Should I Quit Teaching and Give Up on My Dream?

Dear GoodTherapy.org,

I can’t do this anymore. I wasn’t expecting to strike it rich as a history professor. Nobody becomes a teacher for the money. But I thought that with a PhD, I could convince somebody to give me a living wage.

I drive around the city teaching at three separate colleges throughout the week. I share a studio apartment with a roommate (also a teacher). At my age, I wasn’t expecting to scrape by on part-time jobs with a rising pile of debt. It’s humiliating.

My situation would be easier to handle if I knew what I did wrong. But I did everything society said I needed to succeed. I graduated from a top school, did internships, published articles. My student evaluations are better than the tenured teachers’.

I feel like I’ve been cheated. Why did I pay tuition all those years if there were no jobs for my skill set? The sheer unfairness of it all makes me want to give up. I wish I could start my life over.

I know this isn’t healthy. Plenty of people have told me to find a new career. But teaching history has been my dream, ever since I was a little girl. I can’t bear the thought of never being in a classroom again. I feel like if I quit now, I’ll spend the rest of my life with this failure over my head.

Please help me. I can’t keep following a dead-end career into poverty. But I can’t bring myself to give up on my dream, either. What should I do? —Brilliant but Broke

Submit Your Own Question to a Therapist

Dear Brilliant,

As you well know, teachers don’t tend to make a lot of money but do expect satisfaction from their work (which happens to be very hard work). From the description of your routine, I am guessing you work as an adjunct at three different colleges. Compared to other teachers, adjuncts typically make less money, have less job security, and are often dissatisfied with their jobs. I’m sure it’s no fun traveling from one school to another, one part of the city to another. It’s time consuming and no doubt irritating. Often, adjuncts take on other types of employment to make ends meet.

You are not obligated to give up your dream, although changing some of the details might help. For example, you might consider applying to a college in a different location for a more stable and satisfying, non-adjunct position. Perhaps you already have. Perhaps relocating isn’t an option.

You say feel like a failure, and you sound hopeless. Those kinds of feelings can’t help but color your self-confidence, let alone your worldview.

That’s pretty much the extent of any employment advice I have to offer. I’m not a career counselor, after all. What I can address is your deep dissatisfaction with your life and your feeling of having been cheated. There is a fair bit of despair in your tone, a perfectly human response to a common plight. You say feel like a failure, and you sound hopeless. Those kinds of feelings can’t help but color your self-confidence, let alone your worldview.

Satisfaction is found within, not from the outside. It might behoove you to look inside and see what else might be eating at you. An inner journey, with a therapist as your guide, might reveal that your life has its satisfactions as well as old, hidden problems that may be affecting how you live.

Would you consider working with a psychotherapist who can help you get to know yourself better? You don’t sound like someone who likes herself very much. You also don’t sound like someone who has a lot of experience identifying your needs or caring for yourself. Therapy can help bring your most cherished values forward so you can live your life with more authenticity and contentment.

If you’re concerned that therapy costs money, know that many therapists have sliding-scale fees.

If you wish to start your life over, you can. It starts by learning the many ways a meaningful life can be lived. On your terms.

As I read your letter, I found myself wondering how old you are. Then I realized your age doesn’t much matter. What does matter are your connections to life, feeling needed, and being an integral part of a whole, an important member of a community. That makes a difference—and it makes a difference whether you’re teaching or pursuing a new path.

Thank you for writing.

Take care,

Lynn Somerstein, PhD, NCPsyA, C-IAYT

Lynn Somerstein
Lynn Somerstein, PhD, NCPsyA, C-IAYT is a Manhattan-based, licensed psychotherapist with more than 30 years in private practice. She is also a yoga teacher and student of Ayuveda—the Indian science of wellness. Her main interest is in helping people find healthy ways of living, loving, and working in the particular combination that works best for them, connecting to their deepest energic source so their full range of abilities can be expressed. Lynn's specialty is understanding and alleviating anxiety and depression.
  • 1 comment
  • Leave a Comment
  • Kellen

    Kellen

    June 11th, 2018 at 9:21 AM

    You have to love what you do. It sounds like you love teaching, but it is not paying the bills. So you either have to find a better-paying teaching gig or find another passion, unfortunately. Colleges are making it harder to get tenure anyway.

Leave a Comment

By commenting you acknowledge acceptance of GoodTherapy.org's Terms and Conditions of Use.

* Indicates required field.

 

Advanced Search

Search Our Blog

   
GoodTherapy.org is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, medical treatment, or therapy. Always seek the advice of your physician or qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding any mental health symptom or medical condition. Never disregard professional psychological or medical advice nor delay in seeking professional advice or treatment because of something you have read on GoodTherapy.org.