When I called up an old friend to tell her I was leaving my nearly 20 year career of teaching special education because the doctor said my choices were to quit or to be hospitalized she responded, “Good, you’ve been miserable in my job ever since I’ve known you.” She’d known me for 12 years! I’d always believed I loved my job. As soon as she said it I knew she was right.
There were moments where I was able to make a real difference in a child’s life. Those were pretty magical. But most days were grueling, exhausting and frustrating trying to serve kids within dysfunctional systems. Most days I felt like I was trying to empty the ocean with a thimble.
Escaping The Gilded Cage
I called the school system my gilded cage. On a teacher’s salary that gild was a bit dull, but it was a regular, reliable paycheck. Year after year I continued on feeling the bars pinching in on my wings. I wanted to stretch them. I wanted to be able to say what really needed to be said. As a representative of the school district there are potentially heavy legal and political consequences for saying the wrong thing. Daring to step out was always a secret dream. Every year there was always some other reason I couldn’t leave and I stayed on.
Until the decision was made for me. The stress was literally killing me. I’d lie in bed at night and feel my scalp tingling, the thought that went through my head was that the sensation was that it was dying. I don’t eat fast food and was craving Wendy’s 3 days a week, craving fat is a common response to stress because it stimulates serotonin production. Yet I kept losing weight. Finally one day I was sitting at my desk when an email of assigning me the responsibility that was one too may arrived in my inbox. I felt like a dark hood slid over my head. When I came to again I called a friend who is a psychologist and asked for a referral. Two days later I was out on medical stress leave.
It wasn’t until the 11th hour of my leave that I decided to quit. My only plan was a plane ticket to go kiteboarding in La Ventana Mexico to recuperate. Last minute I threw in the copy of Rich Dad, Poor Dad that had been collecting dust on my shelf for years. That was the first shift in my trajectory. I grew up completely immersed in Kiyosaki’s poor dad world of schools and usually government jobs. That was the only map of the world I had. Suddenly I had a completely new model of possibility.
Ph.D in Entrepreneurship
The next big bump in my trajectory was about a year later. I’d been struggling to get my coaching business off the ground. One day a friend greeted me with the usual, “How’re ya doin?” Instead of responding with the typical, “Fine thanks.” I was completely honest. Tired, hopeless, scared. I now knew there was this whole other possibility in life and had no idea how to make it happen. She told me someone had shared with her these two guys up in the city who apparently helped coaches figure out how to build their business. I learned everything I could from them and others like them. When I wasn’t in a seminar I was devouring books on the subject. Switching careers I had to get my 10 years worth of experience fast. While you still have to make your own mistakes and it still takes time, you can accelerate it by learning from others who have done it. Although I wasn’t enrolled in any poor dad style institution, I basically got my Ph.D. in entrepreneurship and business strategy. I now thought like an entrepreneur. I had become completely unemployable.
Breaking The Rules
Yet it still wasn’t coming together for me. I struggled to follow all the formulas and systems the way they said work to build a speaking, consulting and coaching business. I was feeling like an absolute failure. Then one day it hit me..
My formula for success as a teacher was learning the programs, not in dogmatically teaching them. I didn’t teach a system or a formula. I taught the child. I did it with confidence because I had studied how children learn in such depth and had worked with so many kids. Then it hit me. I really did have my Ph.D in entrepreneurship. I had enough information, I had learned the ways of thinking. It was time to stop following the formulas. They weren’t working for me anyway. It was time to start listening to myself.
Now I’m doing for myself what I did for my students all those years. Doing what works for me. Most of what I’m doing is “wrong”. Telling you my whole story on my about page is wrong. Combining kitesurfing, speaking, writing and consulting on one site is wrong. It may be costing me some business and it’s making it possible for me to be more authentic than a “buy my program” landing page would ever allow.
I’ve completely abandoned trying to figure out my formula and am doing in my business what made me successful as a teacher – working with the person, not marching them through a formula.