Image generated with AI.
For the last 6 months, I’ve been working as a teacher. I work in venture capital as my day job, but at night I teach small classes at an after-school academic program here in Princeton. I teach K-12 English and math. Some of my students need extra help after falling behind in the pandemic, and others simply want to get ahead. The pay is not good—teachers need to be paid more, and that is a hill I’m willing to die on. But I absolutely I love my job. It is the most rewarding work that I’ve ever done, more rewarding than starting my company.
I love seeing a light bulb turn on—and a student’s face light up—when they finally understand that algebra concept they’ve been struggling with. I love when they give me little gifts, like a pencil drawing or an eraser they bought at the school store that somehow smells like pizza. I see my impact every day in their faces and progress; quantitatively in their test scores, qualitatively in their improving attitudes toward school. When my fiancé Jack picks me up from work and sees my smile from ear to ear at the end of a teaching shift, it’s then that we wonder…if I love it so much, why don’t I become a teacher?
I imagine my life here in this college town working as a school teacher and it makes me smile. But is that allowed for me? Is this “prestigious” enough after graduating from the Ivy League? What will other people think? Does any of that even matter if it makes me happy? My therapist told me today that “The pursuit of prestige is the act of running away from shame,” which is what inspired this blog post. I have so much shame about my background, how I grew up, my odd career path and who I am as a person, that I constantly pursue prestige to combat that shame. Prestige in schools, in jobs, and in social circles.
In the process of applying to graduate school, I’ve had to illustrate what I want to “be” and what I want to “do.” This is typically distilled down into what your future job title is. My family gets whiplash. Do I want to be a teacher? Do I want to be a venture capitalist? Do I want to be entrepreneur? For Christ’s sake, just pick one already, dammit. Like in Billie Eilish’s ballad from the Barbie movie: What was I made for?
Let me counter all that with the following: Do I have to choose? And do I have to be defined by my job title at all? What’s wrong with some multi-hyphenation? On LinkedIn, I get nervous. I see people whose resumes and profiles seem like they have it all figured it out and everything is perfect for them. Is it okay that I’m not there yet? Is it okay that I’m flawed? Reality check: the only person I need to ask this permission from is myself.
Cheers to everyone who feels like they’re on a lonely path this 2024. (Otherwise known as “the road less traveled by,” à la Robert Frost.) With enough vulnerability, we can figure it out together. You were made for something, and it doesn’t matter if you figure it out at 18 or 32 or 59-years-old. I’m looking forward to watching it unfold.