Just Do What You Love

A couple of months ago, I was over at a friend’s house for dinner. We were catching up, doing the usual chit chat about what’s been going on in our lives. I was talking about how I missed being in the classroom and that I didn’t know for how much longer I could work as a curriculum developer.

My job has changed significantly since I first started five years ago. I used to work in an office in Austin with 5 other math developers and 4 ELA folks. We were like a family. Then strategic changes occurred in our company. The ELA folks were laid off, and our math team was pared down to 3 people, including myself.

One of the three of us left for another job and the other stayed on the team but moved up to Chicago. So now I’m a team of one. Well, technically I have coworkers in Seattle, Chicago, and Columbus, but I work by myself in Austin day in and day out so it feels like a team of one.

As I mentioned in a post last week, I thrive on collaboration so this has been a challenge for me, and not surprisingly, it’s made me reminisce (admittedly with rose-colored glasses) about how exciting and satisfying it was to work with kids every day.

At various points in the past 5 years, I’ve thought about going back to the classroom. I even applied for and was offered a job in my old district a couple of years ago. I’m loathe to admit it, but money was a big reason I turned the job down. There were other factors, namely becoming a foster parent, but for the purposes of the story I’m about to get back to, money is the key factor I want to focus on.

In all but one school district in my area, your pay as a teacher is determined by the number of years you have in the classroom. The sad fact is that I’ve spent 5 years working as a curriculum writer and it counts for absolutely nothing if I go back to the classroom. It may help get me a job, but it has zero impact on my pay.

If I go back to the classroom, I go right back to the exact same pay scale that I left. Sure, there have been some adjustments across the board to the pay scale in the past 5 years, but let me be blunt: The pay cut would be around $20,000. That’s not chump change. It would be irresponsible of me not to consider that on those days when I think longingly of getting a job in a school district.

And I hate that! With a passion!

If you read my post on why I became a teacher, you know that serving others is something I’m passionate about and money is not something that I love. However, what I do love is providing for my family. Thanks to my job, my husband and I have a mortgage on a home, we paid off all the credit card debt from my teaching years, we even paid off one of my student loans, and we are actively saving for retirement. As far as being responsible goes, we’re doing well thanks to my salary.

After all that back story and set up, let’s get back to the original story I started at the beginning of this post. After dinner I was talking through these concerns with my friend and her husband, and his response was, “You should do what you love. If I didn’t love my job, I wouldn’t be doing it right now.

Since he’s a friend I brushed it off, but later in the car, I told my husband that all I wanted to do was say, “Screw you! You are a software developer who makes a six-figure salary. You can afford to buy a car with cash. You work for a company that takes you on spa trips for company meetings and gives you iPads just for the heck of it.” (And I’m not talking a work iPad. I’m talking a do-what-you-want-with-it iPad.) “You have no idea what it’s like having to choose between doing what you love and having $20,000 more per year to keep your family in a stable financial position. You don’t get that schools don’t just give iPads away for fun or send their teachers on spa trips. We are lucky to get Sharpies, colorful post it notes, and a potluck lunch put together by parent volunteers during Teacher Appreciation Week.”

Lest you think this is an issue of jealousy, it’s not. As far as our financial position is concerned, my husband and I are happy where we’re at. Other than liking to eat out more than we should and my comic book buying habit, we’re not very big spenders.

It just irritates me so much that my friend’s husband gets to do what he loves and is so extraordinarily compensated for it. His salary is nearly 4 times that of a teacher in my area! I highly doubt he’s doing 4 times as much work as any teacher I know. Sure, I could have gone into the same field, but it just doesn’t interest me. I know what I love, and I hate that in order to do it, I have to live a life of sacrifice.

I want to end with a rousing, “It’s not fair!” but that’s lame because I know that life isn’t fair and it sounds like I’m whining. I also know the whole line about “doing what you love” is a crock because sometimes you just have to do a job whether you love it or not. How insulting is it to all those folks whose livelihood is provided by working at low paying jobs? I’m sure many workers who make low wages would love to be doing something else, but it’s a reality that we can’t all do what we love.

In my case, I know that deep down I could go back to the classroom if I wanted to. I’m at least 50% sure that we could make it work financially. I’m not stuck like many other people are. However, it’s not a simple choice, and this post was all about me talking through the complexities and frustration I have pent up about having to make this decision at some point in the future. I like to call these “real-life” decisions because they’re difficult and there is no correct answer. There’s just the choice you make, and it’s up to you to craft the story that shows it was the right choice in the end.

11/30

4 thoughts on “Just Do What You Love

  1. grace

    I hear you. I, too, have been out of the classroom for five years and often think about going back, but my current salary and benefits– that have allowed me to pay off my parents’ mortgage and supplement my brother’s college tuition and live in an expensive city– are very real reasons not to. Did you see this piece about how the “do what you love” mantra cheapens labor and reinforces class divisions? It seems to echo your last two paragraphs, and I found it both gratifying and provocative: https://www.jacobinmag.com/2014/01/in-the-name-of-love/

    Reply
    1. bstockus Post author

      Thank you! That’s the exact article I had in mind as I was writing this post. I thought I shared it on Facebook a while ago, but after scrolling through my timeline, I just could not find it. (I did, however enjoy the scroll through memory lane. That ended up being kind of nice.) A friend must have posted the article and I just liked or commented on it. It’s totally something I would share on Facebook, so I’m kind of surprised with myself that it’s not there. Anyway, I’m so glad that my post reminded you of it because I was doing my best to channel the article since I couldn’t find it to share.

      So even though I work alone, I do work out of a coworking space. That’s the only thing that keeps me sane because I get to be around other professionals everyday, though they’re from completely different careers from mine. Anyway, I take short walks everyday, and for a while I kept passing this “inspirational” sign in front of an alternative medicine clinic: “If you don’t build your dreams, someone will hire you to build theirs.” Whoever wrote it must be a big believer in the “love your job” movement.

      Reply
  2. Ashli

    I was having a conversation today with a colleague who, like you and I, works with many around the US but works alone. We’ve recently started doing a weekly call with one other to exchange ideas and keep up on projects we are both on and she brought up today how nice it is to do so when often the job is isolating. If you ever want to chat with someone to break the isolation, hit me up 🙂

    And thanks to Grace for posting that article. It came to my mind as well after reading yours.

    Reply
    1. bstockus Post author

      That would be awesome! Thanks for offering.

      I am on Gchat all day so that I can talk to my coworker Meredith (the one who moved up to Chicago from Austin). Even though we do most of our communicating through a chat window, it’s nice to have that line of communication open throughout the day. We stop each other repeatedly to ask questions and get feedback. I’d be much happier if she was working in the same office as me, but at least I have someone I can stay in touch with regularly.

      And “Yay!” for someone else thinking of that article when reading my post. It’s nice to know I was successful in drawing on its ideas from my memory of reading it some months back.

      Reply

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