Wednesday, February 17, 2010


“I’d tell myself

What good you do

Convince myself

It’s my life

Don’t you forget”

- Hollis, Mark David; Friese-Greene, Tim. Song “It’s My Life” Talk Talk

Recently, I was reading a post about trying to make a decision. I suggested writing a pros and cons list because it’s helped me when I’ve been stuck at a crossroads. Looking not only whether there are more pros or cons, but also the content of the list sometimes forces an answer to jump out at me.

It brought me back to a big decision from my past. I was a couple of months into in my second year of graduate school and miserable. Who said the first year would be the hardest? Soon, I was pregnant and could feel the stress my body was under, making me worry I could damage my unborn baby in some way. I knew I was unhappy, but what to do about it was another question. Graduate school was something everyone has to get through – nobody particularly enjoys it. But did the end justify the means? And did I want the end that this means was justifying?

While I mulled it over, I called my former high school, asking if I could observe a Social Studies class. If I was considering a change, I should know exactly what the job was like. At this point, I was in my second trimester. Observing the class, I was pleasantly surprised about the level of learning that was expected of the students. And an AP course would demand even higher order thinking. Perhaps teaching to high school students wasn’t such a concession.

I think it was my husband who suggested the list. Although I didn’t save the original, I think I can approximate it:

Become a College Professor or a High School Social Studies Teacher?

College Pros

Students would be more mature

Fewer hours in the classroom

Prestige of a PhD

College Cons

I’d have to spend a lot of time in dusty libraries researching (Publish or perish)

Fewer hours in the classroom

May have to teach in lecture halls

The department wouldn’t prize my teaching skills

Less money

Less job security (Tenure)

A lot of putting one another down in an effort to seem intellectual (I couldn’t compete)

Greater chance of moving far away from family

More difficult time coordinating careers with my husband

High School Pros

Smaller groups of students in each class

More money

Closer relationships with the students

More job security

Getting same students every day instead of twice a week

Should be able to get a job just about anywhere (Ha!)

Easier to find an area where my husband and I can both work

High School Cons

Students would be less mature

More discipline problems

Dealing with parents

I’d be quitting the PhD program

My professors and classmates would think I’d failed

History graduate students look down upon education graduate students

When I looked at the list, the high school had more pros than staying in college. Then I looked at the cons, and noticed that the content was starkly different. The college cons got to the heart of what I hated about the History program, and eventual job I’d obtain. Many of the high school cons were mostly superficial. If I stayed in the graduate program, I’d be doing it because I was worried about lowering expectations for myself, as perceived through someone else’s eyes**. Why on earth would I want to do something to theoretically please others – many whom I didn’t even respect?

That’s always been my problem. My hardest decisions are the ones where I think I should do or not do something because of what I think others will think or how I think my decision will make them feel. Now that I’m nearing a BIG BIRTHDAY (ugh, it’s coming ever closer), it seems beneath my years to live my life with others’ happiness in mind more than my own.

Do men do this? Do other women do this?

Of course, I know that I have to think of other people. But when I’m in a situation where the other person probably doesn’t care (or at least, shouldn’t care) as much as I do, why am I sacrificing what I want? A problem recently arose, and I made a mental list, revealing that I was once again putting my own happiness aside in the worry that I’d offend someone else.

If it weren’t for lists, I’d be an even bigger mess.

*This story is in more detail here:

** Here’s a post on my views on different types of educators:


  1. Hi

    Oh now you see you must tell me your birthday date! Oh you must! :-)

    And I am so glad you stuck to your guts and followed your instinct, followed what you wanted, followed what was good for you and only you when you reached this particular crossroads in your life. Because you really and truly have to be happy within yourself first. I loved that you were able to make such a detailed list from the heart of your very own pros and cons. And so glad you have a fabulously supportive Mr Milstein to help you along too.

    Hoooray for lists! I just think if you hadn't chosen this road, this blog would not be the amazing blog it is with all your ups and downs as a super substitute teacher. And soon to be published author...


    Take care

  2. I actually read a book about how society programs teenage girls to do this - to think more about pleasing others than themselves. I do think it's more a female thing than a male thing, though not all females do this, because I've noticed that my sister does not. It's great that you've noticed this and can adjust accordingly!

  3. Don't worry about that BIG BIRTHDAY, Theresa. There really is life after 30!!

  4. I know how you feel - it is hard not to worry about what others think.

    Big Birthdays arent that bad when you get to them. It's like you're the baby of that decade, just starting out, all fresh. :o) That's what I told myself when I hit 40!

    Thanks for taking the time to comment on my blog :o))

  5. Old Kitty, thank you for the kind words. Sometimes I wonder if taking the other road would've made me more successful at this point, but I think the biggest mistake was not entering teaching right after I got certified. You're right - subbing is material for my blog.

    As for my birthday, you'll know because my posts will become maudlin.

    Susan, my instinct is that females are dictated to do this more by society, but my husband said he feels that urge too. I keep trying to notice when I fall into this self-inflicted trap.

    Thanks you, Edie. I remember 30. I did have a life after that!

    Niki, I hope you're right - a fresh start. This will be my decade!

  6. I'll have to remember Niki's advice when it's my turn for The Big Birthday! How did your new critique group meeting go? :)

  7. Ant, the critique group went well. It's amazing what I take for granted that's confusing to one or two people. Then I know I have to make the passage clearer. I'm glad I joined. Thanks for asking.

  8. You totally hit the nail on the head! So many things that hold me back are the superficial ones - what other people will think of me. I am getting better at dealing with this (hello haphazard existence as a freelancer) but it is still hard. I spent my whole life pleasing other people after all.

  9. Rebecca, I think as long as we keep it in mind, it's half the battle.

  10. Here's a (sort of) man's input. I don't know if I think about pleasing others, but I definitely think about gaining prestige and being noticed. (Is that the same as pleasing others?) It's actually a self-centered motivation. I like my job right now, but in the back of my mind I wish that I could be one of those experts who gets interviewed on radio talk shows. I sort of wrote about this on my blog. (Titled "What is Greatness? And Can I ever Hope to Achieve It?")If you click my name, it will come up. (I think.)

  11. Paul, I guess I do that too. Part of the reason I thought of staying in the PhD program was the prestige. That's self-centered. I'll check out your post.

  12. This one really resonated with me; I feel like I've spent my life trying to make everyone else happy instead of making myself happy. My career turmoil the past couple of years has focused on what I thought I'd be doing at this age, what others expected I should be doing, whether or not what I do matters and being afraid to pursue my real passion. Sometimes we're our own worst enemy! I just re-read Blink and Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell - both very interesting regarding decision making and sucess.

  13. Kathleen, if you do something you enjoy and/or it gives you time to do other things you enjoy, that's what counts. I love Malcolm Gladwell's books.