I wish this post is about colorful drinking straws that make people (and me) happy (think sweet drinks and parties), but it is not. Instead It is about straws that had piled on the camel’s back and broke it. I am the camel. The cumulative effect of many small events (straws) at school have finally lead me to make the decision:
In an email, I gave notice to my P that I will be leaving service. My last month of teaching to my students will be in August (but no one in school knows this yet).
This long post will be about straws.
2015: I have haboured thoughts of changing careers for a while (since 2008!). Teaching is meaningful, but doing the same routines for a decade and knowing that the next 10 years will be the same, has made me restless. While I did contemplate leaving, it was not an urgent task. I thought I could hold on for a few more years, save more cash and see if anything changes.
But straws started piling up. The first heavy straw came at the end of last year. In a department meeting, I was tasked to head a few projects that no one volunteered for, cos I was the most free from marking papers. I was not asked if I was willing, but assigned. Suddenly, I felt helpless that I had no say in choosing what I wanted to do. Others were bypassing me, making choices for me, expecting me to obey.
Another straw came a week later, at the last staff meeting before the holidays. Each officer received their assigned duties for the next year. I got mine, but the work was not what I asked for. There had been an earlier survey on our preferred duties. I did the survey, but it seemed pointless, for I was given other duties. I was just expected to follow orders. Again I felt deeply the sense of loss of control of my life.
I know I am a work drone on the assembly line, a rat running the wheel, a chess piece on the board moving at the whims of management. I used to be ok about it, but now I am not ok. I am getting more frustrated with how helpless I can be. The small stuff adds up and it starts to irritate a lot.
I want to reclaim control of my life.
2016: I returned back to the work treadmill refreshed by 6 weeks of school holidays. Despite enjoying one of the biggest perk of teaching (long school vacations), I have not changed my mind about leaving.
My decision was soon reinforced, with more work straws affirming my choice to leave.
- A senior colleague is being bullied at work. He has some prior issues with management (M). One thing led to another, and he’s now stressed by M’s extra “attention”. He is monitored for his lessons and has to watch his back. I look at him and see the future me. I am already being sidelined in high profile school projects and committees. I don’t like this feeling of being discounted.
- I had an unpleasant run-in with an office idiot that I usually ignore. We sit in the same department but like in Avatar, I do not see him. We had several prior arguments but the latest one crossed my f**k you limit. I complained to M and the idiot tried to create distraction by naming all my perceived faults. In the end, he was given a verbal warning by M, but the episode left a bitter aftertaste. I detest office politics, and idiots.
- I applied for 2 months leave to attend the Olympics in Brazil. I wanted to fulfill a dream of mine to visit the games (I am a teacher of sports). But it was rejected because “the organization cannot let the officer take leave to fufill personal dreams”. Enough said.
- And then there were the irritable M issues. M is school authority, thinks their word is law, and forgets that teachers are humans with feelings. During a recent exam invigilation, M passes by, sees what M does not like, and sends me a not-so-nice text. In another incident, I received an unpleasant email from M after some backstabbing politics. It made me pissed for a while. Though I did get an apology later, the foundation of mutual respect has been shakened. No trust, difficult to work, time to move on.
- An email was sent out to the entire office recently, informing us that Lady S has stage 4 cancer. S is a gracious and kind hearted soul, blessed with 3 kids. She is in her late 50s and still a full life ahead. My heart went out to S and I did what I could to help. This episode reminded me again of the fragility of life. I can’t wait forever to live my dreams, for I know not how much time I have left.
To be fair, there are also good things about my job that many will envy. I have a decent salary, no marking load, long vacations, the works. I have been at this for 13 years and if it was really unbearable, I will have left long ago.
So why now? I think it is cos I am now older and FI.
Older = Less Energy. Some days, I really feel tired chasing after the perpetually young students. I used to be able to teach sports lessons for 3 hours straight, now I feel the fatigue after 2. The students come to me enthusiastically, anticipating fun and games. I hardly disappoint, but it takes a physical toll on me.
