“I choo-oo-oo-oose mee-ee-ee-ee.” Sung to the tune of Sara Bareilles’ “I Choose You.” That’s the tune I hummed to myself in the days after I handed in my two-week’s notice at my last job. I’ll put the song here so you can listen to it while you read this post.
It was so difficult for me to arrive to this conclusion: that I choose myself. It took me years to get to that point and it happened in phases.
Phase 1: Recognizing the Toxicity
I want to start out by saying that I honestly loved what I did for a living, but what I did for a living did not love me back. And while I’m being honest, the “for the living” part was a farce. By the end of my teaching phase in life, I felt like I was working way too hard just to have enough money for health insurance and a place to sleep at night—and sleeping at night was pretty much all I had to look forward to once I got out of work.
A few months ago, I wrote about my struggles with work-life balance in my teaching career. If I wasn’t physically at work, I was thinking about it 24/7: planning lessons, grading assignments, responding to emails—even on weekends. I poured everything I had into it, and some, and it just let me. I never once felt like what I had to offer was enough.
My students were phenomenal. It was hardest to walk away from them, but I had to be real with myself and know that, mentally, I would have had nothing to offer them if I kept trying to force myself to please this thankless profession. Sometimes, being a teacher felt like being in a relationship with an emotional abuser; it treats you like garbage and holds your kids hostage.
Phase 2: Admitting I Deserved Better
The thing about toxic relationships is that we keep coming back to them. For about eight years, I did that. I kept going back, despite multiple run-ins with depression and other health concerns. I pushed myself beyond my limits because I internalized messages that I just needed to be better. Be better at teaching. Be better at time management. Be better at maintaining boundaries.
I ignored the fact that work was constantly violating my boundaries and then gaslighting me afterward and making it feel like it was my fault. I ignored all the signs that I was in a bad relationship.
But long story short, after some therapy, a few books, and a couple of influential podcasts, I started taking more responsibility for myself. I realized that I had no power to change the way work viewed or treated me. I could only change the way I viewed and treated myself, and once I started to do that, I realized we had to break up. Immediately. I deserved better, and moving forward, I’d accept nothing less.
Phase 3: Deciding I Wanted More
Despite the pandemic, this last year as a teacher was my greatest, on a personal level. My paradigm shift in how I viewed myself led to periods of great creativity, productivity, and learning. But I started to feel very limited in how I could use my talents. There was nowhere to grow. So, I thought I would focus on doing the best I could in my isolated classroom, but the reality was it didn’t matter how well I did. No one really cared.
I could write pages on this topic but I’ll just come out and say that what I was doing wasn’t enough. For me. I loved my students and families. Relationally, this has been one of the most rewarding years as a teacher. But intellectually, it was restrictive.
Even some of my students saw it. I feel like God sent them to speak to me, because at all the right times, a kid would stay after class and say something like “You have too much potential for this role,” or randomly raise their hand in class and say, “This place is not a good fit for you—it’s too small.” True stories. I don’t share these stories for my own vanity, but I share them because they affirmed what I’d been trying to ignore: that I wanted more in life for myself. I’ve spent so many years pouring into other people and guiding them toward their dreams while denying my own. It’s time I go after what I want.
One day, someone’s going to ask me why I left teaching. But they’re going to say it like how dare you? I’m going to remind them that it’s really none of their business, but I’ll also say that I did the best thing for myself. I chose me.