When I was a sophomore in college, I served as a state FFA officer. As many state officers do, I was so caught up in the fun of working with FFA members across the state that I decided to add a second major - Agriscience Education - to my resume, in addition to Agricultural Communications (which is what I had started college with). So then for the next four years, I worked diligently toward becoming a high school agriscience teacher. I got accepted to Michigan State's College of Education. I took courses in teaching technique. I did job shadow days with other ag teachers in the state. I took all the steps you're supposed to take for a career in agriscience education.
But, for some reason, as the days of my senior year narrowed down, I still hadn't picked a school and teacher to do my student teaching yet. I couldn't put my finger on it, but there was just something nagging at me, where none of my options "felt right." Where, when I looked ahead to the next 12 months, I didn't get excited – not about teaching, not about working with students...nothing.And then one night, about two weeks before grauation, I was lamenting this lack of interest in student teaching and someone - I can't remember who it was, but I thank them every day - they asked, "Do you even want to teach?"
And, in that moment, I remember an overwhelming sense of resistance.
Of course I want to teach! It's what I've been preparing for for FOUR YEARS. I love FFA! I love ag teachers! How could you even ask me that question!?
My brain was fighting against the question with everything it had and, yet at the exact same time, it was quietly whispering something else. It was whispering, "No. I don't."
And that was freaking scary.
It All Comes Back to Fear
When Mark teaches The Survivor's Guide to Thriving Pyramid - the seven steps required to go from Surviving to Thriving in any behavior - he always highlights the three reasons people fail to make change in their life:
- Pain - making a change will hurt to much (think: exercise)
- Fear - making a change is scary (think: taking a new job)
- Opportunity - making a change doesn't seem worth it at this point (think: building your dream house when the one you're in is fine for now)
And while I believe all of those are very true, I also think that all three boil down to just one on them: fear. You're afraid making a change will be painful. You're afraid you'll take advantage of an opportunity and it won't have been worth it. Facing your fears is an incredibly daunting undertaking.
And it makes sense as to why that is, right? Evolutionarily speaking: fear is designed to keep you safe. It's designed to keep you from getting eaten alive from sabertooth tigers or whatever. It's designed to keep you from fighting the other cavemen who are bigger than you. Fear is a biological tool designed to keep you alive so you can pass your genes on to the next generation of the species.
But we don't have sabertooth tigers anymore. And we don't have other big, bad cavemen to fight for resources. No - instead we have new jobs, and new relationships, and moving across the country, and losing weight, and making new friends. We have things that are not life-threatening – but still seem scary as shit in our caveman brains. And so we avoid the scaryness and we stay in Survival mode.
In my experience, I was afraid to admit that I didn't want to teach any longer. Why? Oh, a whole host of stupid reasons.
- My parents might be upset with me.
- I'd let my fellow ag ed majors down.
- That would mean I'd have wasted my time in college.
- There weren't going to be any other jobs available at this point in the year.
- I wouldn't have enough other experiences to get a non-teaching job.
None of these - I repeat, none of these - were true in any way, shape or form. But that's why fear is such a tricky culprit of resistance. Fear makes you think the talk in your head is real, when it's probably not.
The Only way to end suffering? Do. The. Work.
When that person posed the question I'd been to afraid to pose myself - "Do you even want to teach?" - it was easy for fear to overtake my brain because I had done nothing to dispel the myths. I had no other frame of reference for which to say, "Are those assumptions even true?"
And I decided it would be helpful to have that data.
So I spent the next few weeks gathering information that would help me make a better decision. In the SG2T Pyramid, this is what we'd call Driving Effort - it was the work I needed to put in to move past Suffering (where I knew that there might be something better out there, but hadn't done anything about it yet) and onto what could be. And, in this experience, the work I needed to do was research - to find out if the root of my fears were reality or not.
So I called my dad - an agriscience teacher himself - and broke the news to him: I was considering not being an ag teacher. His response? He laughed and said, "I wondered when you might figure that out!" Wow, guess he wasn't too upset about it. I could cross that concern off the list.
Then I told my fellow ag ed majors: "I'm thinking about not student teaching." Their response, "Ummm...okay." Lesson: people don't think about you nearly as much as you think they do. That worry? Gone.
Then I talked to my mentors - what other jobs would be out there for me if I didn't teach? How could I use my ag ed degree in a different way? Or, heck, remember the other part of my degree - ag communications? How could I go down that path? And would there be any opportunities still available this late in the game?
These conversations with my mentors turned out to be the game-changer. One of the companies I was interning with at the time offered me a full-time job if I wanted to stay on! And then my boss from another internship (I was kind of a serial intern at that time), suggested that I look into marketing agencies - a path she had found incredibly satisfying early in her career. Getting their outside perspective made me realize that, if I didn't teach, there were other options available to me.
It was this second path that I ended up taking. Not only were there agency jobs still available - there were a lot of them. With very reputable companies. I spent the next month after graduation interviewing and, low and behold, by June 15 I had a job.
All the Good stuff is on the other side of fear
There's been a video going around on Facebook of Will Smith talking about fear. If you haven't checked it out yet, I'd encourage you to do so. In it, Will tells a story about his experience going skydiving and concludes by saying, "God placed the best things in life on the other side of terror. On the other side of your maximum fear are all of the best things in life."
Just think about that. Yeah, moving forward into the unknown is scary. You may fail. But you also may succeed. Asking that guy or gal out may lead to finding your soul mate. Admitting you want kids may lead to you raising an amazing tiny human that makes the world a better place. Admitting you're not totally fulfilled in your current job may lead to finding your dream role, either within your current company or somewhere else. Joining that community organization may lead to a ton of new friends.
By leaning into the fear, the resistance that came up when I was questioned about my career path, I found an increibly rewarding first job where I met some of my best friends, pushed my skills to new levels, and - ultimately - put myself in a position where I could be in the role I am today, having the time of my life.
Change. Risk. New environments. Someone suggesting that the way things are now might not be the best fit for you. That's all scary! But if you realize that that resistance you're feeling is just your caveman brain trying to keep you safe from a danger that doesn't exist – then you realize that the only way to truly thrive is to ignore the fear, strap on your parachute, step out onto the edge...and leap.