Today I am teaming up with The Ladders, a career building company that wants to help you find a new career or improve your current one. They’ve asked me to share with you all the interesting bits about my career, and more specifically, how my “first” job got me here. Close friends will tell you that I had a bit of a quarter life crisis when it came to my first post-college job, and they’ll also tell you I love talking about finding happiness in your work. So I’m super excited to share this with you today.
For those that don’t know, I am currently a 5th grade science and math teacher. This is my first year of teaching. I know now that elementary education is the field where I have the most talent and can do my best work, but if you’d told me in 2007 that I’d be a teacher in eight years, I would have laughed. So hard. Right in your face. I never could have imagined teaching was my calling when I was 18 years old. In fact, I had to become a drastically different person from the time I started college to the time I returned to school to even know that I wanted to teach–or even be capable of taking on such a unique and challenging career.
Now, let’s be clear. I’ve never been shy of a challenge. In fact, from the age of six or so, I’ve wanted to be a physician. (Just check out this diary entry from my elementary-aged self for proof!) When I started college at Drury University, I forged ahead with this plan, even though, during my freshman year, I was already unsure about my major. I dabbled in psychology my sophomore year, and then went full steam ahead as pre-med. I graduated with a degree in Biology and after graduation, was paralyzed with fear over applying to medical school. So I decided to recalibrate and started researching nursing and physician assistant (PA) programs. I settled on a PA program and got to work bolstering my CV with the necessary pre-requisites I lacked, like accumulating over 2,000 hours of direct patient care experience.
So I applied for jobs at the hospital and even applied to an Emergency Medical Technician program. I landed a position with a regional healthcare system as a clinical laboratory assistant. This position included no direct patient care responsibilities, but there was the possibility for performing phlebotomy (drawing blood for laboratory tests) every now and then, so I took it. At the same time, I was accepted to an EMT program. Looking back, I can be honest and say I still had no intention of ever actually applying to any graduate programs in the medical field. I couldn’t admit it then that I didn’t want to be a doctor, or a nurse, or a PA, or an EMT, but I continued with the plan. Pretty much for the sake of the plan.
It would take me two years to finally come to terms with the fact that I hated working in the medical field. My first “real job” as a clinical laboratory assistant was not something I enjoyed at all. Still, I kept at it, vying for time on the phlebotomy floor. I ended up working a double shift–everyday–for months–to try and secure a position as a full time phlebotomist. Around that same time, our laboratory started outsourcing to the Mayo Clinic. I was pulled back down to specimen processing, which was the gig I was hired for, without a word about how much time I’d spent with double shifts on my schedule. Nobody even told me whether I was a good phlebotomist or not. I didn’t really know how to speak up for myself, and my resentment towards my job grew to the point where I knew I could not remain in the field–at all. My indecisiveness about entering the medical field coupled with the dislike I had for my current job was enough for me throw my hands up and finally move onto a different path. I was done pushing against the resistance I felt from my own intuition.
I had always known I wanted a professional career with a high level of critical thinking and decision making, but what I hadn’t known as a college student was that I would come to value creativity to the same degree. I didn’t know that about myself in 2007. I didn’t know that until I grew up a little, changed in the ways that young adults do, and moped through a job for two years that had absolutely no hint of creativity. After several more months of soul searching and crying in the shower, I decided to look into teaching. I came to the decision in a very practical way–with a pro/con list. “Pros” included “Teaching is creative,” “I love learning,” “I love school,” “I love structure” “I have way more patience now than I did when I was 18” and “I won’t have to go back to college for another four years.” I knew immediately that I had found my place the minute I stepped into an elementary classroom. I knew it in my heart.
As a first year teacher, I work longer hours than I ever did pulling double shifts at the laboratory. We’re talking 12 hours several days of the week, plus a lot of time on Saturday. But every single morning I wake up so excited to go to work. Exhausted, mind you (I’ve taken to rubbing ice cubes under my eyes to perk up in the AM), but HAPPY.
For a long time it was hard for me to get over the time I “lost” as a lab assistant. At the end of that era, I felt like I’d wasted so much of my life (at the old age of 24). I know now that those two years were just a time that I had to take to learn about myself–time I didn’t take in college while I so stubbornly–doggedly–trudged forward with my major.
My friend Whitney, who is probably the wisest friend I have, told me that when you’re “in it”–in that wild and scary time of navigating toward what you are meant to do–it feels like the longest road with a switchback every two miles. But then, when you look back on it, you can connect the big dots in a pretty straightforward way. You come to realize that the path couldn’t have been any different. You had to go that way. This, coming from a gal who has known forever that she wanted to be a dentist and is embarking on year three of dental school. Hmm.
But her words are still true, I think. And I’ve learned a lot on that seemingly endless trail I had to take to find my niche in life. Such as…
If you’re no longer learning at your job, find one that is more challenging for you or better captures your interest.
If you’re on a path that feels downright wrong, listen to that feeling.
And certainly, if you wake up at 4:30 in the morning and dance a jig right straight out of bed–well, you’ve probably found what you’ve been looking for.