I looked at the faces on my computer screen, the people in my support group with whom I’ve spent every Thursday night on Zoom for the past two years. As the facilitator, I try to stay positive, but one night I was really down. I had just gotten back from a girls’ weekend with two college friends, both of whom went on to have successful careers, one as a lawyer and the other as a high school principal.
I thought back to our college years and wondered what happened to me—the straight-A student who worked two part-time jobs, participated in choir, theatre, served as Philanthropy Chair in a sorority, and volunteered at a local school. I had looked forward to a bright future when all my hard work and dedication would pay off. And it did until a mental breakdown in my 40s upended my world.
Due to an unsupportive administration that exacerbated my mental health challenges, I had to give up my beloved career as a high school English and Drama teacher. As my college friends talked about juggling the demands of working full-time, raising children, and managing household tasks like cooking, cleaning, and paying bills, I felt like a failure. I can barely manage to work ten hours a week, my daughter is struggling with her own mental health issues, and my husband handles the majority of the household chores. I smiled and nodded, pretending to relate, but inside I felt broken and worthless.
As my support group shared how their week had gone, I debated whether or not to let them know how terrible I felt. As a leader, I didn’t want to take any focus off of them and I didn’t want to set a negative tone. But I needed to be honest. So I shared how difficult my weekend trip had been and how lonely and unaccomplished I felt.
Nicole, my fellow leader of the group, told me that she became a facilitator because I inspired her in one of the mental health courses I taught. She continued, “I know you feel like you’ve failed because you aren’t an English teacher anymore, but you are still teaching and impacting so many lives. More than you will ever know. So many people are here because of you.”
Another voice said, “I’m here because of you.”
Then another. “Me, too.”
My throat swelled and my heart filled with gratitude. A warm sensation spread throughout my body. I thanked them for their kind words and told them how much I needed to hear that.
Sometimes we can’t see what is right in front of us. Sometimes we get so caught up in what was supposed to be that we miss the beauty of what is. By pining for past employment or neglecting to explore other options, we rob ourselves of new and exciting opportunities and lasting, meaningful connections. We can still make a difference even if it’s not the way we had hoped or imagined. We can use our talents, skills, and experiences to enrich (even save) another’s life. I can’t think of anything more worthwhile than that. I may not have the money or the pension plan or the health insurance or the retirement benefits like I once did, but I have peace of mind and purpose and that is priceless.