Reflections on Unemployment and Career Transitions in International Education

Cartoon: Unemployment (large) by rodrigo tagged unemployment,work,society,economy,editorial,cartoonThere has been a lot of conversation about the state of our global economy.  Each of us knows someone who has been laid off or is underemployed.  Recent graduates continue to look for employment, whether or not in their field of study. The pressure is mounting with unemployment payments running out, school loan payments due, and the simple challenges of every day living expenses.  It is a tough market out there and for those who do have a full time position, we are particularly grateful for the relative security at this difficult time for so many others.

Several years ago, I went through a very difficult medical situation that resulted in my doctor recommending that I leave my full time position. (Click here to learn more about my experience getting ill from mold at Rockland Community College, where I was the Director of Study Abroad.) I was so incredibly ill at the time that I didn’t have the energy to think through what this meant financially;  I just wanted to feel better.  Once I did resign, I spent several weeks in bed focusing on healing. And when I came out of the fog, I had two choices:  1)  to panic about my lack of income and react from a place of disadvantage or 2) to use this as an opportunity to explore other “sides of me” – the interests that I have that I could never tap into fully. And like many of us, my excuse had always been that my inability to properly explore these areas was due to my full time work keeping me so ‘busy’.

It was not an easy time initially.  Actually, that is really an understatement;  it was one of the scariest experiences in my life.  However, ultimately, this dark time became one of the most profound learning experiences that I could ever have imagined possible.  Upon reflection, I am so very thankful for the gift of time to explore other interests and dormant talents.

I am a firm believer that we each have tremendous potential.  One of my favorite quotes is from Marianne Williamson: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?”

In the US, we take great pride in our work as a large part of our identity;  we often ask each other what we “do” vs who we are.  This is part of our culture and not surprisingly, we are firmly rooted in this identity. We often “reason” with ourselves that we are trained and experienced in one particular skill set as it relates to international education.  We are Designated School Officials (DSOs.) We are Study Abroad Directors. We are Academic Advisers.

Williamson’s quote serves as a reminder that if we do not take the time to explore other sides of ourselves, we will not have the chance to find our light, to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous in other areas of who we are.

As international educators, we possess many skills that support our successes in our previous job descriptions. We are great DSOs because we are detail oriented and are strong communicators across cultures.  We are Study Abroad Directors because we understand how to administer programs that are academically challenging in a different cultural context, we understand safety requirements, we are creative researchers, etc.

After I left my job, I sat down a made a list of many other interests that I “had never had the time to explore fully”. (Or at least that is what I thought.) I also reflected upon the tangential skills that I possessed and what kind of  work I could do that would tap into these and highlight my talent. And frankly,  I realized that this list was something that I HAD kept in the dark, because perhaps I really was frightened to tap into the light and see my own range of capabilities and allow them to shine brightly.

This list included:

– teaching ESL

– dedicating time to consulting as a primary source of income, allowing me to craft my day as I chose and to work on projects that I valued

– training and instructional design.

I was able to create an action plan for each of these key interests.  I had taken graduate level coursework in ESL and quickly was able to interview for a position teaching 2 classes at a local ESL school. I had 2 classes and found out that I loved being in a classroom!  I also realized that I didn’t love the hours of lesson planning as much as I loved the students and their infectious energy.

While I had done some informal consulting, I used this opportunity to formalize Melibee Global Educational Consulting by creating a web page and determining its core services.

The path to training and instructional design came through a somewhat unexpected tool. I found a “gig” on Craigslist with an incredible local training company that needed assistance with a Fortune 500 client’s projects.

While these revenue sources did not add up to my previous salary and I was paying a hefty COBRA payment, I was able to pay my bills and live without daily fear that it wasn’t going to be “ok.” During this period I was able to shift to the “light”; For me, this meant making an income doing activities that I enjoyed, with people who were interesting and who challenged me to dig deeper.  What started out as feeling as if the floor had been taken out from under my feet ultimately became a meaningful and beautiful journey that allowed me to carve out an existence that simplified my life and created a true period of balance and joy that I had not experienced before.

I eventually met with a dear friend who is a life coach and with her guidance,  was able to fine tune my transformation.  One of the books that served as a guide during our conversations is Cheryl Richardson’s “Take Time for Your Life.” This book is an inexpensive resource for anyone who is employed, but wants to transition out of their current source of income AND for anyone who is currently unemployed and anxious to use this time to tap into the light, allowing us to explore other sources of income from a positive place instead of a reactionary one.

And for those of you who are interested in exploring ESL as a source of a income, the TESOL Annual Convention will take place in Boston from March 24 – 27, 2010.  Perhaps it will be the start of a new journey!

Whatever your path, do your best to reframe the experience. Instead of “looking for a job” you may be embracing the journey and seeking the light.

  • Hi, Missy,

    Thank you for posting this. I can't express how much this helps. Would you mind sharing this with the others in the International Educator Circle?

    Tom

    • Thanks for your kind note Tom. I had that posted brewing in side of me for some time – and I am glad that my decision to post something so "personal" resonated with you. I send the postings to my Linkedin.com groups, but not sure if it hit the page yet. Feel free to comment on it and put the link on the page if you'd like for it to post more quickly – I don't mind at all! Thank you again for writing.

  • Pamela Ruiz

    Great article Missy. I have found that the best opportunities come from the most unexpected places – and that my career is just one journey among many, and I'm along for the ride!

    Hope to see you soon!

    • Thank you Pamela! The journey does take us to very unexpected places. See you soon!

  • Thanks for sharing your success story. What doesn't kill us makes us stronger! The challenge of unemployment is widespread and not limited to any specific countries.

    • You are correct – we do become stronger with the experience although it certainly doesn't feel that way at the time.

  • Gavin Hornbuckle

    Hi, Missy,

    This is a great and very timely post. As an unemployed international educator can definitely relate to what you are saying. Thanks for sharing your experience!

  • I had to read your post twice to get the full meaning of it. I enjoy reading what you have to say. It’s too bad that more people do not understand the benefits of coaching. Keep up the good work.

    • Thank you for your very kind words. With each situation, there is an opportunity. We just have to know how to look for it and it took me some time to realize that for me, it was 99% attitude and approach. I do agree – I wish more people were able to explore coaching. Imagine the possibilities!