Sow. Cultivate. Bloom.

An online journal of an uprooted life.

Archive for the tag “Quitting”


One year ago today I returned to a cold, rainy dark place after teaching in a hot, humid sunny place. It was, on many levels, a shock. The biggest shock is that I quit. I quit teaching. I’ve never made a good quitter so it’s been a long slow acceptance/denial/acceptance cycle.

Oh sure, I probably quit plenty of things in my past, but this one was BIG. It was my career. I hadn’t padded my way out of it into a lucrative other job. I hadn’t saved up thousands of $$. I didn’t even have a car anymore. Or much of a working computer. 

What I did have was an utter sense of loss and failure. 

In the last year, I’ve dug out from under that feeling but it still loves to rear it’s ugly head. I run into former colleagues and they ask what I’m doing now, and I internally cringe, when I say I’m a barista. It’s like ripping the band-aid off all over again. But I’ve done it so many times now, it stings less and less. 

Because the truth is, on many levels, I’m ten tons happier. What I am not is ten tons of financially stable or less stressed.  Since last December, I’ve worked as a virtual community organizer for a wonderful education non profit (temporary), as a barista at two different places, subbed a handful of times and worked for Burning Man. I have applied for (I’ve lost count) countless jobs for which I am absolutely capable and qualified for and never heard a word. At this point, I’d love a rejection letter!!

I’ve consistently worked between 24-30 hours a week. I’ve tried to get more hours but there are none to give. Because I do not have a car, I commute via bus. My bus ride to/from work is upwards of 45 minutes each way,  which pretty much bars me from getting a viable second job. I suppose it isn’t impossible, it is just that I have my limits. 

I’ve learned that it’s one thing to do the food service job in one’s 20s and a whole other beast in one’s 30s. My body has finally adjusted and I cannot boast too many aches and pains anymore. When I first started? My calves, feet, hamstrings would all conspire to make my lower back a mess. I thought I’d done a lot of standing when I taught but I was ever so wrong. In the first few months at this gig, I’d have days when I couldn’t do much else after getting home other than sit or lay down. 

It became clear pretty early on that being able to buy groceries was going to be a struggle. A friend urged me to apply for food stamps and I did. I began receiving $113/month. In May I took a barista job much farther from home with a $2.31 raise per hour and the possibility of health benefits after 90 days. I failed to realize the daily bus commute would cancel out any extra monies earned. Because the weather was nice I occasionally rode the 12 miles one way, on my bike, to save money. 

Around June I received a letter from DSHS asking me to please update my status. I am not a good liar so I reported my new job. This magically made me then receive $16/month. In late October I received a letter that my food stamps were being cut to $15/month and finally last month, they were cut altogether, with the explanation that I make too much to continue to receive benefits. Funny because there was no change in my income. Except I now was having $99.84 taken out of my paycheck every two weeks for my newly activated health benefits. 

I feel a little remiss giving so much information about my financial state. It’s not to garner pity, but rather to tell the truth. In the last year I’ve gained a much different perspective on the great recession and how a growing number of people in this country barely live. The luxury of savings is lost on me now. My dreams of continued world travel are effectively on hold until who knows when. My ability to pay off my credit cards is a joke and my student loans are on deferment.  I live paycheck to paycheck. In mid September after a bout with strep throat, and at an especially stressful time about money, I developed shingles. (Thank goodness for health insurance!) My experience has me wondering what other realities hard working folks in our country face day-to-day. My empathy has never been more honed. 

All this said, I am still privileged. I could ask my family for money and have. However, they are not in a position to help as they grow older and deal with cancer (in remission) and a major stroke (now recovered from).

I’m white. I’m educated. English is my first language.  In the social welfare system, these three facts give me privilege. 

So, all this reality doom and gloom aside, I’ve come to some hard earned ah-has. First and foremost, I’ve taken a long hard look at my worth. Not my financial worth but my self-worth. Early on (and I still knee jerk this) whenever anyone new asked me what I do I’d say “I’m a barista, but I used to be a teacher.” I STILL do this. It drives me bonkers that I still knee jerk “…but I used to be…!” It tells me I live in a society where the pervasive default resides in what I do. That my career choice is who I am. 

Nay, it is not.

I’ve come to realize my self worth isn’t in what I do, but rather in how I make do.

My self worth is worth far far more than what others think. My self worth is in the vocal jazz lessons I meticulously save my tip monies for, in the meals I plan (so that my little bits of money go far) without losing my love for good food, in how I’ve managed to help friends by offering them a literal place to stay and how I can now dye my hair crazy colors without my ability to do my job being questioned. 

The other incidentals of quitting are that I’ve learned to be really creative and resourceful. I can now plan five meals based on one baked chicken. Sure I could do that before, but I didn’t have to do it out of necessity. I’ve learned to not dwell too much on what I don’t have but rather to try to stay focused on what I do have. Because I am not exhausted all the time, I think I’ve learned to savior things more. Every Tuesday or so we go to the local ice cream shop and play pinball, eat ice cream and sometimes enjoy $2 cider/beer. We dance around the house to Bollywood music. We make sure to try to see art on the nights it’s free. I’ve been able to read SO MANY books this year.

