A year out of work

Argostoli sunset after a year out of work

As I write this the summer holidays have just started at the school I used to work at.  In my old life I would have woken up exhausted, after weeks of entertaining tired, hot and hyper children. I would have been emotionally drained from saying goodbye to children and parents that I had spent a year forming close relationships with, sharing their ups and downs and seeing all their many achievements.  I would probably have been out the night before for someone’s leaving do, a member of staff I would have worked with for many years that I would no longer have the pleasure of working alongside.  I would have pulled myself out of bed, shoved on a dress and headed to school speech day, where I would sit listening to speeches (some inspiring, some incredibly boring!) and then that would be it. No more school for a whole summer.  I would often return home feeling rather empty and drained rather than excited about the summer ahead.  Last year I remember that feeling more than ever. 

On my last day of teaching, when I had seen out my class for the last time, I sat on the floor of my classroom and cried.  

A sailboat anchored in meganisi after a year out of work

We imagine that leaving work for a new adventure will be a time to celebrate. But for every new adventure we embark on there are a million things we have to say goodbye to.  The life I had worked so hard to build for myself was coming to an end and a new life was about to start. One that I had no idea of. I sit here now, on my own sailboat in a beautiful bay in Greece, and still feel keenly that sense of loss.

I’m in no way saying that I want that old life back. I have no appetite anymore for the pressures of teaching. For the piles and piles of completely pointless paperwork that will probably never be looked at (but may, under some terrible circumstance, cost you your career if not completed) I don’t miss in any way the exhaustion and stress, or the many uncertainties.  Since leaving work , and England, I can see why putting your mental health first should be priority. I no longer feel irrational anxieties, or care in the same way what people think of me.

A sailboat at sea with the sun setting behind it

I don’t miss knowing what every day holds.  I used to feel that life was just skipping by, I could tell you what I’d be doing in five years time…..teaching. If I look back on my years working, I work them out by the summer holidays.  That was the year I went to Nepal.  That was the year I visited China.  I couldn’t work it out from what I was doing all year, because what I was doing was the same. It was the weekends that made me feel that I had a choice, and I remember often feeling a panic rise if I didn’t have something planned for the weekend, because that was all the time I had to do the things I really wanted.  Now I have no idea where I’ll be next week, let alone what the next five years will bring. That’s kind of scary but also exhilarating.

I don’t miss feeling bored.  Don’t get me wrong, there is a never a dull moment when you’re teaching, but I didn’t feel that I was learning anymore.  Obviously there was the odd thing that needed looking up, or something I hadn’t come across before and needed to do a little research into, but a lot of the time I was really bored. I wanted a BIG challenge.  And something I have realised this past year is that while you’re working you don’t have time to learn.  There were so many avenues I wanted to explore within my job, but I had a job, a full on one at that.  In this last year I have made very little money. But I have learnt to set up a website, I’ve taught myself SEO, I’ve discovered how to edit photos and videos, I’ve tackled plumbing and joinery, I can tell you different parts of an engine and do an oil change. I know how to trim sails and navigate. I can moor a boat and set an anchor (with varied success!) I can read the wind and the tides and I can make a tank of water last for days and days.  I can honestly say that I learn something new every single day.

Steering a dinghy with beautiful mountains in the background

But for everything I don’t miss there is an equal thing I yearn for.

I wasn’t sure what I’d miss the most when I quit work a year ago.  I can tell you now that it is the relationships.  I miss my work colleagues, that after 12 years at the same school had become some of my closest friends.  I’m still in contact with them, but it doesn’t compare to seeing them every day, sharing funny stories over a break time cuppa or crying together in an empty classroom.  Working in such a close environment, sharing the same stresses and successes and having a common goal is a special thing that you don’t appreciate fully until it’s gone.  Perhaps what is more surprising is how much I miss my relationships with my class and parents.  I don’t miss the actual teaching.  I miss getting to know a class of children inside out, knowing their strengths and weaknesses, helping them overcome challenges and laughing at the many funny, insightful things they say and do. Since leaving work I have realised how blessed I was to have a job that enabled me to be part of their lives and I miss every single one of them.

Waterfalls in Nidri

I’ve spoken before about feeling useful and that’s something I still wrestle with most days. Despite learning so much in such a short amount of time, I’m no expert in any of these fields and I miss really knowing about something. I miss having experience in a subject and feeling confident in my abilities. Those of you who know me well will know of my unfaltering ability to doubt myself, and of course there were times in teaching when I made wrong decisions or worried that I had missed something I shouldn’t have, but ultimately I have always felt comfortable in a classroom and secure in my abilities and that is something I can’t say about many things in my life!  I have found that I still talk passionately about teaching whenever I find someone that will listen. I always felt lucky that I enjoyed my job the way I did, and now I realise more than ever that it wasn’t just a job to me.

So perhaps the grass is always greener, or perhaps there really isn’t such a thing as green grass, because although I don’t wish I was back doing what I used to I have certainly found many reasons to miss what I did. I will never forget what was a rather pivotal moment for me in my decision to leave work in search of an adventure. Three years ago I sat at our school speech day and listened to a lady tell her inspirational story of rowing across the Atlantic. I remember that I almost hurt with a need for an adventure of my own.

And here I am living my very own adventure.

Girl on bow sprit of sailing boat

Dreams are definitely not what you always imagined, but they are pretty damn close a lot of the time. So whatever it is you are putting off because you are too scared of what you will miss, let me tell you now, you will miss it-but you won’t regret it one bit!