And being FI means nonsense that I could tolerate in the past, I wouldn’t now. I look at my limited time on Earth differently, having less patience for pointless bullshit.
I have outgrown my job. Things were new and interesting a decade ago, then it became routine. I find myself not learning, and soon lost my motivation. I want to grow but feel constrained. Now I don’t even want my bosses’ jobs. I have little desire to do stuff to impress M, since being M no longer impresses me.
At work and in life, I dislike being dictated, talked down, sidelined and ignored. I detest performance reviews when someone tells me my potential (who are you anyway to tell me how good I am? Are you better than me?). Money doesn’t motivate me the way it used to. My pay has reached the ceiling (I am only worth that salary?) and I still have 20+ years more of productivity left in me.
I am becoming a bad worker. And it shows.
When I was a young student, the future was uncertain, and exciting. There were new stuff to learn in school each day; new modules to explore each semester, new experiences each year. I was working for myself, the dream of a bright future beckoning. Nothing was cast in stone, anything was possible! The world was to be my oyster.
But working real life was otherwise. I was often tired out, my passions cooled and my ambitions dimmed. There was still some learning on my job, but it is to make me better at my job. I became specialized, good only at my field. I was defined by my work title, judged by what I do to earn a living. To survive at work, I adapted and changed. Slowly, my hopes faded and my dreams became distant. Now I can only get this high salary in teaching. There are few other work options.
I have been reading blog posts of Livingafi (Dr Doom), my current blog hero. He retired last year at 38 yo. Doom is funny, talented with graphics and has documented his FI journey in detail. He blogs about how he feels pre-quit, quit and how he is now, post quit. Many of what he shared, I can identify with. I find his blog a useful guide to help me cope with the emotional upheaval of leaving a 13 year old career.
I started my own departure process when I applied for leave to go for the Olympics. I knew it was a long shot, and I promised myself I will quit if I can’t get approval. For a while, things look hopeful. I thought I might get the 2 months off, though I wasn’t sure if that was really what I needed.
But I didn’t get the time off. I told M that I will go anyway if I get a volunteer post in Brazil (I applied to help in the Olympics). Indirectly, I was already telling M that regardless of the decision to let me go or not, I was leaving.
And now I am. Quitting for good. I have already purchased my air tics on 5 May. I am leaving home in September and will be away for a month. But I am not going for the Olympics. Instead I am flying to San Francisco. I have already committed myself to seeing this through, although the school doesn’t know of my impending departure yet.
It is so ironic. I wanted to leave cos of the Olympics, regardless of the leave approval. In the end I am still going, but not to the Olympics anymore. I guess the writing has always been on the wall. It was a matter of time before I leave. The Olympics was an excuse that didn’t work. In the end, I still quit.
Is this financial suicide? Leaving a good stable job in lousy economic conditions is crazy, when many are facing employment challenges. I don’t know if I can ever get back my high salary. What I do know is that I can’t be doing what I am doing now for the next 10 years. That will kill my spirit. So leaving now feels right, even though the future seems uncertain.
I just started recording a life calendar. Now, the ticking off of a checkbox after every week reminds me of my mortality. I am getting older each week. My dreams can’t wait indefinitely.
A while ago, I just got off the train. It was crowded and many people were inconsiderate (rushing for seats, crowding at the doors) and self absorbed in their phones. I really can’t understand this need to be constantly entertained. It must be this instant gratification monster again. I feel disgusted every time, when I see people surfing FB or watching some drama when walking, eyes glued to the screen. Zero respect totally.
I was glad to get away from the maddening crowd, getting some personal space walking the empty path back home. Work is like that for me now. I have been at it too long and feel stifled. It is time I walk a less travelled path.
6. Last straw: FREEDOM!
I just visited S at home. She has difficulties walking around the house, a shadow from the active and bubbly lady I remembered from work. It is yet another grim reminder to me that no one gets out of life alive. While I am healthy and able, I must treasure and use my freedom wisely.
I will need time to decompress and detox from my 18 years of working life, before I determine my next step. Life is going to be less sure, but I will feel more alive.
It’s time to find back my oyster.