38: The Confidence to Change

38: The Confidence to Change

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Reboot Your Life

The Confidence to Change

Success comes in cans, not can’ts.

~Author Unknown

Before my senior year of high school, I’d already planned out the next two decades of my life. My future would include a doctorate degree in psychology, a cozy therapy practice, a successful husband, and a beautiful house to call my own. After that, I planned to start a college fund for the kids, and, of course, have kids.

I began my journey as a very busy college student. Along with being a full-time student and working part-time, I was volunteering at a local outreach center, participating in psychology-related campus organizations, and spending time with my professors so I could benefit from their mentoring.

By my junior year, I was tired. By my senior year, I was exhausted. The best part of my day was my job. An English tutor at the university’s tutoring office, I loved helping struggling students understand and love literature and writing as much as I did. No matter how tired I was, working with the students always perked me up.

By the time I finished my master’s degree, I was drained. Physically, emotionally, spiritually. When I wasn’t in class or studying, I was working full-time at a counseling job I’d landed at an inpatient facility. My work hours usually lasted well into the night, and I spent every Saturday and Sunday pulling at least ten-hour workdays.

My dream of getting my doctorate started to feel like a nightmare. After a long night of gut-wrenching deliberation, I finally made the decision to take a break after I finished my master’s degree. I had enough credit to get my licensure to practice therapy, so I told myself all was not lost.

For the next seven years, I was a therapist. One day, during lunch with a friend, I found myself venting as usual about how therapy wasn’t a good fit for me. She leaned over and asked, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”

Without taking a second to think about it, I answered, “I’d teach at a college.”

For the rest of our lunch, I told her about my college days as a tutor, about the students whose faces and names I still remembered, about my excitement at witnessing a student’s “a-ha” moment.

On the drive home, I reminded myself about all the roadblocks to teaching. I only had a master’s degree. College teaching gigs were hard to come by. My friends and family would be confused by my career change. There were few colleges nearby.

I began to think I didn’t have what it took. I hadn’t made any of my long-term goals happen. I was a failure, a quitter. I didn’t know anything about teaching, and I didn’t have any experience. What college would want me? I told myself that even if I did find a teaching position, I probably wouldn’t be any good.

By that evening, I was drowning in self-doubt. I told myself to focus on more practical things — like working more hours at a job I didn’t enjoy. To try and re-motivate myself about my job, I sought out retreats and workshops. I read self-help books. I tried to pursue a new hobby.

A month later I received an e-mail from a woman I’d never met. She was the Director of Student Effectiveness at the local community college. She asked if we could meet and chat.

When we met she said the college was looking for someone to teach a College Success course. She said a couple of people had tossed out my name because I had a lot of energy and excitement. From what she’d heard, my personality sounded like a perfect fit for the students.

I was in shock but I didn’t hesitate. I immediately agreed to teach the course.

At first, I was excited. Then, I grew anxious. Instead of seeing this as my chance to kick-start a new career, I worried about all the things that could go wrong. Finally, I picked up the phone and called my friend.

“What would you say to a client in your situation?” she asked. What a great question! I knew exactly what I’d say to a client in my situation. I’d ask her to jot down all the reasons why she’d probably be great at teaching. Then I’d ask her to list all the reasons why she might not be.

Minutes later, I was making two lists. I scribbled down every thought that came to mind. When I finished, I realized there was a much higher chance that I would be a good teacher than a bad one. More than that, I realized that most of the reasons I’d listed for not being a good teacher were related to my low self-confidence, not because of any concrete evidence that I wouldn’t be good at it.

I decided to come up with ways to battle my self-doubt. I read books about teaching by leading researchers. I read articles written by students about what they wanted and needed from instructors. I talked to friends who taught and asked for their advice.

The class felt like a hit. I felt great about my prep and delivery, and the students seemed engaged. When the dean gave me my class’s end-of-the-semester evaluations, I was beside myself. Students wrote that they’d felt inspired, hopeful. Many said the class gave them confidence and made them feel like they could be successful in college.

The department asked me to become a regular instructor for the course. After that, I made the decision to pursue teaching. Starting small, I began introducing myself to other faculty members as we passed in the hallways and around campus. Then I heard about an opportunity to join a faculty committee. Whenever people asked me where I worked, I told them I was a therapist but that I was interested in pursuing teaching.

Word got around, and my networking paid off. Within a year, two other departments on campus asked me to teach in their areas as well. After quitting my job as a therapist, I accepted.

Teaching has been so rewarding that it’s given me the energy to pursue other interests, including taking violin lessons, which is something I’d wanted to do since I was a child. I also began writing fiction, playing the piano, and training for a marathon.

Today, I don’t ask myself what I’m afraid of. Today, I ask myself what exciting opportunities lie ahead.

~Angela Ogburn

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