I made the right choice to quit teaching three years ago. At that point, I was severely burned out and depressed. I lost several pounds due to stress. I tried talking to my principal about it and she said that “ if you’re not working 80 hours and crying every day, you’re not doing your job.”
It was so bad that my mom, a lifelong educator, encouraged me to quit. As did my dad, as did my friends (many of whom were also teachers). I felt so much better when I was out of that environment. I even was able to get a job to tide me over at a soup restaurant that paid well.
I made the right choice to quit teaching, so why did I feel so much shame going from classroom to cafe?
I had no regrets about quitting teaching, but I was embarrassed to work in a kitchen. Again.
Despite the majority of my jobs being in kitchens in high school and college, I naively held onto the belief that these working class jobs were only temporary. Someday I was going to become a teacher, which was so much nobler and worthier than working in a kitchen — again, my younger self had a lot to learn.
This isn’t to say that teaching isn’t noble or worthy, teachers are superheroes. But what I failed to realize was that not being a teacher didn’t mean I was less of a person. My self-worth was not tied to what I did for a living.
So there I was, thinking lowly of the work I was doing…
But this attitude was entirely self-imposed. I remember working my last catering event after graduating college, grinning from ear to ear and thinking I’ll never have to serve people food again.
Pro tip: avoid using words like “never” and “always.” They only set you up for feeling like a failure. Second pro tip, don’t discount the work that you are doing! My poor mindset focused solely on my own (perceived) shortcomings and drenched me in shame.
Had I different mindset, maybe I would have focused on how I made more working at the cafe than I did teaching in Arizona. I didn’t have to work weekends, I worked 40 hours a week, I got free lunch every day — hugely important when you’re broke in an expensive city — and guess what? It was the break from teaching I desperately needed. I liked the work I did.
Because of that job, I was able to stay in Colorado for several months longer. I eventually applied for and got a job in Fort Collins, where I got tons of writing and SEO experience, made some incredible friends, and met the man I love and am living with now.
I spent so much time trying to hide my restaurant reality instead of trying to embrace the opportunities it afforded me. In short, I was a snob.
Which brings me to my main point:
There’s no such thing as a “small” job.
If you’re working at a factory and providing for your family, good for you.
If you’re working at a factory just because, great!
If you’re working in a restaurant and are figuring out your next steps, that’s fine.
If you’re working at Walmart, you should not feel embarrassed.
If you’re doing sex work, do what you need to do.
If your line of work falls outside the law but doesn’t hurt people, I’m not here to judge. Hell, even if it does hurt people, I still don’t know your circumstances.
(For anyone questioning that last part, know that the rate of unemployment in places like Wisconsin is <3% for white workers and almost 10% for Black workers. Legal work can be very hard to come by for many people and no person should be judged for trying to live.)
If you’re cleaning schools or hospitals or office buildings, we need you. We thank you.
Capitalism likes to belittle certain professions. Don’t listen to it.
In a society that places so much value on work, it’s funny how jobs are deemed as acceptable or unacceptable. I fell into this trap, but I’ve thankfully fallen out of it.
I quit my marketing job with no plans. I worked as a tour guide. I was fully prepared (and still am) to work in a restaurant again. This transition has gone so much more smoothly because I’ve finally learned my lesson.
You are not as successful as your job.
Everyone knows people who are wildly successful in their careers but are severely lacking in areas outside of work. That’s why success is not measured in accomplishments alone.
You are successful if you are a good person. You’re successful if you take care of yourself, and show love to yourself and others. You are successful if you sing loudly in the shower because you love to sing in the shower, regardless of how in tune you are. You are successful if you have a willingness to learn and admit when you’re wrong.
Your success is made of countless tiny but crucial moments and actions. The job you have plays but a small role in your overall being. And because it plays only a part in your life, the work you do does not define your worth. There’s no such thing as a small job.