I was hoping to hear your story about your career path. I’m pretty sure this is going to be my last year teaching, and so I’d love to hear about how you knew you wanted to do something else and how you feel now that you are on another path. Do you miss teaching? Any words of advice for quitting?
A Hopeful Transitioner
Dear Hopeful Transitioner,
Change is simultaneously terrifying and exhilarating. On the one hand, pivoting from one career to another can feel like a hike on a Texas day that never ends. On the other hand, that exhausting, strenuous hike rewards you with the most spectacular views of your life.
Looking back on my own experience, I whole-heartedly recommend change. I firmly believe that variety keeps us engaged with our lives, our passions, and ourselves. Did you know that research shows that most people, late in life, say that they wished they had taken more risks?
So if you’re feeling stuck or drained in any way, that’s a sign that some kind of new spark needs to be added to your day, your career, or possibly even your life. You might not make a change as drastic as mine, but something needs to be tweaked—whether that’s a full-on career transition or trying out new, exciting activities (like taking French lessons or saving for a vacation overseas).
For me, I knew I was ready to walk away from academics and into a creative field because of how I felt every day.
Here’s a few things I felt every day for nearly two years before I transitioned:
- I lived each weekday for the weekend
- Little pangs of jealousy would lodge in my chest when I saw friends pursuing their dreams
- Monday mornings arrived and my feet felt like lead as I approached my classroom
- I felt “tapped out” and like I had nothing left to give
- I realized that I needed to be fed; my soul, my spirit, and my heart were simply drained.
These were feelings I had in general, for several years. But I remember the morning and the specific email that changed my life.
A former colleague and mentor from my first teaching job had sent me an email. He, too, had recently taken a break from the demanding pace of teaching and had decided to attend grad school. He wrote to say, “Hi,” and included a sentence about waking up slowly, enjoying a cup of coffee. He commented how amazing it was to have time to drink a cup of coffee in the morning and get quality time in with his wife and kids.
At the time, I was living in Beijing. Each morning, my alarm went off at 5:00 am. From there, I rushed to get ready and head to my shuttle by 6:00 am for our hour-long commute. I was exhausted and drained all the time. And I was tired of not being able to hang out with friends at night because I had to get up so dang early.
All I knew was that hearing my mentor say he was now able to enjoy a cup of coffee in the mornings made me nearly explode with jealousy. Before long, that jealousy morphed into hope: I started thinking, if he could make a change, why couldn’t I?
I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do next. I just knew I was desparate to do something different. I wanted something that would feed my soul and give me quality time with my friends and myself. Within a few weeks, I quit my teaching post, traveled the world for nine months, and learned photography.
From there, my story unfolds organically. People saw my travel photography on social media and started asking me to shoot their wedding. I was terrified to accept my first real photography job. But I did it anyway and learned that I loved it like crazy. That’s when I knew becoming an international pre-wedding photographer was my new path. Instead of feeling dread as I approached my job, I felt giddy. I was having fun in my life again. My job had turned into an event I wanted to attend.
The best advice I could give is this: Don’t think your way to a new path. Instead, while you still have the safety of your current job, try new things. Take a ballroom dance class in the evenings. Maybe take a photography class or a sewing class on the weekends. Start finding what makes your heart sing again. And when you find that feeling, pursue it with all you’ve got.
Your heart will tell you what you want, not your mind. So listen to the gentle voice of your heart—especially if it’s been squelched for awhile.
Want to see more of my photography? I post about coffee, books,
and thoughts I’m having over on Instagram.