In 2013 I left what many people perceive to be a "dream job": I was a university professor. I had earned a Ph.D in English and landed a tenure-track job on a comfortable campus in a geographically pleasant area. It was exactly what I wanted...until it wasn't. Three years in, the job itself was what I initially desired and expected. I, however, had changed. As much as I didn't want to admit it, my interests were increasingly turning outside of my chosen profession. I also realized there were uneasy feelings growing in me. These feelings were giving me information that was not what I wanted to hear because they asked very inconvenient questions:
Are you doing what you most want to do?
Are you where you want to be?
If the answers to those questions are no, then what’s in the way of you saying yes to what you do want?
Honestly answering these questions was going to take me away from something I had worked very long and hard (and spent a lot of time and money) to achieve. After all, I had an academic job in an economy that didn’t offer very many and was poised to apply for and gain promotion. It seemed to me that the only explanation was that I was ungrateful.
But I didn’t feel ungrateful. I had made the most of every opportunity ever presented to me. I was beloved by my colleagues and students because I was committed to working toward their success—and it showed in my every action. And then I realized something. What was in the way of saying yes to what I wanted was another question gnawing at me—and it had been for years:
Who do you think you are to believe you can move on and do something else?
It had never occurred to me that the question "Who do you think you are?" is actually a great question. Why hadn’t it occurred to me? Because there was something in the way of me seeing clearly: me. Despite all my training to think critically and expansively about ideas and texts, I had assumed there was only one answer to that question of who I thought I was, and that answer was "not good enough." Instead of challenging that answer I accepted it as the truth, despite the fact that I would never allow students, friends, or loved ones in my life to do that if that was their answer. When I finally saw that question as open-ended rather than closed, I started looking for my own answers.
Since leaving the "dream job," I find that I am living in a way that brings me peace, joy, and fulfillment; coaching has been a vital part of my path, in ways too numerous to count. The best way to summarize though, is to quote my favorite poet Emily Dickinson: "I dwell in possibility."