Celebrating Transition

The view from my cabin

This past year may have been my quarter life crisis.  A little late, I know. I do not intend to live to be 120, but I have always been a late bloomer with these life markings.  Most of my girlfriends from college went through their quarter life crisis shortly after graduation.  While I was having the time of my life in Denver volunteering and living in community, my three college roommates were struggling as bank teller, insurance saleswoman and gymnastics coach.  All three women hated their jobs, and thus, lived for the weekends while talking about how hard it was to grow up and be an adult.  And that is the thing.  I think my quarter life crisis came late in part because I did not hate my job.  I loved my first full time job.  I adored teaching, some would say too much so.  There is no doubt I will psychoanalyze the hell out of why I left teaching high school in posts to come, the point here is that I left.  It was a huge, emotional, scary crossroads in my life.  I seek out change actively, but it is taxing on me.  Even the most positive of changes bring with it mourning and grieving of passing phases.  I knew this life change would be tough, and so I was very intentional this summer about building in ritual and rites of passage to make tangible the intangible emotions of change.  I needed to carve out space to honor the transition and live toward some closure so that I would be available to tackle the next adventure.

Stage 1: Yoga Retreat

I have been doing yoga for about six years now, but I have never gone on a retreat.  When a beloved co-teacher and her spouse invited me to join them on their annual yoga retreat, I jumped at the chance.  At the very end of each school year, this friend signals the beginning of summer by dropping the kids off and driving to the North Shore for a weekend yoga retreat.  I had my own cabin right on Lake Superior and did ten hours of yoga from Friday evening to Sunday morning.  It felt so decadent, yet the yogi commended us, “You have made the sacrifices necessary to make this weekend possible.”  I felt myself thaw, grow taller, and be tended to.  It felt like at a cellular level, my body came back alive.  As I teacher, it became clear that I am a high functioning introvert.  Teachers have to talk a lot and on retreat, I could stop talking.  As the yogi invited us to pull our eyeballs and tongues back into our skulls, tension rolled off of me and I found deep rest.  She reminded us that our voice boxes will engage at even the thought of saying something.  For three days, my voice box rested.  And it was good.

The view from my cabin

Stage 2: Closing Ritual

At the end of every school year, the faculty and staff at my school get together on the penultimate day for a lunch-in to wrap up the year.  I began to dread the lunch as it drew closer, knowing it was my last.  The staff had recently given the principal so much flack for handing out plants to people who were leaving, that he started giving more personalized gifts.  Plant or otherwise, I knew any gift would fall short of symbolizing my five years at the school.  My fair trade scarf was beautiful, but left me little closure.  On the last day, however, my department invited me to the chapel after school to celebrate a closing ritual they had created for me.  They took the time to one by one name what they saw in me as a woman and teacher, and I sobbed through their kind and generous validation.  They reminded me who I was as teacher and coach, as silly and serious, and thanked me for the life I gave the school while I was there.  They took the time to send me on my way, and I will be forever grateful.

Stage 3: Hermitage

Parent/Teacher conferences were emotional this spring.  I love talking to parents, and it makes me realize that over five years at my school, I really fell in love with the whole community.  After talking, gushing, reflecting and crying with parents of my athletes, parents of my students and parents of my “my people” for hours without taking a breath, I stood up and actually grabbed the table out of dizziness.  The teacher at the table next to me who is a mentor of mine looked at me stunned, “You never got a break.  Are you ok?”  The next day I found a two- night hermitage stay from him in my mailbox.  I was giddy.  In mid-June, I drove north to Dwelling in the Woods and found my little hermitage cabin.  It took a few hours for the quiet inside of me to resonate with the quiet of my surroundings.  It took me that time to switch gears and truly believe I had nothing to do for two days.  I took muddy hikes, did yoga, read, wrote and slept.  My busy brain slowed to a gloriously relaxed state.  I found meaning in being still.

On a muddy hike at Dwelling in the Woods

I walked away from these three events with some inner peace, grounded again in my body.  I am so grateful for the invitation, the ritual and the gift that made these things possible.  I am deeply aware that everyone deserves rest, leisure time, and a space to put the ego away. I am reminded of the importance of meaningful ritual during rites of passage.  I walk away from high school teaching having been profoundly affected, and I feel strong enough to face the next step.

Wasn’t that a nice blog post?  Didn’t I tie it up neatly at the end?  Everything I wrote is true.  But the full disclosure is that there is no way I will ever get over my love affair with teaching high school.  These events helped, but lately, as August rolls on and I fully realize I am not returning to the classroom, I have been crying a lot.  My decision to walk away was a good decision for me in my life right now.  But I loved my job.  And there was never a time when I felt there was one right decision.  And maybe this is what the quarter life crisis is all about.  We are in charge of building a beautiful life, and there is no one right path to choose.  I am deeply excited about the next opportunity I am claiming.  But I will undeniably miss my students and the community that helped me learn how to teach, that helped me grown up.

  • I think perhaps deep love always brings with it, if not the reality of sorrow, the possibility of it. I suspect that you will always be a teacher, even if you are not now in a classroom. Maybe you can work on bringing/looking for/creating the pieces of what made teaching joy-filled for you, to whatever your next endeavors are. And that will also honor the communities which have helped you to grow. Thank you for naming what this experience has been for you — and for reminding all of us that life doesn’t come in neat packages.

  • Megan Smith

    Lovely post, Ellie. I wish you all the best as you move forward. I had my own quarter-life crisis post-grad school (summer of 2006) and, ironically, it was because I could not find a high-school teaching position. As with everything, it all worked out. Now, I watch my younger brothers as they experience similar crises in their mid-twenties and it seems to be yet another rite of passage. Yes, being an adult is difficult. There is an enormous difference between a job and a ministry or vocation. Change and transition are difficult. You are so blessed to have the opportunities for retreat, hermitage, silence and reflection. I’m sure the next phase in your life will be equally blessed.