Updates and general musings on letting go of
salary, stability, and life plans
I quit on Friday (informally) and Monday (formally) and spent the time in-between alternating between euphoria and panic. I was (and am) excited about the possibilities that independent teaching/consulting could bring to my life, but I was (and am) also scared of failure. Oh It was a roller coaster, let me tell you.
So I spent the first part of Friday evening in tears. I spent it in tears despite this being a decision that I made because it was very clearly the right thing to do. I drove home in a fog. I was – moment by moment – angry, sad, happy, and numb. More than anything, I was tired. I’ve made almost no attempt to hide the sadness and disillusionment I’ve felt lately from friends and family, meaning……if you’re a regular or a semi-regular reader of my messy blog thoughts, a regular or semi-regular FaceTimer, or a regular or semi-regular emailer…you know it’s been up and down. There have been moments, hours, afternoons, and days when I’ve felt happy and stable, but between them have been stretches of time where I’ve felt…emotionally gaunt. These feelings themselves were exhausting, and even worse was the up and down, the life built on (or in?) a roller-coaster cart.
Luckily I received a well-timed Friday evening pep talk. A “I get that this is unexpected and a bit scary but you know this is actually a good thing, pull it together.” This was followed by some well-timed curry, and an even-more-well-timed gin & tonic. Alright four well-timed gin & tonics. I started thinking instead of spiraling.
So here is the question of the day, question of the week, question of the season. What am I willing to sacrifice to have a day-to-day life that is happy? How much do I need the salary and health-insurance stipend? How important to me is the upper-management position that looks great on my CV? Alright so this is more than one question.
I pursued (am pursuing) my PhD because I love sociology as a lens, but it’s been brief and rare moments that I actually imagined myself working in higher education in America. I moved back to Hanoi before becoming ABD (all but dissertation), knowing everything would take longer this way, because I needed to be out in the world again, I needed to be inspired and excited again. In some ways, I’m happy to abandon the most-worn path for something that feels more…me. But I haven’t quite let it go. Trading in a one-size-fits-all plan for a slightly-more-tailored one is an improvement, for sure. IvyPrep has been that slightly-more-tailored plan. It’s education, it’s Hanoi, it’s curriculum development, it’s a grown-up salary for “management experience” that looks great on my CV. I could take comfort in the fact that…though slightly different…my plan was still respectable, still safe, still something my parents could tell their friends.
IvyPrep put me in charge. I gained serious experience in curriculum development for a broad range of classes. I restructured and staffed an Academic Dept.. I trained teachers, handled evaluations, and managed (with finesse at some moments and very little at others) the interaction of two VERY different business cultures. It was an amazing professional learning experience, but it was also a personal one. I learned that you can miss the city you live in, if you don’t have any time to enjoy it. I learned that friends can only catch up so much over a one-hour midday lunch, free time and absurd-underground-mall wandering and Sangria drinking and yoga practicing and motor-bike day-tripping and weird-Asian-water-park playing…these things are all necessary to maintain close relationships. I learned that fluorescent lighting is just straight depressing, especially when you can see the beautiful afternoon sky and palm trees from a hall window. I learned that management is basically just a term to represent a job that gives you more money in exchange for the inability to leave work at work: there are always early morning phone calls, late night teacher emergencies, nights and weekends of planning, organizing, and playing an eternal game of “catch up on the 349 emails you didn’t get to, yet”.
We know what kind of sacrifices are supposed to be necessary for the successes we’re supposed to want. Grunt work. Promotion. Less grunt work, but more responsibility. More money! More dependence on that money. Self defining by career track. Two weeks of holiday per year. Another promotion. A post-card or screen saver with a beach scene or mountain cabin serving as the proverbial carrot to pull us out of bed at dawn, pull us into traffic, pull us into a fluorescent-lit office building with dozens or hundreds of other people with their own post-card and screen saver carrots. Promises of fun at a later date (tbd) purchased with that misery.
I don’t want it. I don’t want fluorescent lights. I don’t want to miss beautiful mornings by a pool under a palm tree, idly listening to idiotic conversations of the various still-half-drunk English teachers a few seats down. I don’t want to feel like I’m racing to keep up all the time. I don’t want to feel guilty reading because it’s unproductive. I don’t want to live in the US. I don’t want a car, a mortgage, or children.
I DO want to explore. I want to go on day trips and weekend trips and weeklong trips. There are a half-dozen countries in this region that I want to visit. I want to ask questions, make connections, and dig deeper because under my tattoos and buzzed hair I’m just…a nerd. I want to sit on my balcony with my dog reading the 15+ books that thoughtful, intelligent friends have recommended, books I’ve purchased but barely cracked open.
I have spent many years now (I’m nearly 29….fuck) claiming a disinterest in chasing the socially-agreed-upon plan. Claiming a disinterest, but still sticking close enough to register with most as a high-achieving, driven, plan-oriented, “got her shit together” sort of person. I find comfort in that appearance, but also loneliness.
So it’s time to take another step away from easy, comfortable, and safe. That step has come in the form of quitting the fluorescent-lit management position, and starting off on my own…teaching independently (small classes and one-on-one) the things I loved and in which I have developed an expertise. I know I have to work, but I will trade in the salary for a likely less stable teaching income, one that will allow for impromptu trips and festivals and afternoons reading at cafes and swan boat champagne drinking and living. Now. Not later. It might be more risky and it might be more chaotic and I might eventually tire of that, but I might also happen across a balance between work and life that doesn’t have me waiting. Waiting for the elevator, waiting for the weekend, waiting for the ascribed yearly two weeks for fun-having.
It’s time for a conclusion. If I don’t want the carrot that everyone else is chasing, running along with the pack out of habit or fear is a waste of my time and my life. And as someone who doesn’t believe that there is much purpose beyond living, loving, experiencing, sharing, exploring, and then waving goodbye…there is really really really no reason to wait for that elevator.