When I was 15, I took a job at a summer camp. I only applied because I had a crush on the owner, and I had no idea that this would be a turning point in my life. As I led my campers through games and songs and slept under the stars with them, it slowly became clear to me that I wanted to be an elementary teacher when I grew up.
Anxious to begin, I buckled down, graduating early from high school and college. By age 22, I had my very own class of fourth-graders. A few years later, I hit the jackpot and ended up in the job of my dreams.
My boss was amazing and my coworkers inspired me daily. My morning walk to school took just five minutes. I loved giving back to the community I lived in. Every part of the job sparkled with pure perfection.
When I had a baby, my husband and I decided that I would stay at home as long as I had job security, which lasted 15 months. I felt fortunate to have so much time to focus solely on figuring motherhood out. Surely I’d be ready to return after all that time.
I was so wrong. Going back to work hit me like a ton of bricks I didn’t see coming.
I had everything planned out. My lessons were in order and my toddler had a solid schedule in place. But I quickly learned that although I could write it all down, I could not do it all.
Here’s the thing though: I did it all anyway. Something had to give, but I couldn’t bear to approach anything less than wholeheartedly. I planned a science fair, I potty trained, I cooked Thanksgiving dinner, and I made sure all my students could subtract fractions.
It was my health that broke down.
I ended up with pneumonia. I suffered from migraines. My husband complained that he never saw me, and when he did, I wasn’t very kind. When I spoke with my boss or my friends, everyone suggested that I let go of whatever responsibilities I could to ease my stress. A perfectionist to a fault, I could not find a single thing I was willing to give up. It was all or nothing.
I chose nothing. I quit.
Leaving my job permanently was one of the most painful things I have ever done. I had literally dedicated my entire life to get to where I was. My future remained uncertain and what would soon become my past was so very familiar.
People used to tell me that I must love teaching, or that I made a noble choice going into it. But the truth is, teaching chose me. I always felt called to it.
Having a baby changed where I was called. Leaving my work did not feel like much of a choice either. I simply could not sustain both responsibilities.
Making the right decision for my family meant letting go of something that defined me. I couldn’t picture it. But I’ve come to learn that every experience has its place in my life, and sometimes it’s time to move on.