Teaching middle school has taught me a lot about life. I constantly tell my students that I think I learn more from them than they do from me. When I’m frustrated by their behavior, I try to step back and put myself in their shoes. I remind myself that their brains aren’t fully developed—they’re barely human!
One thing I’ve learned is that their response to “no” is significantly different than their response to “not right now.” The idea that I am definitively telling them they cannot do something, period, is much more unbearable than the idea that I’m telling them they can’t do it at this moment, but that they can hold out hope for doing it later.
This translates to adults’ outlook on life as well. When I feel like the universe—God, fate, whatever you want to call it—is definitively barring me from doing something, it bothers me. It bothers me because I want to know why. Why can’t I have this thing that I want? Do I not deserve it? Have I not worked hard enough for it? Sometimes I feel like I’m holding myself back, which is even more frustrating.
What I often don’t realize is that sometimes what I think is a “no” is simply a “not right now.”
We often downplay the importance of timing. We say that if we’re willing to work for something, timing doesn’t really matter. This may be true in some cases, but more often, timing is vastly important.
We’ve all heard the old adage “The right thing at the wrong time is still the wrong thing.”
I spent years trying to figure out what that meant. If something is right, it’s right anytime, isn’t it? The older I get, the more I realize that sometimes timing really is our biggest obstacle to overcome.
I think back on major life decisions I’ve made, like choosing to change careers and move to a new city.
I was 26 when I made those choices, and I can’t imagine having made the decision to go into teaching at an earlier age. I wouldn’t have had the skills or patience necessary to be successful in this job. It took those years of learning for me to gain the understanding required to work with middle schoolers and their parents (who are often worse than the kids themselves). Had I gone into teaching right after college, I would’ve become a statistic as one of those teachers who leaves the profession after a few years.
The timing worked out for me.
I felt a shift in my needs and wants during that time. I was no longer happy where I was, so I took steps to explore options that would make me happy and provide opportunities for personal and professional growth.
Conversely, had I stayed where I was, I would have remained stagnant and restless. Maybe I would have missed my opportunity to make that kind of move.
If I had moved to a new city where I didn’t know anyone when I was younger, I wouldn’t have had the security and self-assurance to venture out and explore on my own. I’ve spent the last three years discovering new places on my own, and it’s been the most incredible journey.
The magnitude of the experience would have been lost to me if the timing hadn’t been just right.
If I had waited a few more years, I may not have felt that I had the freedom and flexibility to take a blind leap like that. Youth affords us some level of bravery in knowing that we have time to fix things if it is a mistake.
During the years between graduating college and finally deciding on a career path, I tried several times to make similar changes, but nothing ever felt right. Sometimes I wanted it so badly that I was willing to force something that wasn’t a natural fit. These are the times when I railed against the powers that be for not giving me what I wanted. I didn’t realize the “no” I was getting was just a “not right now.”
When I finally decided on teaching in South Carolina, the stars seemed to align, and all of the pieces fell into place for me to make the move. I’m not saying it was easy.
Those big life-changing moments rarely come easily and with smooth transitions.
What I am saying is that the parts of making these changes that I thought would terrify me or that, undertaken at the wrong time, could have derailed my plans, felt natural. I was at peace with myself and my decision.
If you feel that you’re facing a definitive “no” in life, step back for a moment. Reframe your perspective, and maybe you’ll see that what you first thought was a “no” is actually a “not right now” that will end up pushing you in the direction of the path that will make you the happiest.