My Real Job

If you’re not a Facebooker, you might not know about the “memories” feature, where, occasionally, Facebook will show you a photo (only visible to you unless you share it) from “this day a year ago” or sometimes even 5 or 6 or 7 years ago. 

Today, the picture Facebook shared with me was one my French friend, visiting me a year ago at this time, captured of me in my classroom. I’m writing on the board. My hair is much longer and darker than it is now, and I’m probably about 10 pounds heavier in the picture, too, for the record. I hardly recognize myself. 

But these physical differences are not the reasons I do not recognize myself in that picture. I don’t recognize myself because I’m not in that picture. That girl writing on the board… that’s not me, merely my body. It’s not my soul or my passions or my courage. It’s not my vulnerability or my strength or my pride. I do not recognize the girl in that picture now, and I did not recognize myself during the entire blur that was that year of teaching 5th grade. 

To most people, I explain my leaving by unhappiness. I politely say that it was not my thing, I was not enjoying myself, and I wanted to explore other options. Hence, most people assume I will one day go back, and I might, but my quitting was not me taking a break. It was me becoming myself, and I am just getting started. 

I have a tendency to refer to teaching as my previously held “real job” and thus shrug off what I do now as, not a fake job, but definitely not a “real job.” When I was teaching, I was squeezing in time to write and paint and create when I could, but I knew that even if I did manage to sell some art, this wouldn't be a “real job” like teaching was, and to some extent, I still believe now, that even though what I’m doing pays and requires much effort and time, it’s not a “real job.”

In listening to a powerful podcast by author Elizabeth Gilbert called “Magic Lessons,” I saw for the first time how wrong I was about my own jobs. She asked her guest on the show, “What do you do?” and the woman responded, much like I would have, “Well, I’m an advertising executive as my, quote un-quote real job, but I’m also a storyteller.” Gilbert intervened and said, “Now wait a minute, advertising is not your real job, and you know it’s not, because you’re the one who put quotes around it! Call your life by its real name.” 

And man, this stuck with me. I’ve gotta quit calling teaching my “real job” when everything I’m doing now is not only real, but much more real than what I was doing last year.

In another episode with another guest, she was talking about how people do things well—like sing or draw or plant a garden or cook— and suddenly people start to say things like, “Wow, you should be a singer/artist/gardner/chef!” She brings up a point that feels so true for me it feels like home. She says, (and I paraphrase):

“It’s kind of funny because… you already are. You are not an artist because someone tells you you are. You just are. And you’re not a singer because other people call you a singer. The only thing that makes you a singer is if you sing!”

I do not need other people’s validation to be an artist or a maker or an entrepreneur or a speaker or a writer or a mentor. I only thought I did. 

My life now as all of those different things is my real life. This is who I am. There are things we must do, sometimes, in order to sustain our real lives—like work a day job—but that day job is not our “real job.” It is simply our worldly job that enables us to pursue our spiritual, universal, personal job. Our very very real job. 

My real job is making. It is mentoring and ideating (is that a word?) It is writing and sharing and encouraging and inspiring. I’m more than okay with that. Why did I need so many other people to be okay with it? 

I didn’t.

And I don’t. 

But I am explaining it to you, anyway. 

Today, I recognize myself more and more everyday. I have come such a long way from those days in the classroom, those days that were much deeper than unhappiness. They were a different identity entirely, and I think that becoming myself is a much more real job than that classroom could have ever been for me. 

Perhaps one day I’ll go back. I have not sworn off teaching. I have only sworn off living a life that isn't mine. Only real jobs for me from here on out.