2015 kicked my butt. There is no other way to put it. 10 months of no full-time work. Moving across the country to a new city and time zone. Mounting stress and worry about creating a new professional network. It was rough.
I’ve never worked so hard and have had so little to show for it than 2015. When I moved to Pittsburgh, PA this past January, I literally began from scratch. Where do I start? Who do I talk to? What organizations are out here? Is there even an early childhood network out here? There were too many questions and no answers. I didn’t even know who to approach to ask these questions.
The first step – and ultimately the most difficult – was finding work. I thought my search would be quick and easy, given that I just received my Master’s degree in addition to my experiences and accolades. However, my vision was far from reality and I found that 2015 would be a completely different journey. As I looked for a job month after month, I stressed, worried, and was constantly anxious. I sent out over 35 applications in a span of four months (I stopped counting after that). I had a handful of interviews, but nothing happened. I nickeded and dimed my way with consultation work and free lance writing. Fortunately, early in 2015, I landed a part-time college teaching job, but teaching one course a semester isn’t going to feed a family.
Now, I’ve been through difficult situations and I’ve been unemployed in the past. My mindset usually goes something like this: “Okay, I’ve been working this hard for this long. It’s about this time that something good happens. My work pays off and I finally get something.” Well, that point passed – two or three times in fact. Nothing happened. No job. No leads. 5 months of unemployment had passed and I found myself starting from scratch again and again and again. I was entering unknown territory.
And, little did I know at that point, I still had 5 more months of unemployment to go.
I was starting to lose it. I didn’t know what to do. Losing confidence and incredibly disheartened, this blog served not only as a place to advocate for early childhood, but a way for me to vent and process what was happening. During my unemployment, I read articles and researched questions and answers for potential interview questions. I wrote about what I was reading because it was something to do while I wasn’t being paid to do something else. And writing is free.
How could I be in this position? Why isn’t anyone snatching me up or even taking a chance? You begin to question if you’re as good at what you do as think you are. Does my degree matter? Is it because I’m a guy? Is it because I’m so new and no one locally can actually vouch for my talent?
Did I actually offer a quality skill set?
But, I kept coming back to the thought that, I was. I am good. I am that good. And not because of what I told myself, but because it was other people that told me so. People back in California were doing their damndest to help me in Pennsylvania by writing reference letters, reaching out to their contacts on the East Coast, and talking on the phone with potential employers . It was their efforts that convinced me of my quality.
Still, the battle wore me down. I fought the emotions and thoughts of inadequacy. Knowing that you’re good at what you do, yet no one takes a chance on you is discouraging. Knowing that you’re good and that good involves making a difference in the lives of children, families, and communities is absolutely crushing. Add that you’re struggling to provide for your wife and one year-old son and… well… you can began to understand how difficult my 2015 truly was.
Yet, finally, after months and months of searching, I finally landed a full-time position toward the end of summer. I was jubilant, but mostly relieved. Also, I was recharged. The moment I found out that I got a job, a trigger was switched and a mountain of motivation – motivation that was battered, beaten, and pummeled – came rushing back into my soul and heart.
The struggle to establish my professional self in a new city will be my foremost memory of 2015, one that easily goes down as a ‘valley‘ in the topography of my personal history. We all have our ups and downs in our lifetimes and you’re a fool to think life is this perpetual upward arrow toward success, relaxation, and permanence. I don’t embrace hardship, but I don’t hide from it either. There was a lot of doom and gloom. There was a lot of defeat. But I don’t consider 2015 a waste of time or effort.
You can’t always control what happens or sidestep life’s difficulties. But you can control your effort, perseverance, resolve, determination, and, most of all, perspective. May it be a dogged work ethic, stubbornness to give in, or the unyielding will of a father and husband to ask for stronger shoulders (and not a lighter burden), I got up more times than I got knocked down. I never stopped because I don’t know otherwise.
While looking for jobs, I also looked for motivation and ways to stay positive. One of my motivations are quotes – and I love reading quotes. So, given that you understand the gravity of my struggle this year, you probably realize that 2015 resulted in a rather large gold mine of favorite quotes. Here are a few:
“Look up, get up, and never give up.” – Michael Irvin
“Who does not grow, declines.” – Rabbi Hillel
“Never feel self-pity, the most destructive emotion there is. How awful to be caught up in the terrible squirrel cage of self.” – Millicent Fenwick
“Experience is a hard teacher. She gives the test first and the lesson afterwards.” – Anonymous
“Never let yesterday use up too much of today.” – Will Rogers
“The obstacle is the path.” – Zen aphorism
“Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out.” – John R. Wooden
“Never let your head hang down. Never give up and sit down and grieve. Find another way. And don’t pray when it rains if you don’t pray when the sun shines.” – Satchel Paige
When I got that call for the job offer, it was a rush of overwhelming happiness. The rush was like everything powering back on, like the surprise of hearing a car engine roar to life after it’s been sitting in your garage for a couple decades. But, rather to see if that engine would idle or cut out, you put that sucker into drive and floor the accelerator. That’s what I did. Pedal to the metal with that first “yes”.
I’ve shared a lot about my struggles. However, there was good in 2015. I realized a childhood dream of becoming a part-time college professor. I got to celebrate my son’s first birthday. And, living on the east coast, I get to explore a new region and have new experiences.
And all of those months of work, freelance jobs, and networking; well, that is paying off too. I began the year with no knowledge of the Pennsylvania early childhood landscape. But, at the end of the year, I became a professional trainer, certified in PA learning standards and academic development. I’m doing side work with organizations, even expanding upon work I did in graduate school. Lastly, as far as my professional network, it took me one year in Pittsburgh to build the same level of contacts as the network I had back in San Francisco – and that network took me five years to build.
On the 3rd anniversary of “A Guy in Preschool”, the post begins with a graphic with the word “Celebrating”. This is odd, because much of this post sounds … well, it sounds sad. And it is. And that’s fine. Because this post is not a celebration of struggle or hardship. It isn’t the praise for a rant. It’s celebrating hind-sight and reflection. To view the past as character building and not character devastating. It is the celebration for the relentless pursuit, determination in the face of rejection… to get hit and keep moving forward.
I leave you with this final quote, one that celebrates 2015 in summary.
“The highest reward for a man’s toil is not what he gets for it, but what he becomes by it.” – John Ruskin