Why I'm leaving "the best job in the world" to be "unemployed"

Max's 6th birthday party

My nephew Max turned six years old last May. I often think about the day he was born because it's significant for me in two ways:

  1. Of my three sobrinos, I was only in town for his birth. I got to hold him in the hospital and suggest possible middle names.
  2. He was born during my second interview with THINK Global School—the Skype call before they sent me to China for a trial run.

In my mind, his life represents my total employment at the world's first traveling high school.

Putting that time frame in terms of a human life—especially that of a sassy, intelligent little "seawormie" like Max—helps me wrap my head around it. It manages to portray the weight of the impact TGS has had on my life. And not just on my profession.

What I'm Leaving

My time at TGS.png

I interviewed to be a videographer, and I ended up in the classroom. It was quite the leap; I looked up the word "curriculum" and planned one in the same week. It felt so sudden and yet so gradual that I had to pause a couple years later to finally spell out what happened: I became a teacher. I filled a gap, and people trusted me to do so. Thankfully, I had great mentors and colleagues along the way.

As a teenager, I remember thinking, "Who in their right mind would choose to stay in a high school for their career?" There are some that know it's where they need to be. Their calling. I was not one of those people. Becoming a high school teacher snuck up on me while I thought I was becoming a global storyteller.

All this time, it has never been possible to separate my personal and professional life at TGS. Working for a nomadic institution dictates the lifestyle I can have, regardless of my wavering desires to have a home base and "nest." Though I've had the chance to live in six different continents and make friends all over the world, my main friend base is either the TGS community or those accessible at any given moment online or during school breaks. The scope of my community widened in breadth but lessened in depth.

Dating was hardly a realistic option for an international woman of mystery. I developed a whole theory on that. For another blog post...

In a few months, Max will turn seven years-old. Two weeks from that day, I will be leaving this lifestyle I've known for as long as he's been alive. No longer will he have to ask me: "Why do you always have to travel for work? Are you going to be at my birthday?" I'll have easy answers for him, finally.

Why I'm Taking Off

 On my way to Goddard College, Jan 2016

On my way to Goddard College, Jan 2016

I made the difficult decision a while back to make this my last year at THINK Global School. There are so many things I love about this job—the constant challenge, the bright and driven students, a mission I believe in, the creative freedom to name a few—but I somewhat ironically must also call it unsustainable as a lifestyle, at least for me after a decade of not being still for more than four months at a time.

I've come to accept that I am tired, worn down. Apparently, my adrenals are shot. My back is bent. Routines are hard to maintain in an ever-changing environment.

Sometimes it's hard to sift through the ever-questioning pile of thoughts in my head to identify my own opinion amidst my openness to new perspectives. I started to assume I was out of my element more than I assumed my perspective was valid.

And I miss being a reliable friend, someone who can host gatherings in a physical home or be expected to attend a wedding or even answer a phone call without fear of getting the time zones all wrong.

But the most curious and illuminating desire that has sprung forth from my contemplation to leave TGS is my desire to once again be known in a community, to abandon the sense of anonymity I enjoy walking through the streets of Mumbai or Marrakesh. I remember finally acknowledging and calling that feeling out, back in 2008 on a layover in Doha, that lack of obligation to anyone where I was. It was freeing. After growing up in a small state and an even smaller hometown, I was happy to know I could just simply be in a place. I could be anybody.

 One of my rare Mother Bear/Culture Clash/Default to Comedy moments in Delhi. Photo by Jonah Dollery

One of my rare Mother Bear/Culture Clash/Default to Comedy moments in Delhi. Photo by Jonah Dollery

That was my brother's advice when I moved cities and schools in ninth grade: "No one knows you here. You can be whoever you want to be." That advice followed me to Bloomington for university and then to sixty other countries where I relished in the freedom of being unknown. I tried on life as a culture chameleon.

Making this point might imply I think I'm "known" or that I was fleeing a undesired reputation, but this isn't the case. It's hard to step back from yourself and discover who you truly want to be when everyone around you has an idea of who you are already. Being abroad gave me the chance to swing on the pendulum and ultimately settle in the middle, to find where I'd like to be on the different sides of history, to identify the good and the bad within myself and make sure the best comes forward.

Being detached from one community gave me a chance to be a part of so many and to realized what role I wanted to play in one.

Out of my System?

My choice to stop traveling with TGS comes with a big implication: I will no longer be nomadic. Perhaps you might call it "settling down." I've always hated this concept because of what it implied: that I'm accepting a less desirable fate, pausing the whirlwind of my twenties and letting the dust settle in my thirties, that I'm hanging up my backpack and passport for good. I don't think any of these are the case.

