Creativity and crap

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)

To have heart

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 sun is out

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!

Halo

The final hurdle

No need to call the cops, I am still alive and kicking.

I’ve been stricken with flu for the past week and it has since morphed into suspected sinusitis. All this frustrates me greatly – my health has been literally in the pits since the year has started. Urghs. I hate being sick, hate having to build up my health, hate having to build up my fitness.

It doesn’t help that this is the final week of my training course and we have to prepare for a BIG presentation this coming Friday. The process has been fun and illuminating, the bad health not so.

But seriously, as much as I moan and groan about not having enough time and sleep, I am grateful for this opportunity. I never thought I could come up with a pitch, let alone present in front of the big bosses. But here I am, almost at the end of the journey and feeling immensely proud of myself and my teammates. This company may have many, many bad points (intense politicking and huge egos being two of them) but when it comes to training, it definitely ranks as one of the best I have seen so far.

I’m definitely not great at coming up with ideas but I think (hope, really) that I bring a sense of logic to the table. I find myself asking why? how? very often, hoping to make some sense of what we are doing.

And at the end of the day, it helps to be able to come home to know that somebody has taken care of the chores and is babying the kittens while I work. Husband is just awesome (even if he leaves the kitchen lights on and breadcrumbs on the countertop).

It’s not you, it’s me

Despite the change in title at work, I am suddenly left with the epiphany that no, this is not the right job for me at all. I love magazines, I love flipping through their glossy pages, I love looking at the wonderful art direction of the pictures. But somehow, I am not enamoured of the magazines produced by my company nor do I enjoy what really goes on behind the scenes of these so-called glamourous rags.

I dislike the hierarchical chain of rule that’s practised and encouraged here. I hate the businesslike and cold approach we take to the magazines. I hate how I have to schedule my leave according to the magazine’s timeline. I hate how taking leave and public holidays have become such dreaded events because it means my work will pile up to astronomical heights. I don’t understand how my superiors can say things like, “Do you really need to take leave for two days? I’m worried about the deadline” when it’s my first day joining the team and they have already assigned me three feature stories to be completed in a week. It’s obvious that in times of recession, they will cut down on expenses like freelancers, which means that the employees will have a heavier workload.

I came in, a year ago, feeling optimistic and overjoyed that my dream job was a reality. To write! For a magazine! Yay! But I soon realise quickly that this is nothing more than a factory churning out pictures, words and pages at chop chop speed. What’s more, everything has to be new! Refreshing! Surprising! Unpredictable!

Perhaps, to sum it up succinctly, I lack the passion to stay in the company. I don’t love beauty products enough to wax lyrical about the newest long lasting lipsticks for many moons. My love for fashion goes the way of Nylon and Frankie, not Louis Vuitton or Fendi. I like irreverence, self-deprecation, emotional connection and cheekiness in my writing, none of which is really found in these rags. And I have absolutely no desire, wish or ambition to become anything more than a writer, having seen how much an editor can change and has to sacrifice. (I also do not have the patience to stay for years, hoping to be promoted.)

What’s more, I don’t take my company’s magazines seriously because I know that most of the content is driven by advertising dollars anyway. And while fashion and beauty are great institutions, when the world comes to an end, I am not likely to go, “Oh damn, I wished I have that Chanel 2.55 purse to bring to the grave with me.”

So where does that leave me? I don’t know. I don’t have to be a professional writer to write, I can still earn a (better-paid) living elsewhere and still write on the side. All I want is to have a better work-life balance where I can take days off and chill without feeling pressured by what I will face when I return. A life where I can go to the gym after the work or go home and cook for my little family of two.

A life where I can, ultimately, stay at home and watch my children grow up without missing out on their key moments.