Today, I went for a course at work, one that was mandatory and which I wasn’t looking forward to because, hello, I had a crapload of work to clear. I had brought along my iPad, thinking I would be bored out of my wits and would require some form of online consolation.
But it turned out to be completely different from what I had expected. I ended up NOT falling asleep and I left feeling more empowered and inspired than before.
Let me backtrack.
Ever since I went back to work after my maternity leave, I have felt like I no longer exist as a whole but in pieces. As the responsibilities and making piled up at work, I started feeling as if I was in a constant juggling act. I rush to work in the mornings after dropping off Aidan at daycare (and Zac at my in-laws’ on certain days of the week), and then I work, work, work. Come evening time, I rush to pick Aidan up before zipping home. Then comes dinner, bath and bedtime. Before you know it, it’s late and I am so exhausted, I fall asleep in my son’s bed or on the sofa.
Then, there’s the boys’ constant battle with the bugs, which is so, so, so draining. If you think it’s hard to see your child falling sick, try having two kids taking turns to be ill for eight months in a row. Also, try leaving your sick child with a caregiver so that you can go tend to other people’s children. It is a rotten feeling.
I’m in pieces, barely whole.
And of course, something’s gotta give. I made a mistake at work, which was picked up by a senior member of my team. She chose to escalate it upwards to the directors, even though the mistake was not even close to being grave. Thankfully, my boss stood up for me and told me I was doing great and that there was nothing to worry about. (I love that woman and I will forever be grateful to her for believing in me.)
I don’t care for politics. I don’t care for climbing that ladder. I really don’t give a fuck when it comes to things like that. I just want to work, earn my keep and then go home to my boys. And yet I find myself being embroiled in such petty power play again.
That incident planted a seed of something in me.
Over the course of the next few months, I worked my ass off but there was a sense that I no longer knew what I was working for. Call it an itch that could not be scratched, put it that way.
And then, at today’s training, we were asked to think about the different roles that we play in life – mother, wife, daughter, teacher, employee etc. Then we were asked to think about what we would want the important people in our lives to say to us when we are celebrating our 80th birthday.
I thought hard about that one. What would I want my loved ones to say? What would I want to say to myself, when I am wizened and wrinkled and (hopefully) wise?
Suddenly a light went off in my mind.
I know what I want to do with my life, I just never had the guts to try because, gawd, I have a mother to support financially and my kids and the house and insurance and things like that. I have obligations and people with obligations work so that they can fulfil these obligations.
But what if I never tried to combine everything that I want and need? What if I never tried to have my cake and eat it too? What would I say to myself when I am 80?
“Happy birthday, Me. I wished you had done more yoga, shot more pictures and used your words to earn your keep. I wished you had spent more time with your children. I wished you had been a wife, mother, daughter, friend who connected.”
So, I am trying. I have found a co-conspirator, we are having fun hatching ideas and plans. Maybe this won’t work, maybe it will. Maybe I will continue being a rat in that wheel for another 10, 20 years.
But damn, I will try.
Recently, I had a review with my reporting officer and one of the questions that she asked me was whether I was happy and could see myself staying here for the near future. And I was very honest with her when I said that I would probably work full-time until Aidan enters primary school and then consider my options again.
Did I just kill my career prospects? I probably did, huh.
I like my work, I do. I enjoy it a lot and I find it a very fulfilling vocation. It makes me happy to see my students’ progression over the semester, it makes me glad that I have had a hand in helping them be better at what they do. There are things that drive me absolutely nuts sometimes but in general, it is a very peaceful environment and I am lucky to have a fair, strategic and kind boss. And let’s be real, the job pays the bills, it allows me to continue giving my mother an allowance.
But at the same time, I feel like there’s a lot of other things that I would like to try as well. And I can’t dive into these ventures while juggling a full-time job that takes up all of my energies in the day.
For starters, I would love to spend more time with my boys. At a certain point in time, I would like to be there for them, more than just the two or three hours that we have currently. There is one of me and two of them, and as much as I wish I could split myself into two, my boys don’t get as much undivided attention as I would like to give.
