Sometimes, Our Biggest Mistakes Teach Us What We Need To Learn The Most

woman in laundromat
Kristopher Roller

I think I’ve made a huge mistake.

I quit my job without having another lined up, something I’ve been told to never, ever do.

Flash back to last spring, toward the end of my fourth year as a teacher. I was sitting in the office with my principal, and she asked me point blank if I was planning on returning in the fall. I had been running at full speed for four years, always trying, and seemingly never succeeding, to do it all.

Being a “good” teacher meant constantly being on top (better yet ahead) of deadlines, having cute data charts posted showing student growth, contacting parents daily, having detailed, pages long lesson plans with formative and summative assessments. Lessons that were engaging and curated to student interests and involved movement and led to mastery of the objective in a perfect way, facilitating the learning without giving students the answers.

Meanwhile, at the end of a 12-hour day, I was supposed to come home and do all the things that “good” people do. Go to the gym (ha), cook a nutritious meal, keep my apartment clean, spend time with my girlfriend, call my mother, meet up with friends…the list goes on. If I was lucky, I could manage to do two or three of those things. Most nights, though, I fell straight onto the couch, while my girlfriend cooked our dinner and fed our cat.

I was exhausted by the time last spring rolled around. The worst part of the exhaustion was not feeling it, but feeling that because of that exhaustion, I was a failure. Other teachers around me were planning and executing brilliant lessons, which were recorded and sent school-wide via email with subject lines like, “Watch how so-and-so checks for understanding!”

I could not help but feel that because I was never recorded, never the subject of an email, that I was not a “good” teacher. No matter how much feedback I implemented from colleagues and coaches, I never got that shining moment. I struggled to contact the requisite number of parents each day. My data charts were not that cute. I was not a “good” teacher, and yet, I was exhausted. How could this be?

How did I have the nerve to be exhausted, when I wasn’t even succeeding at my job?

So back to that moment in the office. Although I broke down in tears (mortifying) and confessed my exhaustion, I did not tell my principal then that I would not be returning. I thought it over and talked to my girlfriend, friends, and members of my professional support network. A week later I formally announced my resignation effective in June.

Immediately I felt a weight lifted off my shoulders. I had made the right decision.

Why then do I say now that I feel I’ve made a huge mistake? The answer lies in that desire to be “good,” which I thought would stop haunting me when I left the classroom. It hasn’t. Right now, I feel like I’m not a “good” partner or member of society, because I’m pretty much unemployed. I’m not making an adequate contribution to my household. I’m not doing the daily grind, like all the other “good” people in the world. That makes me feel like I’ve made a mistake.

That’s why it turns out, it’s okay to make a huge mistake. What I’ve learned is invaluable, that the desire to be “good” comes from pressure I’ve put on myself. I’ll let society take some of the blame. I think people, especially women, are generally being pushed to do more and more and more and more, until everyone feels some level of exhaustion.

Nonetheless, this huge mistake taught me that I’m responsible for feeling good enough. Validation about who I am as a person and what I’m doing with my life must come from within.

I must be ok with my performance, and know that if I’m trying my best, I am “good.” When I finally reach my goal of stepping into my next career, this huge mistake will be worth it, if I carry that lesson with me. TC mark

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