Switching careers can be exciting and frightening for anyone, but for a recovering addict, it can be particularly stressful. I worked in the investment management industry for eight years before the market went sour and my position was eliminated. With no prospects on the horizon and thousands of candidates competing with me for the few opportunities that were available, I had to reevaluate my goals. I decided to leave the corporate world and become a high school chemistry teacher. I had family and friends in education who encouraged me to follow my dreams, but they did warn me there were pitfalls. I got into a program for people in midcareer transitions subsidizing the university work and certifications to become a New York City teacher, and was lucky to land a position at one of the best high schools in the city. I was ready—dreaming that I’d be an inspiring role model and shape the future of America. Little did I know that I was also about to get schooled on the importance of my own program.
First lesson: Honesty. Do your homework and know what you’re walking into! I entered school on the first day, starry-eyed, thinking that my teaching methods would quickly improve and I’d soar to new heights of inspiration and innovation. I know now that my expectations were too high and my ego was running rampant. I was forgetting the principles of my own program, especially honesty and acceptance. Teaching in a city school is very hard work, no matter how good the school is; I hadn’t been honest with myself about how difficult it might be. Reality hit like a ton of bricks: teaching four sections of high school chemistry including lab is grueling and tedious, especially in an overcrowded urban school. My students were great, but the sheer amount of work quashed my idyllic visions rather quickly. Forget my grand dreams: I struggled just to keep my head above the rushing tide.
Second lesson: Humility. I knew there were issues in the city school system; but the rigidity of the bureaucracy took me by surprise. A couple months in, I got sick and took a day off, ensuring to get and submit a doctor’s note. I was called down to a meeting with an assistant principal who admonished me for calling in sick on a Monday. I’d done everything by the book, but even so, a letter was being put into my file that would follow me until the end of my days. Was that unfair? I certainly felt it was! Did I have any recourse? Some of the more experienced teachers told me that as a new teacher, I needed to keep my mouth shut and try not to take off any Mondays or Fridays. It was only after I had stopped teaching that I wrote my resentments down and examined my part in it—I wasn’t accepting of some of the system’s unwritten rules, or willing to work on a Monday even though I was sick. If I’d written this out then, I might have realized that teaching was not the right career for me. At the time, I was still committed to my students and loved teaching chemistry, so I trudged along.
Third lesson: Open-mindedness. The feedback I was receiving from my students was quite positive; many said chemistry was their favorite class and I was their favorite teacher. Most of them did quite well on their quarterly exams. I must be doing something right! Right? Not according to the administration. The principal called me in: She said I was hired not because of my demonstrated teaching skills, but because of the enthusiasm I had for my subject and the innovation I brought to my demo lessons in the interview process. If I didn’t improve, this informal assessment could easily become a formal review. Despite the blow to my ego—and the dismissal threat bearing down on me—I was determined to succeed in my newly chosen career. I absorbed their constructive criticism and started attending other classes to learn about the pedagogy of more experienced teachers, and tried to apply their techniques to my methods.
Last lessons: Willingness, Courage, and Faith. The program tells us that by surrendering and admitting defeat, we become stronger and gain so much more. The stress under which I was placed was breaking me down emotionally and physically, and I was forced to resign my position a mere three months after I had started. I was back in the same position I had been in just a year before: reevaluating my goals. Returning to the principles of my program, I realized I’d had the willingness and courage to take a chance, and though I failed in my attempt, I stayed sober. This experience tested my ability to live life on life’s terms, to put my sobriety first, and to have faith that I’d be taken care of. Most important, I learned that falling flat on my face is not the end of the world as long as I get right back up and keep coming back to spiritual principles. And that is a very teachable moment.