I’m someone who had big dreams, gave them a shot, and then figured out I hated living those dreams. Hated. And it turns out what I stumbled into instead made me about a thousand times happier. (It’s funny how we don’t know ourselves as well as we think, sometimes.) But to me, Katherine’s story today is not just a story of finding joy outside of the life plan. It’s also a story about how we culturally misvalue things. We think Hollywood is important and teaching is boring. We forget to give value where it is due. As a result, we look for contentment in all the wrong places. Perhaps it’s that I’m the child of two teachers, but I think finding joy (and even excitement) in teaching? It makes perfect sense.
When I was twenty-two years old, I had grand plans. I was going to live in Los Angeles and do something creative. Be a comedy writer, or perhaps a casting agent. I was, after all, a former theater geek majoring in film. Or perhaps I would move to Washington, DC and work on Capitol Hill, because I was also a political junkie. I was going to do something super cool. All my friends were going to be like, “Have you talked to Katherine lately? She just went to a party and Matt Damon/Bill Clinton/Britney Spears/Keith Olbermann/[insert-someone-else] was there!” I was going to be somebody. A non-obnoxious Carrie Bradshaw, if you will.
When I was twenty-three years old, I met my husband. That was when my plans began to unravel. We were both seniors in college and planning our futures. Even though at that point we barely knew each other, we both quietly began planning our lives around one another. I figured out that he hated LA, so I decided not to pursue the Hollywood lifestyle. He eventually withdrew his application for the Peace Corps, since I made it clear that wasn’t an option for me.
Meanwhile, the invention and subsequent popularity of Facebook was allowing me to keep up with all of my friends in a very dramatic way. It seemed as though everyone around me was graduating from prestigious universities and landing impressive jobs in major cities. I, on the other hand, was deeply in love but lacking direction. We both attempted a career in politics, but very quickly realized that watching MSNBC every night does not mean you are cut out for the campaign trail. With our tails between our legs, both my boyfriend and I came back to my hometown. I waited tables for two years and felt like everyone was snickering behind my back. “Have you talked to Katherine? Yeah, I know…she’s a waitress.” Tired of being ashamed of my life, I decided to go back to school to explore a career I had always thought about but never really thought was stylish enough for me: teaching. Within a year I had my credential. Soon after that we got married, and just two months ago moved from our trendy apartment in an understated urban neighborhood to an old bungalow in the suburbs.
I have friends from high school and college that are living the life I imagined for myself. Actually, lots of them are living lives way cooler than I could have imagined. I have not one, but two friends who went to graduate school in London. Another friend is in a position that requires her to have lunch meetings with the head of microwaves at GE. (Apparently there is a real person who is head of microwaves at GE, and it’s not just something that was made up by Tina Fey for 30 Rock.) I have a former roommate who is a model, a college classmate that edits video for network television, and countless old acquaintances working for senators, congressmen, and national nonprofits.
I, on the other hand, teach first and second grade. I sit “criss-cross applesauce” on the floor and say things like, “I don’t think tetherball is a good choice for you,” and “I’m sorry you are upset about your sticker chart,” on a daily basis. I am in bed by 9:30 most nights and have never met Matt Damon. The most exciting part of my week is leftover pastries in the staff room.
Some people may look at my life and think, “How sad, she gave up on her dreams.” But I don’t think I did. Looking back I have realized that my dream all along has been happiness, and that is what I have found. My twenty-two-year-old self thought that rubbing elbows with celebrities or power lunches with executives would make me happy, but then I grew up a little bit and my priorities shifted.
While I am admitting to you that my life is fairly boring when put up against the lives of others, I still think it is pretty damn exciting. Every day I go into a room with twenty-eight six-, seven-, and eight-year-olds, and I teach them things. And every day we all come out a little smarter. (Except for the days when kids have to leave early because they puke on themselves. It happens.) Society might not place my job on a pedestal, but every CEO I know of had to pass the first grade. I am also a person who believes that love, of all kinds, is very important. So the fact that I found someone that I love, married him, and now get to eat breakfast with him every morning is not just exciting, it is incredible. Sipping coffee with your soulmate may not land you on magazine covers, but it is something to be valued.
So really, when I think about it, nothing has changed. And nothing will change. All of my life I have dreamt of being happy, and I am. The greatest part is that my life is (hopefully) far from over, so I get to continue on this path to happiness. The exciting part is figuring out what that happiness will look like along the way.
Photo by APW Sponsor Gabriel Harber