On Staying Lost
My niece is about to graduate from college. She's dreading it because she'll have to find a job. I remember this feeling very well. In fact, when the reality of finishing college presented itself to me, I scurried around and applied to graduate programs in a hurry. I was lucky enough to have a recommendation from Irene McKinney and so I was accepted into a Creative Writing program to earn my MFA. I successfully avoided reality for three more years that way.
Throughout those three years, I certainly considered what might follow. I'd been promised that an MFA was a terminal degree and I'd be eligible for higher ed positions when I'd finished: but, we all know how that goes. Just about the time I was starting to get nervous about my post-grad prospects, my mother got very ill and died soon after. When it was all over, I had even fewer options than I'd had when I first started to panic.
Following my mother's death, I suppose maybe I thought I'd keep my mother's cosmetics business going. Perhaps I imagined that, combined with teaching a few classes at the local college, that would keep me afloat for a while. Honestly, I don't know what I thought. I was a mess.
That's when my first career fell into my lap. My cousin had been teaching at a small, Catholic high school in Frederick, MD for a couple of years. He let me know that there was a vacant English teacher position and, within just a few days, I was driving to Frederick to have an interview. Without having planned for it, I was a high school teacher. Without realizing it, I did that for seven years. That fact still blows my mind.
During that time, I felt a sort of neverending restlessness. I wasn't prepared to grade papers and write lesson plans for the rest of my life. I dreamed of moving to DC, New York City, Austin Texas, and Savannah Georgia. I enjoyed my students but hated the papers. I loved my colleagues but was stressed by all the planning. Parents and students and fellow teachers all told me I was good at what I did, but I couldn't hear it. So, in 2010, I went back to school to earn my Library Science degree.
My new dreams involved working in a public library, making a difference, offering dynamic services to people who might not otherwise have access to Internet or reading materials or educational services. What was most heartening, too, was that library school went out of its way to prepare us for the job market. I'd never studied for a degree that gave concrete advice about how to locate and get hired for a job. I was 30 years old and experiencing that for the first time.
All of that job preparation worked, too, because I was hired for a full-time librarian position less than three months after completing my degree. It was a Children's Librarian position and I was, once again, surprised to find myself learning about a whole new set of educational skills: early literacy and the Montessori method and storytimes. I loved the marriage of creativity and organization. I loved the babies who came each week for storytime. I thought I'd found my place. Until, that is, our system's funding was in jeopardy. Friends kept telling me just to wait...wait and see what happened. I was too panicked, though.
I took a new job, a management position, back in Frederick. It was a step up and I felt I was really accomplishing something: I was working in a career I'd actually chosen, I was moving up, and I was earning more money. Unfortunately, what followed me back to Frederick was also a terrible, black hole of depression. I don't know if the two things were related. I don't know if perhaps I just wasn't cut out to manage people. All I know is, I was so, so unhappy. I felt isolated and frightened. I withdrew from any kind of social interaction. I worked with lovely people, in a beautiful place, doing the thing I'd been saying I wanted to do. I felt like a failure. Why couldn't I be happy with this very good job?
When my cousin called me the summer of 2015, he was only asking if I knew of anyone who might want to take the recently vacated librarian position back at the school where I'd worked before. I thought about it for a whole weekend before I called him back to ask if he thought I should apply.
I never dreamed I'd come back to this school. I never imagined that coming up on my 40th birthday, I'd still be wondering what I was supposed to do with my life.
Here's what I know, after everything: I love what I do now. I get to teach a little and to be a librarian. I have plenty of free time for writing and travel. I feel lucky to work with the people I do. Coming back to them was like coming home...in a good way. Not every day is the best day ever, but what job offers that?
Recently, I've begun making plans for what I want to do once I do turn 40. That's about two more years (two and a half if we're really counting). I want to try something kind of adventurous and when I'm done with that, I want to finally settle near the beach in South Carolina because it's where I'm happiest and I'm tired of pretending that's not true.
All of this is to say, I have never had a clear path in my life. It's all I've ever longed for, but it has remained elusive for me. My therapist recently asked me if I could try to get comfortable with the idea that maybe there isn't a clear path for me. Maybe I'm doing the thing that's right for me: moving on when it's time. What I've learned about myself is that I'm a good teacher, I'm a great student, and there a million ways to utilize those skills. Some people see their path clearly in front of them. They follow it and it works. Others of us have some trouble. We stumble and find things barring the way. Whatever path I take next, I know it will teach me something new. I can't ask for much more than that, really.