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From Teacher to Writer: Why I'm Proud to Be Part of 'Generation Job-Hop'

After five years of teaching English, I traded in my classroom keys for bylines. And I've never been happier.


In our weekly Hustlin' series, we go beyond the pitying articles about recession-era youth and illuminate ways our generation is coping. The last few years may have been a rude awakening, but we're surviving. Here's how.

Five months ago, I packed up my backpack, flicked off the lights, and locked up my classroom. After six years of trying to mold young minds and have my very own Freedom Writers moment, I closed the door one afternoon and never looked back.

It wasn’t some dramatic episode or run-in with a student that sent me running from my South Central L.A. classroom. After years of teaching plot and paragraph structure; correcting manners and grammar; serving as a confidante, friend, and de facto parent, I’d had enough. I was exhausted and needed a break.

At 31, I’m not the first person to leave the classroom so soon. The National Education Association estimates that half of all new teachers leave the profession within five years. And I’m far from the only young person to switch careers early on. According to one study, 70 percent of Millennials plan on switching jobs when the economy bounces back, and over the course of our lifetimes, some estimate we will switch careers an average of seven times. I’m already on number four. While some see our occupational restlessness as a lack of commitment and structure, having career flexibility isn’t a bad thing. It certainly wasn’t in my case.

So what led me out of the classroom and into the freelance promised land? Despite genuinely wanting to prepare my students for “the real world,” the extra stuff—teaching to the test, sticking to a script, and feeling like I had to fight for and with my students every single day—just got to be too much. As cliché as it sounds, I wasn’t happy. Being the bad guy—to students, parents, and sometimes administrators—takes its toll. And while teaching is noble, and necessary, and one of the best gigs I’ve ever had, at the end of the day, it left me tired, drained, and unable to do what I really loved: writing. After five years of teaching English, I traded in my classroom keys for bylines.

Despite many warning of the death of print publications and the rise of online publications that offer little to no pay, I decided to try to make money from words. About a zillion people call themselves writers—according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were approximately 281,300 authors, writers, and editors in the U.S. in 2008, and that doesn’t include bloggers. So while some in my family scrunched up their faces and wondered in utter disbelief why I’d leave my “cushy” teaching gig for the unstable and low-paying world of freelance writing, I’ve never been happier.

A career switch didn’t always seem possible. While the last two years in the classroom were very stressful, I couldn’t justify leaving my job in a worsening economy without another one lined up. So I resigned myself to sticking it out. During that time, I began seeing a therapist who encouraged me to pursue writing on the side. Despite having two writing degrees, I’d never really tried to write professionally because I thought—like many of us who have ever bumped into a broke writer hunched over his keyboard at Starbucks—that there was no money in it. But I quickly learned that wasn't true.

Online publications often pay less than their print counterparts, but I learned if I strung enough words together and wrote for enough publications, I could make it work. And as I began to make more money on my side hustle, and become even more miserable in my day job, a thought crept in: Maybe I could do this full time.

Apparently, the universe was on my side. Just as I began to look for ways to exit the classroom and pursue my passion full time, one of my Twitter friends suggested a book called Making A Living Without a Job. Although I’m not the self-help, new age-y type, the book changed my life. Instead of feeling stuck, I realized that having a job is just a means to an end. What I needed was enough money to support myself doing things that I enjoyed rather than continuing to do something that sounded nice, but was slowly thrusting me toward depression. And if that meant juggling multiple gigs to pay the bills, so be it.

Don’t get me wrong: Being a freelancer brings its own set of difficulties. I no longer have health insurance (home remedies are my friend). If I don’t work, I don’t get paid, and waiting a month or more for clients to pay me for an article can mean missing a bill or two. But would I trade my newfound freedom and uncertainty for my old certain, yet sometimes soul-crushing life? Not a chance.

True, we're the first generation to be worse off than our parents, but our uncertain economy is rife with opportunities for us to reshape what “working” means. To us, a job won’t mean working for one company until we retire. Instead, we will job-hop, start businesses, freelance, and sometimes combine all three to figure out what works best for us. We may not have a gold watch and a pension waiting for us when we’re 65, but the freedom we crave may garner something greater: new technologies, the next generation of entrepreneurs, and a new definition of “success.”

Photo via (cc) Flickr user ShuttrkingKT\n

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