The biggest lie that anyone ever told me was that I would ‘find myself’ in college. Let me spoil this story early for you: you don’t find yourself in college – you simply start the process. Or in most cases, you find what you don’t want. But that is neither here nor there because this story is mine and it is now. So, let me begin.
I studied to become an English teacher in college , because when you’re 18 and people are telling you that you’d make a great teacher, you listen. So, I listened. I majored in English, minored in Special Education and spent eight months student teaching, completing a 4-month Special Education internship at a elementary school and a 4-month internship at a high school.
Teaching, I will tell you, is tiring. Both emotionally and physically. It was the emotions of the whole adventure that really drove me crazy. My life inside and outside the classroom became one long run-on sentence – there was no separation. I worked with children from the lowest of low socio-economic classes, with no shoes on their feet in the dead of winter, and no matter what I did, it was never enough. I wanted to give all of myself to them, and then some. No matter what I taught them in the classroom, no matter what lesson I tried to make real for them, they were facing bigger problems than I could ever dream.
But because I am stubborn (a trait I so graciously inherited from my father), and because I know best, I stuck it out. Even though day in and day out, I felt completely ill-equipped to handle the issues these children faced, my happiness came secondary. I graduated a semester early, proud of myself and determined to devote myself to making a difference.
Right around this time Mother Nature and the Universe conspired to smack me across the face with reality. Thankfully, the smack left a lasting impression. It was only when I left college that I really started to find myself. Sure, I could tell you what my favorite drink was and where my favorite bar was located, who had the best specials and advise you on the best way to get an A without ever making it to class on time. But after four years there wasn’t much about me that I could really offer up.
When I really started to see myself – to know myself — I got to the heart of why I thought being an English teacher was so great. It had nothing to do with teaching. I love words. I love the pages of a book, the smell of a worn binding, the way a thought strings together an image in your head, the way words on a page make you feel less alone. It wasn’t that I wanted to teach those words, I wanted to write those words. I wanted to give someone what so many books had given me. And, for me, I couldn’t do that in a classroom.
It was terrifying to swap one dream for another. But when you find yourself, you find your passions. You find what drives you. You find what wakes you up in the middle of the night, already excited for the next day. Teaching couldn’t give me that. Not because I didn’t devote myself to it enough or because I didn’t try, but just simply because it couldn’t.
It took frustration and tears but I chose writing. I chose to define myself as a writer. Not as a teacher. A writer. This what I had always wanted for myself, but I was terrified to go out and get it.
I couldn’t be happier that I did.