Lastly, a note about teaching. I miss my kids fiercely. I wonder where they are and how’re they’re doing. I fret for my former colleagues. From the outside looking in, the environment for teachers and students doesn’t appear to be getting any healthier. I encourage all parents (I do this on the bus when I strike up conversations) to help teachers by opting their children out of standardized tests. Every parent I’ve talked to, has had no idea they could opt their child out. Go here, spread the word. Opt out. 


One Year

Tomorrow will mark one year living as an expat. I recently felt the need to clean out my little leather folio where I keep my passport and came across a much cherished letter I’ve carried with me from country to country for 10 years.

Back in college when I thought I wanted to be a journalist, the campus paper was silly enough to let me write a column. After one particular column in which I laid out my dream to travel cross-country collecting stories I received a typewriter typed letter. Here is what it said,

“Dear K__________,
I hope the enclosed article will inspire you to follow your dreams.

At age 40, I’m still following mine. Unfortunately, people my age are always spouting unwanted advice. Here goes…

1.) Become yourself.
Not as easy as it sounds. Years from now most of your peers will have become their parents–or worse.
Ask yourself: What makes me different from everyone else on earth?

2.) Don’t be afraid to make yourself happy.
A great many people reason away their happiness for a comfy, dull security.
Ask yourself: What do I enjoy doing more than anything else?

3.) Never give up.
It’s unoriginal. Don’t give in. Don’t sell out. Never ever, ever, ever quit.
Ask yourself: What do I absolutely have to accomplish before I die?

Don’t wait until graduation. Hope a Greyhound with ____ and go to Portland for the weekend. Get a van and spent next summer on the road. But whatever you do, don’t give up on the coloring books.

Best of luck to you both.”

The timing for having rediscovered this gem and its message feel all the more useful now that I am 10 years post graduation and one year having lived 4000+ miles away from home. And there is a bittersweet feeling as I reflect on the last year. It has been really tough. I can’t times I’ve really wanted to quit and head home into the arms of waiting friends and family. I’ve cried so hard that I’ve woken up the next day with swollen eyelids.

Basically I’ve shaken myself up so much that I, for a long time since moving, questioned every aspect of the life I knew and the life I wasn’t quite living here up until about 3 months ago. I romanticized and pined for comfort and for a long time after I moved thought I wanted that comfort back.

Come to find out, I don’t want my old life back. Revisiting the letter I received 10 years ago when I was about to mark my transition into “real” life was good fodder for reflection. And by and large, without knowing it I’ve managed to live my life by those three pieces of advice. I still don’t have The Answers but I’ve carved out a life I can be proud of in all its mess and glory.

I’m largely still figuring it out–who I am, what makes me happy and not quitting. And though I see the merit in advice numero tres, I’ve been able to face a hard reality about quitting. The idea of returning to full-time teaching in the States appeals to me no more. I have no desire to put myself in the classroom or in that system in a full-time capacity for at least one year. Since moving here and continuing to teach I’ve only taken one sick day. One.

The worst I’ve had (knock on wood) is laryngitis and that was caused by fatigue. Prior to this teaching gig in another environment and country, I was sick almost all the time. This is not an exaggeration. Strep, laryngitis, the flu, a staph infection, sinus infections and numerous colds–you name it, I probably had it those 4 years teaching in the States. And here’s the thing, I’ve not had less stress since I moved abroad…in fact I think I’ve had far more. One of the main differences is, I’m trusted as a professional and I don’t have to prep kids for a meaningless test and I don’t have to follow any given curriculum.

It has been both terrifying and extremely rewarding to have basically no huge demands or requirements put on me.

And here’s what I’ve learned about being happy. Happiness isn’t some hoped for coveted mood that you attain as if it were enlightenment. No, the national obsession with happiness, now that I’ve been away from it is something I think makes us very very unhappy. I’ve lived a lot of my life, I think like a lot of Americans, convinced it is in what I do (re:my job) that I will find happiness. If I could just get the right this or the right that, then I’ll be happy. And I still have a hard time shaking this because I am, I fully admit, stepping away from teaching in search of something different in which I can hope to find some level of happiness.

But in this great quest for happiness (and reflecting on my year abroad) I’ve come to realize it isn’t one thing. It will never be one thing. Rather it is in how I chose to grow, how I chose to cry, how I chose to fall apart and pick myself back up again, how I forgive myself and how I allow myself to come home and leave work at work. That essentially I am not what I do to make a living.

Rather, the trick is in how I decide to live.

So as I look forward to the final three months of my adventure here in Costa Rica I’m keenly aware that I’ve not failed. That heading home and not returning to my profession isn’t a sign of failure. Choosing to step away to care for myself is in fact strength. I feel very grateful for the experience, space and time I’ve allowed myself to face the fear (over and over and over again) and grow. If I hadn’t moved, I can say pretty confidently that I would’ve just kept on the wheel because I was slowly whittling away my happiness for a sense of dull security. Oh sure, part of me is scared shitless, but I’m getting better and better at not listening.

I’ve become a master sunset watcher, beach stroller and a whittle the time awayer. And at letting go.

Pura vida.

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