Late last February, I quit my job on a whim.
Okay, if we are being honest, it wasn’t a total whim. For eleven-and-a-half years I worked in education as a special-ed tutor. For almost a dozen years, I worked with children who couldn’t learn in a “normal” way. They either had a learning disability, or fell somewhere on the Autism spectrum, or they had behavioral challenges, or a combination of all of those things. I worked with the hard kids who needed someone to believe in them, and to have learning make sense.
During the last few years of that job, our district decided that my position was going to be less about helping kids learn and more about managing behavior. As this was something I seemed to excel at, I got the hardest kids. The ones that no one else wanted to work with. I was okay with this, because I have a heart for the kids no one else loves: the ones from broken homes; the ones whose learning disabilities get in the way of learning and so they act out in class; the ones who just need someone to care about them.
During that final year, the one that broke me, I was doing the job of three people. I was assigned to two children who needed individual attention, and I was asked to be a classroom aide for a lead teacher. Sometimes, when you are good at your job, no one stops to consider your needs, and instead they look at how you can best serve their needs.
So, at the end of our February vacation, I reached my breaking point. After a week free of the stress of work, I realized I just could not go back. My husband, being the wonderfully supportive person that he is, held me tight as I sobbed into his chest, and told me to do what was best for me. He told me not to worry about the finances, or the fact that I had nothing lined up, to just quit. The world needs more men like him.
I stayed in that job those last three years, miserable and stressed out, because I was afraid. I was afraid that I didn’t have any marketable skills to find a new job. I was afraid that at the age of forty-ish, no one would want to hire me. I was in the midst of working on a college degree, and I thought that I could stick it out until I was finished. That kind of thinking almost lead me to a nervous breakdown.
I found a new job relatively quickly and by the middle of March I started part-time at a local church in the next town. On a scale of one to ten, my stress level went from a thirteen to a two.
This year, I had to fill out a form for my annual review. One of the questions asked: What are your growing edges? It was a phrase I had never heard before, and so I took to Google, and found this: “growing edges are the places in our life that we really want to be and live our life from, but are too scared to go there.” I didn’t think that was what my review form was asking about, but that sentence stuck with me.
Being in a transition phase of my life, where do I want to be and live my life from? My job at the church is not a forever job. It is a safe, temporary job, that I will keep while I finish my degree. People ask me what I plan to do when I graduate, and I tell them I might go on to get my Master’s, or perhaps teach at the secondary level. In my secret heart, I would love to make a living being a writer.
But the dreams that scare me? The answer to the question, “What would you do with your life if money were no object?” I would go to Guatemala and work with impoverished children. Or, maybe I would work for Compassion International. Or, perhaps I would do work with impoverished children who don’t know how to read, and want to know more about God. Or, maybe I would write books that speak to people’s hearts about topics I don’t know about yet.
I realized, as I thought about these things, and that growing edges question, that I never set any goals for my life. I’m almost forty-two years old, and I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. I think it’s time to make a plan.
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