I didn’t teach this semester. There were no students. No lesson plans. No papers to grade.
It’s funny though. I still measure my life in semesters. The academic calendar conveniently parses time into two or three sections. I can’t stop thinking this way. That fall means new beginnings and the chance at renewal. That spring means a second chance and a week’s long break. That summer means catching my breath and the siren’s call of freedom.
It was hard when this fall did not bring what falls always have. Books. Students. Classes. In the swirling, cold air, I walked around campus not sure of where I fit in. My place, the classroom, belonged to others now. Someone else is teaching my students. I stood at the tallest spot on campus, turned to the opposing direction, and looked down on the city, the trees, the mountains, thinking, “This. You can have all this.”
But what if I don’t want this? For a long time, I wanted the cramped office. The name plate. The doctoral degree. The old book smell. Now, I’m not sure what I want. A divine mix of sunshine, laughter, and marshmallows. I sound like a twelve-year-old, but really, I want to believe it’s that simple.
Want to know what it’s like not to teach? To not have the office, name plate, degree, and everything else you thought you wanted?
It feels empty. I am without the twenty or so students I got used to teaching every semester. As much as I say I don’t miss dealing with their emotional drama and hang-ups, I do. I miss their faces. And I miss their stories. At night, I don’t have a little piece of them with me in the form of a five-page essay. Instead, I’m by myself, trying to figure out who I am without them.
It feels full. There’s time for morning coffee, lunch breaks, and wine nights. There’s time for me to read, sleep, work, and play. Time is always a prized commodity in academia. Before, it was always something to be worked against and mercilessly managed. Now, it’s something to be at peace with and fill as I please. It’s nice to have the choice to fill my time with more joy and less sacrifice.
It feels fleeting. The first few weeks of the semester, I was listless. Like a lost little puppy searching for a home. Overnight, it seemed my purpose in life had evaporated. When you’re not training the future generations for the life of the mind, everything else seems so inconsequential. So boring. I felt like I was nothing but a wisp in the wind without academia.
It feels real. I took a deep breath and reentered the world. I wandered through forests. I held a newborn baby. I traveled to the beach. I’ve become an active participant in my life again. I’m in control. I’m not living by semesters and syllabi. If I want to sleep, I sleep. If I want to run, I run. I’ve become unstuck. I’ve become alive.
It feels guilty. I feel as though I’ve abandoned my principles. I’ve left my ideals in the ivory tower and run away from everything I’ve known. I feel as if I’ve let everyone down. The students who counted on me. The professors who taught me. But more importantly, myself. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t hold on any longer. When did I lose my nerve?
It feels gratifying. The decision to stop teaching seared my self-esteem so much I thought I would never heal. That I would always think of myself as a failure and a quitter. But as I slowly learned to take care of myself and put my needs first, I realized I made the best decision for me at that time. Putting myself first isn’t a convenience anymore, it’s a priority.
So what’s it like one semester later?
There’s still guilt. There’s freedom too. I’m not sure I’ll have get a sense of balance between the two. I’m not sure that even exists. Because I’m still not sure what I’m doing or where I’m going. But I have gotten used to living with uncertainty. I used to think that was because I had no other choice, but I did have a choice. I made it several months ago. And I’m trying to live it proudly every day.
PS: I faced a fear of mine recently and made a Facebook page for RL&A! Woah, right? I was too afraid because I thought no one would ‘like’ it. Prove my silly fear wrong okay? Join me on my brand new Facebook page for more conversation and behind-the-scenes peeks here!