And there’s the writing bit. Let’s be honest here – my writing has suffered since the day I became a mother. I hardly have time to write and when I do, my brains feel fuzzy. It’s like I cannot think straight, I cannot connect the dots and my sentences come out ungrammatical. It’s really tragic!
Now that I have Zac in the picture too, my personal time has shrunk drastically. I have thought about going for yoga instructor courses for a while now but I don’t even have the time to go on the mat. These courses typically require 200 hours of learning, and these are 200 hours that I don’t have to spare.
Then there’s my interest in photography. I feel as if my photography muscles have atrophied significantly! All I take these days are pictures of my boys. As darling as they are…it’s not quite the same. It’s almost as if I can’t compose a decent photo these days, which makes me very sad.
My cousin and I used to talk about running a boutique together too, and that’s another thing that’s constantly on the back of my mind. But we both knew that the business is not conducive for someone bringing up two little people and we put it on the back burner. For now. Eventually, though, I hope we can work together.
So yes, that’s me. With my endless dreams and desires, with my greediness to want to have my cake and eat it too. I get it, I do. It’s currently the season for bringing up my littles and there are some things which can wait until they are older. I don’t begrudge the lack of time now because I know that my kids will only need me for this short period of time. And then I will have all the time in the world to pursue my little dreams.
But until I figure out how I can juggle all my needs and wants and the realities of life, these dreams will have to stay in my mind.
The thing I love about being an educator is that more often than not, I end up learning something new myself.
I don’t have any lofty ideals about teaching, I don’t see myself as some paragon of knowledge. I’ve always been frank and upfront with my kids: I’m not perfect, I don’t know everything so please, do challenge me. And it’s true. I don’t know everything.
During my first lesson with them yesterday, I perched myself onto the table (why stand when you can sit?) and chatted to them about creativity. I told them that in order to be good at whatever they do, be it photography or writing, they need to expose themselves to a variety of influences and practise, practise, practise. That they will start out producing crap at first but then the crap will slowly turn into gold one day if they work hard enough.
And then I realised that this is sort of how life has been for me.
In the early days of my career, I was confused and trying to find my direction in life. I dabbled at different vocations and left when I felt I had reached the learning ceiling or when it stopped feeling right. My family members tsk-ed at me and labelled me flighty, unreliable – I didn’t bother justifying myself. But I figured that since I am spending a good part of my day at work, I had better be enjoying what I do or I’ll be a most mentally unhealthy person. Of course, I went through a lot of emotional struggle back then, trying to do what was right but at the end of the day, I realised that my sanity was what mattered most.
So yes, there was quite a fair bit of crap involved back then.
But look at me now. I’m doing something that I enjoy. Those various stints that I did in different industries? I gained all that knowledge in so many areas and the experiences have made me valuable in this organisation. I now teach a range of subjects in the school, my supervisors look at me and see versatility and adaptability.
My career has turned into gold.
If I could speak to the me of then, I would say: go forth and explore. Don’t worry about what others are saying behind your back, just listen to your gut instinct. It’s okay to fail, it’s okay to be crap. Because you never know where the failures and the crap will lead you.
(The whole talk about producing crap was inspired by the following video from Ira Glass)
The first week of work has gone by quietly. The new semester hasn’t started and my colleagues are busy winding down the previous semester. As such, I’m left pretty much on my own most of the time.
To say that the environment is vastly from the Agency is an understatement. Back at the Agency, things are always happening and there’s a buzz in the air. Here, I’m sitting in my 1980s-ish cubicle with high walls and it can get deathly quiet at times.
I am not complaining though. As with every new job, adjustments need to be made and expectations changed. There is no rush and time is needed for me to get used to the way things are run here. Best of all, I have friends like miss ene and darthycdious to ease me into the system.
