There are two categories of people: those for whom meaningful work is a bonus, and those for whom meaningful work is a must
I was a teacher for the first ten years of my career. About two years ago I was completely burnt out, and felt it would be doing a disservice to my students to stay in the classroom when my heart wasn’t fully in it. I realized that I would have to start again from the bottom, and got a new job as an entry-level office employee.
To put it bluntly, it’s awful. I hate feeling like my work has no meaning, and it will take a while to work my way up to any significant paycheck.
I’ve done some things on the side like tutoring, writing articles, playing music, and giving shiurim, but I don’t see a way of turning any of those into real jobs. My question is, should I stay at my job and try to move up faster? Look for another job? Go back to teaching?
Aha — so what seemed like an easy solution has become your problem!
You left a job because you felt an obligation to your students, but what about you? Just like they deserve a teacher whose “heart is in it,” you deserve — nay, you need — a job that speaks to your heart as well.
There are two categories of people: those for whom meaningful work is a bonus, and those for whom meaningful work is a must. Generally, teachers-who-quit-their-job-for-fear-of-not-putting-in-enough-heart fall into the second group.
In the Myers-Briggs personality type system, there’s a category called Thinking and Feeling. This refers to how a person naturally makes decisions. When faced with a decision (Which apartment should I choose? Should I leave this job or not? Which pair of shoes should I buy?), notice where you naturally go first: your heart or your head? People who are Feelers tend to reply to that question with “heart.”
This personality trait affects careers in a big way. The stronger a Feeler someone is, the more likely he is to care about doing work that’s meaningful to him.
You sound like a Feeler. My guess is that no matter how much you try to convince yourself otherwise, things that matter to other people, like money, status, or having “a good job,” will never be your number-one motivator. You need something deeper. Ideally, you find something that provides meaning plus a nice paycheck.
Knowing this may answer your first question — nope, it doesn’t sound like your current job is a good idea. Nor will another similar role give you the satisfaction you need from work.
I would suggest examining your previous career as a teacher. This can give you some clues moving forward. What did you love about it? What were the challenges? What do you think led to burn out? (Was it the preparation? Dealing with the parents? Following school policies you disagreed with?) Zeroing in on the true problem will help you plan for the future and avoid similar situations.
Next, allow me to share a visual aid that may be helpful. Try to envision the facade of a large office building. Imagine that each row of windows you see is the level in a specific career — first floor is level 1 (assistant teacher), second floor is level 2 (lead teacher), third floor is level 3 (program director), and so on.
There’s a common misconception that when people change careers they will need to go all the way back down to level 1, and slowly start the ascent again. The good news is that this isn’t true! It’s your job to make sure that even if you are changing careers, you are always moving vertically, not horizontally. This means that you choose a new career that appreciates and builds on your experience and background, even if it’s not the obvious next step for most people in that role.
Let’s explore some possible vertical moves for a teacher with your experience. Based on your other side gigs, I’d think of things like: podcast host, magazine editor, software trainer, curriculum designer, or course creator. Of course, these are very general assumptions. In order to make a real decision, we’d need to clearly define your best skills and personal goals.
What these all have in common, though, is using your teaching background as a foundation instead of viewing it as a time investment gone wrong.
Remember that everything you’ve done up until this point in your life has simply been preparation for what you are now capable of achieving. And that is today’s lesson, dear teacher.
Shaina Keren is a career consultant who helps people discover and create careers that fit their best talents, interests, and life goals. She also advises businesses on hiring and keeping “the right people in the right seat,” in a win-win approach to growing businesses and careers.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 948)
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