Turn and Face the Strange

Why is it so easy to get comfortable? We call ourselves proponents of change and say that we welcome it, but we settle into this state of happy lethargy and contentment. We might not be fine with where things are or where we are with them, but we’ll choose to be (or at least say we are) because it makes it easier and then we don’t have to think about it. When did it become favorable to never want to push ourselves or test our boundaries in any and all areas of our lives?

I’m not going to tell you that I’m any kind of great example of an evangelist of change. I’m not going to tell you that I’m constantly pushing my own boundaries and trying new things. Anyone who has ever eaten a meal with me knows that there’s no way every aspect of my life can be devoted to stepping it up and trying new things. I can barely bring myself to eat red meat.

I do find myself, though, more open-minded now than ever before. I find myself more receptive to and welcoming of change. Most importantly, I find myself less afraid. Of life. Of the people around me. Of change.

I crave change so greatly in so many areas of my life that I can actually taste it. It’s sweet. Feeling bored and stuck and fixed and permanently one-dimensional in every aspect of my life and in my relationships is getting old. It tastes like stale, unsalted Saltine crackers.

For years now, even when I had my life together — complete with a job and my own place to live — certain family members would call me every time a teaching job was in the paper. They’d call me and try to convince me to move home, but I didn’t want to.

And then I had to.

And once I was here and unemployed, you better believe those phone calls started coming in weekly. Sometimes even twice a week. I appreciate these attempts to help me and regardless of how this next part sounds, I am grateful for it. But the problem is that I’m so stubborn. I don’t want a hand-out. If I need or want help, I want to know that I asked for it.

The more these bits of info came my way and the more I had to spend 15 minutes at a clip answering follow-up questions as to what I had done with this information, the less interested I became in teaching. In fact, the entire teaching profession, while I remain very anchored to it and interested in it, feels like an elephant sitting on my chest. I have never said this out loud to anyone before: I’ve been suffocated by teaching. I don’t want to do it right now, but not for lack of love.

I cannot iterate enough that I remain very passionate about education and teaching because I do enjoy it — it just isn’t for me at the moment. Is that fear speaking? Maybe. I’d prefer to think that it’s also my more pragmatic side — the one that understands that hanging on to teaching right now would be foolish given the state of education in the US.

But beyond that, I understand now that I was hanging on to teaching because I didn’t know anything else. That had been my goal for so long — since I was a really young child of two or three years of age — that I thought that letting go of it and changing my mind would disappoint everyone who had believed in me and supported me to get there. Not only that, but I was afraid of disappointing myself. I’d always thought that it would be a great story upon my retirement to be able to say that I had a dream when I was three. I made it happen, and I made a life out of it. My dream did not include the phrase, “I was wrong.” And anyway, after more than 25 years of dreaming, how could I just up and decide to change the way things were?

Because I needed to.

One of the most important things I’ve learned recently is that we only have so much control. When we attempt to control any situation too much based on what we think should happen, we deny ourselves any kind of organic growth. We can guide situations, of course, and steer them in a direction. Basic decisions remain a factor, obviously. But the truth is, if we don’t let things evolve the way they’re trying to go on their own, then everything gets stale. Everything tastes like five-year-old unsalted Saltines.

But we don’t always want to let things evolve on their own because we’re afraid of where it’s going to lead us. After all, there’s always the chance that things could end up being really bad. Okay, but there’s also the chance that they might not. Experience can inform ideas, but it can’t give you a definite outcome.

That’s how we end up settled and miserable (at least, in my opinion).

So I’m working on turning and facing the strange. It’s really amazing what you’ll come up with when you open your mind a little bit.

In January, I was perusing Craigslist for writing jobs. I came across an advertisement for an internship as a blogger with an up-and-coming website, now called Business2Community.com, that was, at that point, devoted to technology, social media, and marketing. I emailed and said that I was interested, but I wasn’t a student. Could I still do an internship? Furthermore, I used social media and I’d consider myself an enthusiast, but marketing? Technology? My knowledge was very sparse.

“Give it a try,” the founder said to me during our phone call. “It gets easier.”

I threw myself head-first into this position. The first few days were incredibly difficult. I sat for hours trying to think of a topic. Then I sat for hours reading about it and taking notes. Next came a few more hours to write something that sounded somewhat literate.