 Sharing a really powerful moment atop Mt. Kilimanjaro with the first class of graduates from THINK Global School, June 2014

Sharing a really powerful moment atop Mt. Kilimanjaro with the first class of graduates from THINK Global School, June 2014

Traveling was never an activity that had the potential to "get out of my system" with repetition. What else is there that is more simultaneously humbling and invigorating? And traveling has been far more than air travel, that commute to work I don't enjoy anymore.

The dichotomy isn't home versus travel; it's comfort versus discovery. One needs both, and they're independent from place.

In a way, TGS naturally equips its employees to be turtles, to bring their homes with them and find comfort wherever their bodies settle. I can drop into a city and know my way around in a day. Before I arrive, I locate the nearest grocer, gym, coffee shop, and train station. I noticed a few years back that in order to begin subconsciously thinking of a place as "home," all I have to do is unpack my bags.

In essence and experience, cities are all the same. You find the neighborhood you like, the places that will feed you well, and some nice people to laugh with on Saturday nights. It helps when air pollution and cost of living are low, but honestly there are annoyingly reliable Starbucks and Brooklyn-esque eateries and hole-in-the-wall gems in every city. Yes, safety is worth considering, but we all define and perceive safety very differently these days. Even when Buenos Aires assaulted me and mugged me twice in a week, I found a way to exist happily in that city and grew to love it. I now view safety in the States very differently than I used to.

Moving every few months has given birth to a mindset that I can make any city feel like home. So if I no longer want to be nomadic, and any city can become home, where do I move to after I'm done with TGS in Spain?

Where I'm Landing

To land on one permanent destination, I decided on a few priorities:

  • I want to live in a city where the population appears to share my values and lives them as well. I'm tired of making choices out of convenience rather than conviction.
  • I want to move to a place where I already have friends who can help me settle and tap into the community I'm looking for. And not just friends but awesome and dear life pals.
  • I want to live somewhere I've never lived before, so that the possibility of new experiences and adventures is ever-present.

I landed on the city of Denver, Colorado, and I'm moving this summer.

Why I'm Sharing This With You

I want to say that I know I am lucky as hell to be able to make a list of priorities like that, one untainted by threat of survival and inconsiderate of whether that community wants me. In a way, I imagine turning what could (and perhaps should) be a journal entry into a blog post implies I think my life decisions are worthy of inclusion in the local paper. But I don't. That would actually be quite embarrassing.

Because the idea behind sharing this information on my blog is that I can't say these thoughts aloud to the people who ask about them. I need writing to make sense of the slush of emotions and thought-farts that cloud my mind. I can articulate a fraction of the above when speaking, even with preparation and practice (and I'm often mentally practicing how to say something). My eyes well up, and I avoid looking at the people listening. I forget what I mean to say because my thoughts spin, and I lose sight of the beginning of my sentence once I'm halfway through.

For the last two years, I've been focusing on that need for writing. I started graduate school in 2016 to study creative writing, and this winter I am finishing my first draft of my first manuscript. A story about Fiji. By the time I leave TGS, that manuscript will be a thesis, and if all goes as planned, I will graduate in June with my Master's degree and a thesis in tow.

From One Dream to Another

Working at a high school for the last seven years has brought my own high school experience to the forefront of my memory. Everything my students do or contemplate inspires me to think back to my own mindset as an eighteen year-old with future goals and fears.

In 2014, I received in the mail the graduation questionnaire I filled out on my last day at Park Tudor in 2004. Exactly ten years after writing this hopeful prediction for where I'd be, I was watching the first TGS World Class graduate in Hiroshima, Japan (and bawling my eyes out).

According to my adult mind, I far exceeded my hope of being a traveling photographer who had seen the far corners of Europe. Europe was familiar and accessible at the time. Photography was what I then loved and knew. But both my skills and my world expanded with Semester at Sea, with access to better technology, with jobs at STA Travel and Project Explorer, and ultimate (also most grandly) with THINK Global School, where I was free to channel all my passions and interests into a job that took me around the world more times than I can count.

You might find me a little stupid for giving up such an incredible gig. I've always told people the job is as cool as it is challenging (for reasons I've mentioned above). But take it as a testament to how much I am looking forward to committing my time and efforts toward being a writer, first and foremost.

 Staying hydrated and shaded while writing by hand in the Greater Okavango Delta

Staying hydrated and shaded while writing by hand in the Greater Okavango Delta

I came to TGS to be a global storyteller, and while this incredible place allowed me to do that and more, that’s now why I’m leaving TGS. I will forever reflect happily on the seven years I spent here when I had the chance to work with amazing educators and students and see the world, but I have a new excitement brewing for what’s to come next.