There are people in the world who travel the highways of their lives forever on cruise control. Not that they don’t encounter a few speed bumps and gravel roads along the way. And sure, they get stopped by a blown tire or overheated radiator once in awhile. But for the most part, these people seem to get wherever they’re going without a map, without asking for directions…and without running out of gas. I know because I am one of those people.
I'm not saying my life has been easy. I didn’t finish college the first time around, and I didn’t become a newspaper reporter or actress like I dreamed of in high school. But I fell into a fairly interesting career without much effort or stress, raised a family, and lived a life I was happy to call my own. Of course, there were moments of darkness, nights when the tile bathroom floor chilled my feet as I curled beside the tub and cried myself through silent heartache. There was death, and the jarring, empty void where my father once lived. And then divorce — the amputation of what had once been whole and healthy. Still, I didn’t know what it meant to have the fabric of my identity ripped apart; to be shaken to the core by the knowledge of how much I didn’t know. I didn’t understand that I was one of those cruise-control people until I started my second act.
After an accidental career in marketing communications that ended abruptly two years ago when my company downsized the marketing department and eliminated my position, I decided it was time, not just for a new job, but for a new career. So I entered an alternative teacher preparation program called, appropriately enough, Career Switchers. I had vague, formless ideas about becoming an English teacher and all of them shimmered with golden idealism. As we began to peel back new layers of learning about curriculum, designing lessons, and managing the classroom, the stirrings of unease began to move through my soul. With each class, I could feel the edges of my comfort zones being pulled and stretched. The exhilaration of learning was like a drug, and I craved more even as my sense of security grew more ragged.
When I went back to school to finish my bachelor's degree last year, I was working full-time and raising a family. I thought I understood hard work and frustration. But my degree was in creative writing, and my education was designed to mold me into a writer, an identity I'd held for all of my adult life. I knew nothing about real struggle, nothing about what it meant to challenge my way of being in the world. And I knew absolutely nothing about being an English teacher.
As of today, I’m nearly halfway through the Career Switchers program. Most Saturdays, when I come home from class after seven hours of instruction, I lock myself in the bathroom and sob. I move through my days feeling shaken and uncertain about whom I am. Change is nothing like the movies. It isn’t neat or painless, and it isn’t accompanied by an inspirational soundtrack (usually). Becoming a teacher is messy and exhausting work. I cling to the small successes, and I wonder if I will ever learn enough and know enough to be a good teacher. So many things could go wrong; yet, I linger on that drop of hope that tingles like champagne on the tip of my tongue. I linger on what could be — what I could be, finally, now that I am no longer living on cruise control.
I love reading stories about people who’ve reinvented their lives, and am often envious of the effortless grace with which they seem to transition from one stage of their lives to the next. But here is the truth: The effort is monumental. It is struggle, and there is sweat and tears, so many tears, and rage. It is rage against change, and rage against the cruise-control life that brought you to this place. It is struggle. It is hell. And it is the grace of that moment when you look in the mirror and into the eyes of the person you have always known, deep down, that you could become. And when you cry, it is okay, because these are the tears of rebirth. And you have earned them.