When I wasn’t writing, I started reading articles posted to the site from other bloggers and started to realize that some big industry names were posting here. There was something I could learn. So I started reading about marketing and how social media plays a role in it. I kept writing, and I seemed to find my niche. I started a series of feature pieces on SXSW Interactive Award nominees, and through that, I made contacts and could see people reacting to my writing.

First, Pencils of Promise got ahold of the piece I wrote about them. They tweeted (twote?) a link to it, adding how much they loved it. Then a Canadian design firm sought me out to write something about their project. After that, the founder of Memolane commented on my article about that site, giving all B2C readers an invite code to try out their service, which was still in beta testing at that point. I Googled my name and found some guy in Ohio talking on Twitter about what a great “newish tech writer” I was. At the very end of my run on SXSW, I wrote an article about the AP Timeline Reader. The creating firm found it and linked to me. I started a series of on-going communications with their Communications Director. Two weeks ago I submitted a guest blog post that they asked me to write (it hasn’t posted yet or I’d link to it).

I considered myself a writer before, but since I backed off of some of the fear of change and moved instead toward “just letting it all happen,” I’ve grown as a writer. I have skills and interests that I never even knew that I had, and I love it. I’m honestly not sure that any of it would have ever been discovered if I hadn’t decided to let myself evolve in a new way. Or at least a new-ish way. I’m not even sure I’d be taking writing this seriously if the teaching thing had worked out in a different way.

Everything happens for a reason.

Pretty soon my interest in the communications field and in marketing started to grow. I was doing this blogging thing every single day (I still am), and while I was learning so much, I often found myself wishing that I could do it and get paid.

Duh!

My interest moved beyond just the B2C site. It moved into a new Twitter account that was set up to start creating my own brand (new knowledge in action). I spent days researching agencies and firms who do the kinds of things I love doing — writing and social media — and reading the backgrounds of the people who work there. You know what I discovered?

There are a lot of English majors in those fields. Sure, there are communications and PR and marketing majors there too, but there are a lot of English majors. Hope dies hard, so I started adding some of these companies on Twitter. Then I found other industry professionals and added them. To my surprise, many of them started following me back. The coolest part about all of it is that I can sit and watch that Twitter feed all day, and I’m constantly learning. Sure, I’m not going to have a piece of paper with a school seal stamped on it saying that I got a formal education, but I’m still getting an education.

Never in my life has communications or marketing even blipped up on my radar. But there you have it. Recently I spent the money to purchase my own domain name and start building what I’ve begun affectionately referring to as “the mullet of websites.” It’s a hybrid between a personal professional site infused with my character and sense of humor… and an interactive social media resume. It’s a work in progress.

And it’s reminded me how time-consuming web-building can be. But on the plus side: I get to practice and build those skills, too.

Letting go of my teaching dream was really hard, but it didn’t mean letting go of my writing dream. It was a matter of perspective and I had to shift a little bit (or maybe more than a little bit). When I did, when that teaching door closed, other doors opened. Or maybe they’d been open for a while and I was just too stubborn and afraid to go through them.

I don’t know if they’ll lead anywhere or not, but my heart’s telling me to go find out.

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4 thoughts on “Turn and Face the Strange

  1. And you’re not necessarily letting go, either. Like you said, public ed down there is getting DIRE. The old skool (ho HO get it?) 35 year public school career followed by retirement model seems to be dying out, up here anyway- my Mom’s retiring from a 25 year career teaching in the Ontario Public system this year, and they have the world’s craziest most bullet- proof pension EVER, but even with their protected funds and bulldoggy union, I think she may be one of the last ‘generation’ to have that kind of career. Hooray for what you do with an English major! You’ll be an even better teacher for doing all your different adventurous things. And not starving to death while you do so. :)
    PS. seriously, man. Congratulations!
    PPS. also seriously, man- everybody sending job postings and then GRILLING me on exactly why I don’t seem to be instantly therefore gaining a career all thanks to them? like you say, not that I’m totally ungrateful, but, uh…. fuck off? It so needs to stop. haha

    • Haha — I’m jealous of your mom’s career :) but, you’re right. Things here are pretty dire. And the people trying to help… that gets so frustrating because I know they’re trying to help and that I can’t afford to be too choosy, but really… I feel like they don’t listen to me. So it’s time to go forth.

  2. I don’t have any especially novel words of wisdom here – other than to say that I think there’s no harm in trying something on only to realize it’s not a perfect fit.

    It’s no less brave to acknowledge that and move on than it is to stay and force it.

    We try things on. Some things just fit better than others. After all, who wants to be stuck in an ill-fitting anything?

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