This whole past year of being primarily a stay-at-home mom has provoked a great deal of introspection regarding my career identity. Who am I, apart from my identity as a teacher? It was such an integral part of my being for so long, I almost don’t know how to view myself apart from that identity.
Surprising, how much of what I think about myself revolves around what I do. It’s a development I hadn’t anticipated when I walked away from teaching. Blinded by the thrill of quitting, of leaving a career I only halfheartedly cared about, I hadn’t realized how much of my identity I derived from that label: teacher.
Just to clarify, when I say “halfheartedly cared about” teaching, I don’t want you to picture me sitting around with my feet up, letting the students run wild. I strove to (generally) set high standards, continuously improve my teaching methods, and build genuine rapport with the kids. And there were plenty of times that I actually loved teaching. There were some amazing students and classes and moments over the years. (For example, as a French teacher, it was my duty to ensure that all of my students got to try chocolate fondue!) It’s just that when it comes to either teaching or writing, for me, writing wins every time.
I knew when I quit my job that I would likely return to teaching in the following two to three years, which sounded like an incredibly long time at that point. So fun! What a gift, to be able to fully focus on our young boys and savor their toddler years. And it is a lot of fun, absolutely. Some days, I can hardly believe my good fortune, that I’m able to do this for me and for our family. But some days, I wallow in dissatisfaction, attempting to convince myself I’m happy. I long for more.
A longing for more is natural for everyone in every stage of life; I fully believe that. As a Christian, that’s a central tenet of my faith: this life here on Earth is not all there is. We truly were made for so much more than even the greatest experiences we might have here and now. But that doesn’t mean I don’t seek personal fulfillment in the present. We’re all wired to want more in some way.
To that end, my thoughts are often on this full-time parenting without any outside employment. How long should I continue? How much time/effort/money am I willing to devote to exploring other career possibilities, with no guarantees of success? How can I be the best possible parent regardless of my employment status?
Mr. COD’s change of direction and our subsequent move have dominated our lives the past few months, and my career aspirations outside the teaching field have been resting comfortably on the back burner. Now that we are settling into our new home and town, I feel I really need to figure out where I belong.
As you know, writing is my great passion. Proofreading is right up at the top as well (I simultaneously hate and love finding mistakes in other people’s writing). I guess where I’m getting discouraged is the actual “hustle” of it all. I want the freedom to set my own working hours and be location independent, but that freedom comes at a price. As a freelancer, you have to market yourself, be scrappy, be persistent, and continuously seek out clients. Do I have the drive and ability to do that, to deal with regular rejection, to be a true entrepreneur? The hard answer is, I’m not sure. (And man, that sucks to admit!)
So the alternative to working for myself as a freelancer is going back to teaching. It’s been a full year away, and I already feel so out of touch with classroom life. Rendezvous with my former coworkers reminded me somewhat of the politics, the grind, the frustrations, and I can’t say I’m in a hurry to go back into that. However, in another year or two, when our youngest is in school, I plan/hope to find a teaching job. That was always the plan; I just had hoped I’d be further along the path to creating my own freelance career by this point.
As discouragement sets in over the fact that millions of other freelancers are going for the same writing and proofreading jobs on Upwork and similar sites, I ponder giving up. Another idea I’ve tossed around is finding a temporary part-time job, even if it’s waitressing at a local pizza joint. The work doesn’t have to be inspirational or anything, but I’m learning that I appreciate my kids more when I manage to get a little bit of time away from them. 24/7 is HARD. Besides, being new in town is also hard, and work is a key place to meet people and escape feelings of isolation. Temp work doesn’t need to be a career thing; it’s just a way to diversify how I spend my time.
The struggle here lately is feeling like a failure in every aspect of life. Career, family, faith. I don’t know where I belong. I felt like a failure when I was a teacher, and I hated missing my kids while at work. Now I get to be with my kids all the time, and I’m overwhelmed and still feeling like a bad parent and looking for moments to steal away for myself. Plus, I won’t lie: I’m not crazy about making no money.
It’s much harder than I expected, not earning a salary. Turns out, I miss my paychecks. Thankfully, Mr. COD is perfectly supportive of my desire to focus on the kids, and we’re fortunate that he can support us, but there’s a nagging internal struggle to feel I’m spending my time in a worthwhile manner. Restlessness is rampant. I know that’s common for stay-at-home moms. Perhaps it’s also because of the longtime habit of working? I mean, I spent fourteen years teaching, and to be completely out of the loop is unnerving. I was a teacher. Am I a teacher still?
It’s also a relatively stressful time for us, financially. Due to our move to Kentucky, we’ve dropped a significant amount of money in a short period of time. You know, ’cause of that pesky little down payment on a new house. Plus, the extra ten grand to get our old house sold (yep, we bought in ’09 and its current value is WAY below our purchase price). And now the inspection has come through and our buyer is requesting some stuff done that’ll cost us even more. Then, there are of course the expenses of things in the new house that broke or weren’t included. (No washer/dryer, needed a big riding mower for our gargantuan yard, and most recently, we had to replace a toilet. Lovely!) So’d be lying if I said I didn’t harbor some guilt, knowing that if I’d kept working last year, we could breathe easier. Our finances would be in a much more comfortable state.
If this post appears a tad rambling and disorganized, I’m not surprised at all. That’s pretty much how my mind feels these days. I love the lazy rhythm of summer and I love our new town and home, but I’m anxious to branch out and feel as though I’m accomplishing something. My career, even though it wasn’t one I felt entirely called to, provided an anchor.
My confusion today makes me wonder about the whole FIRE concept, honestly. If I retired early, from where would I derive my purpose? Of course, this would be when the kids are out on their own and I/we’d be freer to pursue our own hobbies and charitable pursuits, so maybe my current career identity struggles wouldn’t apply?
What do you guys think? We’d love to hear how you deal with your career and your identity! How do you manage to separate the two?