The Daily Grind
As I begin my journey into running my own business and fulfilling my career dreams, I’m still fulfilling current obligations: namely, my teaching contract. Spring is an insanely busy time for teachers: trying to balance curriculum with testing, field trips, sports, and all of those year-end activities: prom, banquet, state competitions, concerts, awards nights, and graduation. My work obligations, together with my own children’s activities, have pushed me almost to the breaking point this year, despite my best efforts to manage stress and use this time as a learning experience. As I lay in bed one morning, dreading another frantic day, I thought about the different jobs I’ve had over the years, and what made this one stressful. Although I’ve had a couple of ideal work situations, I realized that, in most cases, one or more aspects of the jobs I’d held were stressful to me.
My first “real” job was at my small home town’s first and only fast-food restaurant: McDonald’s. It had just opened and was immensely popular. I sweated in grease-scented polyester and tried to fill the orders as quickly and efficiently as possible. It was hectic: who was waiting for this cheeseburger-no-onion? Who had let the fries run out, leaving me to face my impatient, hungry customers and tell them they’d have to wait (heaven forbid) five or ten minutes? Although I eventually learned the routine, this was just the beginning of my food service career: work-study in the dining hall would come later, cleaning up after the pranksters who would leave a filled glass upside-down on a tray so that there was no way to remove it without spilling. This was followed by waitressing at the local grill, whose drama would have made for really good reality TV. It only took a few minutes of reflection to realize that, early on, work and stress had become synonymous for me.
Saving the World
Not long after graduating from college, I enrolled at the University of Pittsburgh to get my Master’s in teaching. Pitt had an option to fulfill the student teaching requirement with a paid internship in the city school district. With no small amount of trepidation, I enrolled, feeling that I needed the stipend to pay for school. I was placed in two magnet high schools that gave me a false sense of confidence about my inner-city teaching skills. When I was hired on full-time, I was unprepared for the intense stress of working in an out-of-control school in a dangerous neighborhood. One glass of wine after dinner turned into two. Though I knew I was not coping well, I cared about my students. If I didn’t help them, who would?
What I came to realize, after a few years, was that I was no good to anyone if I couldn’t first help myself. This notion has come full-circle now; though I once again feel that I’m abandoning my students, what kind of role-model can I be if I don’t live my own truth?
A New Outlook
I am now trying to re-examine my unconscious ideas about work: does it always have to be stressful, or is the adage, “if you find your passion, you’ll never work another day in your life” really true? Do I deserve to be happy and fulfilled in my career? Do I really believe I can succeed, or am I allowing negative self-talk to sabotage my efforts?
What about you? What are some messages you’ve internalized that may not be helping you to achieve your goals? How can you re-write those messages to boost your efforts? Identifying our unconscious ideas and re-programming ourselves can be a powerful way to change our lives for the better.