But that is not the point of this post. Within my first week, I was asked to attend a session that discussed all about the passion of teaching – what’s constructive and destructive passion, how we can sustain our passion etc. Two things that struck me: first, some of my colleagues were honest to me about how they are in this line not for the passion but for the stability it brings; and second, how many educators love their jobs but detest their admin load and the institution.
One reason why I never, ever considered teaching in our primary/secondary/junior college system was because I had seen first-hand how friends loved what they did but left because of politics and administrative work. This is not dissimilar to the private sector – love the job but hate the company or boss. But, and that’s a huge BUT, I always wondered why our teachers are made to take on so much admin work when their primary function is to EDUCATE.
It seems like this is a problem even at tertiary level and while I didn’t think that teachers at my level are free from handling paperwork and “extra curricular activities”, I certainly wasn’t prepared for the actual amount. And during that session, it was clear that many of them felt that the balance between teaching and administrative work is tipping in the wrong direction.
And I don’t know why this would come as a shock – I certainly was guilty of it at the Agency – but I was taken aback when someone hiunted broadly to me that she was here not because she genuinely enjoyed what she did but because of the job stability and relatively easy hours (hardly anyone stays beyond 6pm).
I have always associated teaching as a job that requires passion. I mean, I don’t have to be passionate about advertising in order to produce a fantastic press release but you certainly need to have a lot of heart in order to be a good teacher. And if your heart is not in it, it shows in your teaching. Just think back to the days when you were in school: I can definitely identify the teachers who had shaped my life and those who simply recited from the textbook and didn’t care if I was snoozing in class or not.
Right now, I cannot say that I have a passion for teaching simply because I haven’t started. But I am here because I am genuinely interested in this vocation. I don’t know if I will be any good but I do know, through my Masterclass sessions, that people enjoyed listening to my presentations and that I am quite believable when I am passionate about my subject. And I hope that this will come across when I start teaching proper.
This argument between earning my keep and doing something that I love has been raging in my career for a long time now. Some may call me a job-hopper but most of the time, I leave because I feel that I don’t have a lot of gas in the tank to sustain me for longer and I honestly don’t feel much for the job. It’s quite clear to me, then, that passion rules over practical issues in the long run. I cannot remain in a job because it pays the bills, I need to enjoy and love my job.
Call me idealistic but I am willing to take a risk (and a huge paycut) to try. And that in itself says a lot.
The weather has been so fickle today: the skies turned grey and dumped a truckload of rain on us, and I buttoned my jacket and rubbed my hands together for warmth. And then suddenly, the torrential rain stopped and the sun chased away the clouds. We are bathed in its glorious, golden light once again.
It reminded me, once again, of the school anthem of my beloved alma mater. After the sun, the rain. After the rain, the sun.
And that’s how it is, that’s how Life is. A new day, a new beginning.
As I serve out the last two weeks of my employment, I am grateful for the support of my wonderful boss. The workload has been light these days. The agency has been kind to me, really, it has, in comparison to some of my colleagues. One of the agency’s strengths is in its training programmes and I have learnt so much in my 2.5 years here. My stint here was a step towards greater things and I leave knowing that I have done my best, that my boss believes in me.
Despite all that frustration and anger in dealing with the messy politics, I leave with a lighter heart.
And so I begin my journey out of the corporate world. Yes, it entails a hefty pay cut. Yes, I am giving up my career. Yes, I know that I will never be able to chase the material dream again. Yes, I get apprehensive at times, wondering if I will be good at what I am going to do. Yes, I will be throwing myself out of the comfort zone and into a whole new world.
But you know what, I am completely comfortable with my decision. The pay cut doesn’t even bother me as much as I thought it would. I’ve never been one to hanker after the top of the ladder and my ambition in life is to be happy at what I do. Not much of an ambition, is it?
Thankfully, I am getting heaps and heaps of reassurance from the girlfriends who are in the same industry. And really, what would I do without them? I would never have gotten the courage to take the leap if it hadn’t been for them.
So yes, the rain has stopped and the sun is out. I’m ready for a fresh, new start. Wish me luck!