Why I Gave Up Tenure to Pursue My Dream

Job-security for as long as I wanted. Stability and a decent salary. Paid vacations and professional development in travel-destination cities.

Oktoberfest in a genuine dirndl.

Oktoberfest in a genuine dirndl.

Do these things sound good to you? They did to me, too. I liked the prospects of the lifestyle of an international teacher. I did it for seven years and found great value in the experiences I gained because of my career. But there was one problem. More and more each year, I realized that I wasn’t a good fit for the job. I had a dream that was impossible to achieve in that role. So, I decided to step away from the offer of tenure. I walked away from paid vacations, a monthly salary slip, and the stability that comes with knowing what to expect. I decided to go my own way.

It’s back-to-school season now, and I’m not packing my bags to fly back to Germany, where I was living until quite recently. All of my friends are international teachers, and right now they are either begrudgingly returning to their schools after a summer of adventures and visiting family, or excitedly discovering their new homes in new countries, at new job postings. I am not looking over my new class schedule, or attending the endless meetings that are always part of the start of the year. Instead, I am writing blog posts, learning how to organize my content, and launching a new series of paintings. I’m stepping into the shoes of being my own boss. And I couldn’t be more excited!

I am swapping all the benefits of being an international teacher for something much more valuable. I am gaining autonomy. I am gaining the time and space to pursue my passion, to work towards my full potential as an artist. I am giving myself permission to focus on my goals and aspirations. If it sounds drastic to you, then you’re right. It is a drastic decision!

This big change has been happening for quite a while now, even before I realized. You see, in the summer of 2016, I moved to Germany to begin my dream job. Teaching at a well-established international school in the center of Europe. When I was offered this job, my heart swelled and I could barely contain tears of happiness. It was genuinely what I thought was my dream. It was the 3rd time I was moving to a new country alone, and my expectations were high. I knew what I was doing…. Or so I thought. The reality crashed down around me. Hard. My dream job turned into something so stressful that it brought on chronic insomnia and stress-induced stomach pain. To give you an idea of what I mean, my doctor thought my appendix was going to burst, but it turned out to be just stress. My lowest point was not being able to eat for five days because of the pain in my stomach, meanwhile pretending to be normal and continuing to go to work because I was still new in my job and didn’t want to take too many sick days so early on. I won’t get into the direct causes of stress, but I will say that I was not expecting them due to my experience in that role. Like I said, I thought I knew what I was doing. It was a culture-shock of sorts.

I should say here that my workplace wasn’t bad, and I’m not trying to blame anyone for the stress I endured. The school is a great place to work, it’s well-respected, and the city is lovely. It was just a bad fit for me.

The unexpectedness of my dream job being a bad fit really threw me. I realized that it wasn’t that particular workplace. It dawned on me that it was the career. My chosen career, in which I had earned a Master’s degree and recently-renewed teaching license to perform, was not good for my well-being.

It was the year of my 29th birthday, I was (and still am) learning who I am and who I want to be. I was realizing what I really wanted in life, and how far I was from that. My day-to-day responsibilities were in contrast to what I realized I wanted. The daily grind was literally grinding me down.

This is my happy place.

This is my happy place.

As a way to improve my well-being, I focused on my mental health and decided to reconnect with my passion for art. I did a 100 Days of Painting challenge. I poured myself into my painting. I created about 20 paintings in 40 days. I didn’t make it to 100 days, but it didn’t matter. I gained an incredible awareness. I discovered that my love of creating art is healing and powerful. I wanted to do it more and more. I started a website, formed an international artist group, and began planning bigger and better goals for my art and my life. I was hungry to learn about personal growth through books and podcasts, and became obsessed about goal-setting. The school year went by, and my well-being improved somewhat. The spark for creating ignited into a flame.

In my second year in Germany, I was fortunate enough to have my guy join me (he had just finished his teaching degree in Canada, and we had just married). This was a great boost to my happiness. My personal life was thriving. However, after several weeks back at school, the same stresses were reoccurring, and my strategies to quell them weren’t the solution I needed. There was something in my gut that knew it was the wrong place for me. It hit me one day on my way home from school, holding in tears of exasperation. I had to make a change. I came home and sat my guy down. I blurted it all out before my mind had actually processed it. I wanted to change my career and become a full-time artist. And you know what? After a stunned moment, he agreed. We made a plan to move to Canada.

Now I am beginning my journey of entrepreneurship, or in other words, being a full-time artist. I am my own boss. I have a long road ahead of me to grow my art business from the ground up, but I am motivated to get there. I am inspired by other creatives who I see achieving at great heights, and know that I can achieve my lofty goals in time. Because I believe that my purpose is greater than what I have achieved so far.

So now when people ask me what I do, I can now happily say that I am a professional artist.

If you’d like to be intentional about your goals, I recommend someone who has been a great resource to me, Michael Hyatt. Check out his blog post about SMART goals here. Set aside an hour to read his actionable steps, and start brainstorming!