On my 6th birthday, my mom gave me the best gift I have ever gotten.
At this time, it was just me and my mom making it through life, and we didn’t have a lot of money. She worked in the billing department at the local hospital, and when she left that day, as luck would have it, she passed by the dumpster just as someone was throwing out a big black chalkboard. She put a big red bow on it, and walked in the front door singing happy birthday to me.Yes, that’s right. My favorite gift of all time was a chalkboard saved from a certain trashy death by mom for free. She handed me the one gift I had been requesting for the last year when I realized all I ever wanted to do in life was teach. I was so excited.
After receiving my prized chalkboard, I went onto request a “teacher’s stool” and a pointer. My mom said I’d have to wait on the stool, and she took down old curtains in our spare bedroom, and handed me the curtain rod to use as a pointer. On occasion, she’d even let me wear her high heels so I could “look like a real teacher.”
I played school before I went to school. I played school after I came home from school. I played school when I had friends over and when my cousins would come over on a Saturday night wanting to watch movies and play Barbies. I didn’t want to watch movies and play with dolls. I wanted to stand in front of my chalkboard and bestow knowledge onto people who were typically invisible or unwilling to sit and do as I told them. I was an only child, and I was used to using my imagination, but when I had friends over, I wanted to boss them around and teach them basic math. Some of them played along. Others didn’t, but all of them still make fun of me for trying to teach them things every time they wanted to come over and just have fun.
I’ll never forget that day when she came home with the big black chalkboard. Its the time that is solidified in my mind as the day I really understood what I wanted to do in my life. People are used to kids proclaiming their dream future jobs at a young age. Kids typically play around with a whole slew of possibilities—princesses, astronauts, singers, and doctors. The passion for these professions tends to wane or subside once the kid has found interest in something else, or in the case of the princess, when she figures out she’s not actually considered royalty.
I wasn’t like most kids. I didn’t want to be anything fancy or exotic. I just wanted to stand in front of a room and teach people what I knew. This desire never changed. To this day, teaching is the only thing I’m willing to wake up at 6 AM for. Teaching is the only thing that lights me and it’s the only thing that makes me feel whole and complete. When I’m a teacher, I feel like everything is right in the world. Suddenly, my neurosis about a guy, an unpaid bill, or a friend who is acting weird with me goes away. In an instant, nothing else matters and nothing else is wrong in the world. Just for those moments, I feel totally in alignment with my purpose in life.
Now, are you ready for the twist in this story? This story makes it pretty clear that I always knew what my true passion is, right? I mean how many times I have said some form of “teaching” already?
But, what I’m here to tell you is even someone like me, someone who knew at age 5 what my true passion was, even that person got pulled and lured to a different direction away from my truth for the promise of new life lessons, more time and more money.
When I was 24, I succeeded in getting offered positions at both my former high school and the college I gradated from. I loved teaching at the college level especially and when I received that position, I was living in mown personal dream world. Then, unfortunately, in the 2010 CA budget cuts, I was laid off, and there were no teaching positions at all.
Before the budget cuts occurred, I decided I wanted to make some extra money and see what it was like to start a side business. I landed on the idea of bringing Italian Ice, a popular summer product on the East Coast to the West Coast and I thought it was a great idea. I reasoned that this would be a good little business that would make me extra money and I couldn’t see a world in which it wasn’t successful. There was nothing like it on the West Coast, and it feels like summer here all of the time, so I figured I could sell all year round. Apparently, the local bank thought it was a pretty solid idea too because they gave us $40,000 to start the business without even a lick of a business plan to show. My business partner and I had absolutely no idea what we were doing, and even though we tried very hard to be responsible and good business owners, we royally screwed up most of the time and wasted a lot of money and time. By the time we realized it was a bad idea and we didn’t want to continue, we owed the bank $35,000.00. That was an enormous amount of money as far as we were concerned, and we were unwilling to quit, and we had to pay the debt, so we decided to change the product into something we thought had a larger appeal— natural cocktail mixers. There was nothing like it on the market at the time, and again, we thought we had stumbled up on a million dollar idea, or at least a 100,000 idea that would help us pay back the loan. Whether it was or not, it didn’t matter because we were locked in and we were committed to finishing what we started.
I realized about 2 years into this business that while I loved learning about how to start and run a business, and while I had finally learned how to spell “entrepreneur” and had come to terms that it was my professional title for now, I was still out of alignment with what I truly loved to do in life. I had no idea that I was in for another 4 years away from what I loved to do.
In some ways, I tried to look at everything I was doing as a teaching moment. I tried to bring on interns and menses that I could school in the how to’s of starting a business. I continued to tutor a few students independently and I even taught a few classes online, but I realized along the way that it wasn’t enough. I even said out loud that I knew I wasn’t doing what made me totally happy, but I had this idea that I had to keep going forward because I committed to this other thing which I also put a lot of time, money, and energy into, and one that I did care about a great deal. So, I stuck to my commitment and I found a way to sell the company, and then I was able to leave it and get back to my true passion.
Looking back, I don’t regret any of the paths that I chose to take. Do I wish the learning curve could have been cut in half? Yes. Do I wish that I had never gotten laid off? Probably. But, I also know that I’m proud of myself for creating something out of nothing, building it, and selling it. I’m proud that both titles, entrepreneur and teacher pertain to me because I know the skills and lessons I learned, and the experiences I had will ultimately make me a better person in either arena for future success. But, in those moments where I really realized that I was spending a huge amount of time on something I wasn’t totally in love with, those moments were torture and they ate at a part of my soul.
So, which that in mind, WHIL?
I have learned that no matter how much time and energy you can save, no matter how much money you can make, if you’re doing something that is out of alignment with what you’re meant to do on this earth, you are likely to suffer at some point as a result. I’m sure there are a few souls out there who are capable of being happy despite doing something that is totally out of alignment with their true purpose, but that is not true for the vast majority of us.
And, if you’re anything like me, you need to learn these lessons on your own. I could tell you to follow your heart and do what you love a hundred times, and it won’t matter, because you like to take, as my favorite singer, Brandi Carlile, says, “the hard way home,” and that’s okay. I get it. I certainly have to. But, in the off chance that I catch you reading this before you have to make a decision about what you spend your life doing, I hope you read this and you’re inspired to stay true to your path because in doing so, you will be truly happy and content with a life that feels whole and complete without you having to do much work at all.