Sometimes You Have to Make the Same Mistake. Twice.

So here I am. Again. Turning in my notice to a job I’ve had for just a year.

Wait, didn’t you just do that? Didn’t you just quit your job last year?

Yes, I did. With much fanfare, I might add. It was a celebration. I truly believed that I was moving on. To what, I wasn’t sure, but I knew that this particular job was past its due date.

Here’s the thing, though. It wasn’t so much that the job was past its due date–It’s I who was past my due date.

I came to this realization the hard way–by almost immediately taking on another job in the exact same context, doing similar work, around a similar schedule. I had basically jumped from the frying pan into the fire . . .

I had fallen into the trap of “dating the same guy” over and over again. Yikes!

Instead of doing what I had set out to do, what I had promised myself I would do, which is to take some time to take stock of who I am now and how I have changed, evolved over the last ten years, I just blindly said yes to the first thing that came my way.

Fear got the better of me, as it often does. All the whatifs rose up and suffocated me. All my anxiety around money and being relevant co-mingled with their cousins, the should’ves, and before I knew it, I had made the same mistake.

Twice.

Hmmm.

So what have I learned from all this habitual mistaking?

That all good things come to an end. That no single job or hobby or book or travel destination will satisfy me forever. I am, by nature, fickle as they come, a dilettante, buzzing from one happy project to the next. But I know it will end. It always does. This is why I am reluctant to call myself a poet, for example, or a scholar, or an entrepreneur. I’ve written about this elsewhere, so it’s not an especially new revelation in and of itself, but the insight feels qualitatively different somehow.

Whereas before I conceived of this predilection as a character flaw, something I was slightly ashamed of, I now realize that my preference for variety is not a demonstration of a lack of commitment–I have, after all, remained married to the same man for almost thirty years–but rather a way to feed myself, re-seed myself.

I need the stimulation, the “reset” of a new endeavor as much as I need food and water to sustain me. Okay, so that’s a bit dramatic, but it’s true. It’s not so much the content of what I am doing that captures my imagination, but that I am doing something new, something that requires me to start from scratch.

There is something about starting from scratch that feels both exciting and dangerous to me. How can I spear this new thing and drag it back into the cave? That’s the buzz. But once it’s dead on the floor of the cave, I lose interest. The others can fight over the carcass. I am, once again, on the hunt for a new adventure.

This is why I have run one and exactly one marathon in my life. I had to figure out how to do it, and once I did, I moved on.

Now as you can imagine, this is not especially conducive to a long and sustained career. The only work I have done consistently is teach. I’ve kept it up for 17 years now. How? Why is teaching exempt from my chronic boredom?

I think it’s because each term I teach different courses to a different set of students. This keeps me fresh and on my toes. Most teachers would prefer to teach 4-5 sections of the same course–it helps with the prep and the grading–but not me. I would, any day, teach a variety of courses, different not only in content and purpose, but also in audience, from freshmen to seniors and grad students. And even when I have to teach the same course over and over again, I always redesign it –new texts, new ways of teaching, new conversations, new provocations–so as not to bore myself.

What is the lesson in this little observation?

A cliche–that the teacher is also the student.

Always.

If I am not learning, I cannot teach. Not well, at any rate. I have always thought that I like the chase of the challenge, but in reality, what I’m really after is the chase of the learning. Always there, but also always elusive, ephemeral, like a cloud in hand.

So I need a reframe here: I did not make a mistake by quitting my job; I let it go, so that someone else, who really really wants it, can have it and make it sing again.

My job (my real job) is to keep chasing the learning, to keep hitting the reset button, to level up, and to quit before the end-game.

 



Categories: Midlife

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9 replies

  1. This makes me so happy! You are an imspiration!

  2. Beautiful post. Everything you said rings true for me–esp. about the teaching. I also like to generate or start projects, get them started, make sure they are a good point and then exit. I can’t imagine running a center or anything like that for years. I am enjoying your regular posts, even if I can’t always comment. Also, regarding a post last month…about when is a good time to post….you have to see when your readers are actually reading. As long as you post consistently, they can read whenever…they’ll get to it. I post on Sat or Sun, but most of my readers don’t read it until Tuesday.

  3. Looking for a change is never a mistake. You need to ask yourself and answer what is your aim or goal when you make a change. If that is clear every change helps one to understand what you are looking for . Is it a change as a step towards the goal or your goal is wrong and one has to ponder and find the way towards your goal. From your wide reading habits and brilliant incisive writings, may be you should continue your unnerved creative instincts rather than look outwards

  4. This is an inspiring post. I am drawn to teaching because of the opportunities for renewal that it offers me every semester. Self-knowledge is power, and the way you articulate that here encourages me.

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