All Good Things

Summer flowers, St James’ Park

I am sitting down to write this whilst looking out at blue skies and hearing the usual hubbub of a London summer on the street below my flat. Several groups of friends are sitting outside the pub at the end of the road, watching the Olympics in the sunshine. Kids are playing football. Dog walkers are stopping for a chat. People laden with shopping are meandering their way home from the supermarket. It’s been a long year and a half, but it feels like things are finally almost back to how they used to be.

But going back to how things were is not always something that’s possible, or desirable, after a period of change. For me, the pandemic has permanently altered my relationship with myself and the world around me, and I’m no longer the same person I was a year and a half ago. I don’t want to go back to who I was or what I was doing before. Seeing the world fall apart around me made me realise that nothing is certain and that nothing can be taken for granted. I had my eyes opened to the fact that I had been coasting along for years, putting off pursuing many of my dreams and desires until a later date, waiting for this, or that, before I would give myself permission to disrupt my life. When the pandemic came and disrupted it instead, I gradually came to see this as an opportunity rather than a disaster; the impetus to start treading a different path.

I’d been struggling with ennui for a long time before coronavirus hit, but I wasn’t unhappy enough to really change anything. I had no real reason to complain; I know that I’m enormously privileged. I have wonderful friends and family, a lovely home, a good job, plenty of hobbies and more than enough money to meet my needs. I also live in one of the most exciting and dynamic cities in the world. But still, deep down, I wasn’t happy. My work no longer satisfied me; with more responsibility came less time in the classroom, and with my mind always full of school related problems, headspace for anything else was frustratingly limited. I felt that my work was creeping into every area of my life, leaving me with no space for myself and no outlet for any kind of creativity. I was always tired, always grumpy, always waiting for the next holiday when I’d finally have time to read a book, or catch up with a friend, or leave London for the weekend. I kept going, partly because I loved my students so much that I couldn’t bear to leave them, but also because I didn’t know what else I could do. The question haunted me constantly. Teaching had become so central to my identity, that I couldn’t imagine myself as anything else. I felt utterly trapped.

While teaching from home last year, however, my thinking started to shift. Not being in a school building all day helped me to start seeing myself as separate from my work. Rather than being tired all the time due to the non stop nature of the school day, I was invigorated by having time to work in peace and quiet, time to read and reflect, and time to be creative. I went back to writing regularly; something I had given up years ago. I began reading more widely and experimentally. I walked the streets of London for hours, really paying attention to what I was looking at, and being amazed at how much I’ve been missing. I engaged with political causes I’d long been passionate about, but not had time to properly research or pursue. I realised that there was so much more to me, and so much more to my life, than teaching.

Going back to work in September was initially exciting, after so long away, but soon the ennui crept back in. Coupled with everything the pandemic was throwing at us inside and outside of school, I felt myself slipping away. Every morning it became more difficult to drag myself out of bed. I was utterly exhausted from putting on a cheerful, enthusiastic persona for the children and my colleagues all day, desperate for them not to see how unhappy I was. As soon as I got home, I crumbled. I could barely muster the energy to cook dinner. When we locked down again in January, I cried with relief at being able to stay at home for another few weeks. It was at that moment that I truly acknowledged that teaching – the career I had always seen as my labour of love – was destroying me.

So, three weeks ago, after nine years of teaching, I said goodbye to my beloved pupils and closed the door of my classroom for the last time. Mingled with the sadness – and there was plenty of that, and plenty of tears, too – was also profound relief at being free to tread a new path.

I’m going back to university full time in September, to do an MA in Playwriting. I don’t know where it will lead me, or even if I’ll be any good at it, but I don’t care; I’m doing it because it’s what I love doing, and I want to spend all my time doing it. I’m giving myself permission to just enjoy myself, experimenting and learning and being creative for a year, and to be open to whatever opportunities and possibilities come my way. It’s what I need, at this point in my life; I am giving myself the gift of time and space to write, because without that, I now understand that I can’t be happy.

I know the pandemic is far from over. But today, at least, the sun is shining, there is music playing in a distant garden, I can smell the sweet smoke from next door’s BBQ, and there’s a new book waiting for me to curl up and read. For the first time in a long time, life feels good again.

33 Comments

  1. Please keep us posted on your new path in life! Out of adversity can come good change. . .

  2. A very brave thing to do! Looking forward to whatever is next in your life. Keep us appraised through teaorbooks podcast or here, in this space. We applaud you!

  3. I am so happy for you. This past year and a half have been so difficult but you have spent your time wisely. Please keep posting. All the best.

  4. I’m so glad I took the time to stop and read your post in an un-rushed way. All I want to say, along with sending you a big hug, is: WELL DONE! I’m so happy for you.

  5. Great to read your honest account of self-discovery during the pandemic – a good basis for the stage of your life.

    1. Wishing you happiness in your endeavours Rachel. I have very much enjoyed reading your blog over the years so many thanks for contributing joy to my life; may you find joy in your new life

  6. Mustering the courage to take such a big step will pay rewards, Rachel. Please, please keep writing your blog and chatting with Simon on Tea or Books. And let us know when you eventually publish your own writing (play or novel). I look forward to reading your first book!

  7. Good Luck! You are brave and you deserve the best. I have also had to change my life lately. You are young and healthy. You’ll succeed! ๐Ÿฆ‹

  8. Iโ€™ve been an English teacher and went the promotion route to principal. It wasnโ€™t planned. It was never a goal. It just sort of happened. It is easier to keep going. It is braver to stop, think, and take a different path. Staying with what is comfortable and know or with a defined income (especially when you come from family who are wage dependent and have no wealth behind them) can be a trap. Do it now. Before you become trapped. All the best. (From an English teacher who loved teaching and is now a principal in Australia.)

  9. It’s so heart warming that the pandemic has allowed you time and space to realise that your job has been all consuming, not making you happy anymore and you’ve chosen to take a brave step and do something about it. All the very best for the future.

  10. I’m so pleased that you have decided to do what you want to do; what makes you happy. As you say, we don’t know what’s coming around the corner, and so we must do what we want now, even if that leads to a little turmoil.
    I love reading your thoughts; you are a remarkably good writer. All the very best for your new and exciting future!

  11. Congratulations in chasing your dreams. I agree with you, even as life becomes more normal, we’re not returning to the same lives we had before. Good for you for taking time to reflect and make changes.

  12. I’m sure that was a very tough decision to make so well done you! Hope you feel proud of yourself for recognising that you were at the end of that particular road and that you enjoy every moment of your new life and studies.
    By the bye, will you still be involved in the You are what you read project or have you also passed that baton on?

  13. Good for you! I am very happy for you. I’m currently applying for an MA (a second one as the first one was a practical MA for job prospects) in Literature. I hope I didn’t jinx myself but here we go!!

  14. Congratulations, Rachel. I think you’re brilliant at re-inventing yourself every few years – who needs a career for life!

  15. Good luck! Sometimes you have to have faith and take a huge leap. You have given all of yourself for the past 9 years, now its time to take some time for yourself and follow a dream.

  16. I canโ€™t believe that you have been teaching for 9 years! It seems but yesterday.

    Thank you so much for your wonderful blog. As a result of the pandemic I turned yet again to re reading Jane Austen or I should say listening to audio versions, what I also did during this time was go to your blog for your perceptive and lively posts on Jane Austen. Even better than I remembered.

    Warmest good wishes for your new career.

    Sue

  17. Oh hon, I’m glad you’re moving to something you love and giving yourself permission to choose joy. The feeling of being trapped and stuck is a miserable one, and I think you were right to listen to those feelings. Hug from across the pond!

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