part that desperately fears failure and, in truth, expects to fail. It’s the part of me that drove me to work so hard in school, to put in WAY more hours as a teacher than were probably healthy, the part of me that is a pain in the ass on game night because it hates losing even when there are no stakes. It’s also the part of me that assumes that I’m always a bother, that people find me annoying but are too polite to say so, and that all my confidence is one screw-up away from crashing down. I REALLY don’t like this part.
But I figure, a lot of people can relate, right? Don’t we all have that voice inside that says bad things and freaks us out? The voice that lies to us and strips us of our self-worth? I think we all do. I just got pretty good at telling mine to shut up for the last decade or so.
In the end, I guess I shouldn’t beat myself up too brutally because this fear isn’t unique to me. And if we all think we’re giant losers sometimes, then maybe I can make peace with the fact that maybe that voice is a mind trick, because other people who I KNOW aren’t losers have their own “dark rider.” Maybe that voice has a purpose, too, because otherwise we wouldn’t all have evolved to have one. Maybe its function is to make sure I stay humble, keep high standards for my own work, and maintain a good work ethic. Maybe it’s taking me down a peg so I don’t start “phoning it in” out of arrogance.
And when I think about it that way, I think maybe it’s okay to sit with that fear for a little while as long as I don’t let it paralyze me. Perhaps I should listen to what it has to say with an absence of emotion:
No one will want to hire you for anything above a teacher’s salary. becomes You might have to start a little lower on the food chain and work your way up to a better salary. Make sure your next job has the potential for that.
No one wants to hire someone over 50. becomes The job pool might not be what it was when you were 22. Make sure you’ve left some time and space to keep writing, because now you’ll have time to market yourself better.
Lots of people have your skills. Why would someone hire you? becomes You may well have to learn some new skills on your own to make yourself more marketable to companies.
Hearing the voice of doubt without all the anxious baggage is still daunting, but it’s also self-affirming. I CAN advance in any job if I’m willing to work at it. I CAN spend a lot more time writing and be better about the daily marketing stuff I don’t have time for now. I CAN learn new things…heck, I LOVE learning new things.
If you’ve read this far, thank you for sticking around as I processed what’s rattling around in the old noggin. I honestly do think I feel a little bit better now that I’ve let my fingers do the talking, as it were. I’m not back to the “whoo-hoo adventure!” phase yet, but I am perhaps a little better armed with some self-reflection under my belt.
And now I’m going to make a to-do list and a schematic to re-arrange my office. And probably check my Linkedin page a half a dozen times. And maybe shop for a new desk. Wish me luck.