I wrote this in June of 2011 as I was attempting to figure out if I still had value in this world, even if I wasn’t working. I believe that was the lesson I needed to learn and it’s valid even if I’ve moved on from this point. I’m posting this not only because it’s valid, but also because I’m proud that I’ve moved on from where I was. It was an incredibly hard journey, but one I’m proud of all the same.
I am one of those people. After my name I have a B.S. and M.S.
I do not have the all important J.O.B.
Shortly after we moved to Rochester my mom started her business. I was 8 when I started working for her. I did various jobs from cleaning the office and making bags for products that expanded to receptionist, massage therapist, manager, and administrative assistant as I got older. Partly, this was survival for my mom because she didn’t have anyone to watch us, she CERTAINLY didn’t have any money to pay for anyone to watch us, and she had to work. She figured there was limited trouble we could get ourselves into if we had a job to do.
Partly, it was because that was the philosophy in our family and in any family business. You want to eat? You want to be a part of this family? You work.
I have had a job since I was 8. That is on top of school. In college I worked 40 hours a week and took 18+ credits along with summer classes. I knew I was capable and my mom taught me that no one was standing on the street corners handing out free rides to girls who thought they had all the answers. It was my way of life, I didn’t know any different.
When I went away to college, the first thing I did was find a job. Even though I only lived in Appleton, WI for a 6 months (and drove back to Rochester nearly every weekend), my first task was finding a job. I never saw it as a choice, it was part of life. I knew my value to the world was made up of what I did in the world. I was either working and/or going to school to earn a better job. If we were going to do something, we would do it to the best of our abilities, or else we would do it again until it met her expectations.
To say that I have a crazy work ethic is a gross understatement. I stay until the work is done to the highest standard. I go above and beyond in everything I do. I will come early and stay late. I work quickly and efficiently. If I am not busy, I will find something to clean or organize. I earn every dime in my paycheck. I have my mom to thank for that.
The longest I have been “without a job” was my “summers off” as a teacher. That is until I resigned in October. The past 8 months of being unemployed has been the longest stretch that I haven’t held a job.
I have been a contributing member of the workforce for 20 years. I have wanted to be a teacher for 21 years. To say I worked hard to get where I wanted to go would be an understatement.
When I was no longer a teacher, when I was no longer an employee, I lost my identity.
We are all supposed know that we are more than our job. I calculated my value from the work I did. If I wasn’t contributing to the world in a positive way, I was without worth.
I grew up thinking of myself as an employee and teacher. Even as young as 7 I would be assigned to help kids who were struggling in school. When I was in 5th grade I was paired (to tutor) up with this boy, for the school year, who was a year or 2 older than me. I would go to the library with him and help him find books to check out. When it was time to write a research paper with a bibliography I taught him how to use note-cards, how to take notes, how to translate those into paragraphs, and how to cite sources.
I did everything right. I never once expected anything to be handed to me. I knew who I was and I knew what I did was important. It was of value. When I resigned from my teaching job (even typing that is painful, my heart is shouting NO I AM a teacher) I began desperately and frantically searching for another teaching job. I applied to over 100 schools, up to 2.5 hours away, in less than 8 weeks. I needed to do this, I forced myself to do this because if I was so busy doing that I wouldn’t have to examine what was broken inside of me.
I didn’t get called for one interview. Not. even. one.
I couldn’t figure it out. I started out as an acceptable teacher (compared to others, to myself I was failing, but because I really cared about my kids, I was acceptable). I learned and worked harder and worked smarter to become a good teacher. I was well on my way to being a great teacher and would have eventually become a amazing teacher.
That is from my standard. Which, most likely, is more discriminating than most. I don’t say that because I am conceited. If the people who knew me best would list 100 describing words about me, that wouldn’t be one.
If I was taught one other thing, it was humility. NEVER are we to speak or brag about our accomplishments. We don’t talk about what we do, we show with our actions. Others should commend you, never yourself. And also, never your parents (because it’s like they’re bragging about their parenting). You have to be outside the immediate family to say anything about someone’s accomplishments.
I say I was a good teacher because if you look at the test scores and my kids growth, it is indisputable. On top of that, I truly loved and cared for each of my kids and (98%) loved me too. I would do anything for my kids. If they didn’t have books, I gave them some. If they didn’t have mittens, I bought them some. If they didn’t have a toothbrush, I bought them one. They were MY kids, and they always will be. I gave them every part of me, everything I had to give.
I thought I was going to stay in my classroom and taught those kids, learning and improving each year, until I retired. I worked my whole life to get there. That was my cherry on top. I had stopped dreaming.
I had worked, and worked hard for where I was. I hadn’t asked for a hand-out or even a hand up. I did everything the hard way, too proud and stubborn to ask for help. I knew the only way I could appreciate it, is if I had truly earned it. Then I wouldn’t take it for granted. I thought I was happy. I finally had reached the goal I had worked so long for.
I had my family and I had my dream job. I was teaching and I was teaching the kids I wanted to be teaching. I had everything. And I took a breath. And everything collapsed. And then I couldn’t breathe.