About a year ago, as the leaves started changing and the days darkened, I decided that I wasn’t going to renew my contract at the best job I’ve ever had. Today marks 100 days of my new, post-decision life, and so far nothing has turned out quite as I’d expected. Thank goodness that was a major part of my plan.
What brought me to this midlife crisis? There were plenty of factors, but the one I’m thinking about most as I write today is how the risks I’ve taken in my life have shaped how I decide to live it.
Start with a decade ago, for example. I left a promising and lucrative business career to become a teacher at a small private school because I found that my work lacked the kind of meaning and connection I needed. Some friends thought I was crazy, and had no problem telling me so. After all, all I had was a few tech certifications and a high school diploma. What made me think this wasn’t anything more than wishful thinking?
I conceded that they may have been right, but I didn’t care. I started reading everything about teaching that I could get my hands on, and I started giving free tech workshops to anyone who would listen to me. I ended up in church basements and library meeting rooms, talking to business groups and little old ladies about how Y2K wasn’t going to be as bad as everyone thought it would (fortunately, I was correct). I also kept alert for any opportunities that might come along, and so a couple of years later I found out about an opening for a tech job at a school that also required teaching Computer Literacy to ninth graders.
It was perfect. I can’t remember wanting anything more badly, and I interviewed as though my life depended it (but not in a desperate, creepy, loser sort of way, you understand). I remember coming in for my first round on a snow day, alone and flailing in an unplowed parking lot, wearing a suit and shoes with no tread. In the end I proved the naysayers wrong, because I stayed on my feet and the school gave me a shot. I haven’t looked back since.
That opportunity, and the chance they took on me, was crucial. I suddenly found myself in a place that was filled with colleagues and students who supported and encouraged me through every step of my journey to become a teacher. They even sent me to night school at a university, where I earned my Ed Tech degree. 4.0 GPA, baby.
I try to repay their kindness every time I step into a classroom, and never forget how lucky I am to be standing there. Six years after starting the job, I became one of only fifty educators world-wide selected by Google to become a Google Certified Teacher in the year I applied.
Looking back, this huge risk turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, and today teaching is as much a part of who I am as my proud geekdom. I traded up to a more meaningful and challenging life, and the rewards were beyond anything I could have comprehended when I started.
How would you look at taking risks if this was your experience? What if you had taken another, even bigger risk before that? Rewind five years before I made the career switch, and you’ll see that I’ve lost a ton of weight. Seriously, a lot. I’ve kept 100+ pounds off for over twelve years. That astounds me. To be honest, the final 40 pounds that scale needle has been bouncing within since are still one hell of an angst-ridden bitch. But I am such a different person now — healthier, happier, and more empowered — that taking this risk did nothing short of giving me my life back. Talk about heavy.
Both of these examples have taught me that taking calculated risks can lead to transformative changes. They’ve brought me a better quality of life, and provide me with a meaning and purpose that are crucial. In the end, these risks were absolutely, without a doubt worth taking, in large part because they were so difficult, long-term, and far-reaching.
Which brings me to a different road that I found myself on last October when I told my employers that I wasn’t renewing my contract, and has taken me right through to these last 100 days. It’s the road that connects me to my creativity. I’d always promised myself I’d travel down it someday, but that someday never came. Instead, I was a dilettante, starting but never finishing, only working when conditions were ideal (they never were) or when the muse struck (she rarely did).
Every day that I read something fantastic, listened to an amazing new song, or saw a show that made me gasp in delight, I was reminded that it was the end result of someone who buckled down and followed through, finishing their work. It was like there was a world of consumers and curators one one planet, and a world of creators and innovators on another, and I was living on the wrong one because I couldn’t get up and commit.
No longer. I made a decision not to be passive, and my incredible employers actually embraced the decision, giving me the opportunity to work at my school half the time and write for myself with the rest. As a result, I am now actively writing and finishing stories, as well as studying the art of storytelling and the craft of writing as much as I possibly can.
It’s hard work, and has its ups and downs, but for each of the last 100 days, I’ve averaged 500 words. Not many, I know, but it adds up. I’m amazed to sit here now and find 50,000 of them — six complete short stories and a novella — sitting there, looking up at me from inside their folders, waiting for me to do something with them. Don’t worry, I will. Soon. I’m just finding my way there, bit by bit. I look forward to sharing parts of my journey with y’all from time to time, and (eventually), perhaps even a story or two. Wish me luck.
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