Between the screaming kids, never-ending overstimulation, and lack of alone time, I learned that teaching was not the right fit for my introverted self.
I have loved children for as long as I can remember. Even as a young kid in daycare, I’d ask to help out with the babies in any way the staff allowed, which often meant I could merely provide them with toys or hold their hand. Despite wanting more responsibility, I happily obliged, though I discreetly tried to pick the adorable babies up, too, when I thought no one was looking.
Similarly, I’d also shadow my aunts and uncles at family reunions, waiting patiently for an opportunity to hold my sweet, younger cousins while watching closely as they were fed bottles and baby food, hoping to be trusted with such a privilege to help.
I was transfixed by kids out in public, too, shamelessly squealing at their cuteness and pointing them out to whomever was with me.
So, at 20 years old, it was essentially a no-brainer to find my dream job: a career working with children.
Not to mention, as a shy introvert, I was looking forward to spending time with kids — away from the pressures of making conversation with other adults — in what I thought would be a soothing atmosphere.
I Thought I’d Found My Calling …
When I landed my first job in a local gym daycare, I was ecstatic. I couldn’t wait to get to work each day and spend time with the kids. Working in this gym daycare was unique because each child’s stay was limited to no more than two hours. This meant we frequently had different children filtering in and out, some for the full two hours, and others for as little as 15 minutes or so.
Plus, I worked closely with the other staff members in one big room; thus, I had plenty of opportunities to take short breaks when needed; the alone time was necessary for my introverted soul.
This way of working with children was minimally stimulating and required much less energy than other childcare jobs. Also, since there were always other staff members around, I rarely had to interact with the children’s parents, which was a relief for this shy introvert. I really felt like I found the dream job I’d wanted.
… But it Turned Out to Be Short-Lived
Eventually, though, I realized that I couldn’t afford to continue working there, financially speaking. I left the gym daycare searching for higher-paying opportunities and began working in preschools and elementary schools.
For a while, the excitement remained. Truthfully, however, I was initially intimidated. I felt particularly nervous about increased interactions with the classroom parents. Plus, working one-on-one with another teacher — rather than with several others at once — was daunting, as I imagined the countless opportunities for awkward silences on my end as I struggled to carry on a conversation.
But the kids made up for it. It was fun and rewarding to work with them, and I felt myself grow as I gained knowledge and skills through experience. As a shy introvert who rarely put myself out there and tried new things, this was a considerable feat. Additionally, I truly treasured the bonds I formed with the children after spending full days with them.
Yet even though I had the same initial honeymoon phase at each school I worked at, I slowly noticed that my emotional tank was emptying. I’d leave work each day feeling sluggish, foggy, irritable, and exhausted.
I continued switching from school to school, desperately hoping that perhaps it was the individual institution causing these feelings, rather than the job itself. I love children, I thought in the car on the drive home each day, so why am I feeling so lousy?
But working with kids is far more than just snuggling the adorable little ones and playing games with them. You have to be “on” all day, every day, which includes continually smiling, being extremely patient, and having a positive attitude. No matter what’s going on in your personal life, you have to exude constant energy and essentially give your all to the kids (as well as to their parents at drop-offs and pick-ups).
These seemingly doable expectations can wreak havoc on an introvert since we tend to require solitude, lose energy around others quickly, and prefer to observe from the sidelines. Not to mention, kids are very, very loud. And extremely — but rightfully — needy.
Plus, in preschools and elementary schools, there weren’t as many opportunities to take quick breaks when needed (as there were in the daycare setting). Every preschool I worked in was also chronically understaffed, which sometimes meant even precious lunch breaks needed to be shortened to ensure classes were in ratio, which equated to less time for me to recharge my introvert battery throughout the day.
I Was Getting Burnt Out: I Was Fading Fast and Couldn’t Find Relief
Soon enough, it wasn’t just the evenings after work when I felt depleted, but every day. I’d typically become overstimulated and mentally be in anguish before 10 a.m., panicking as I’d try to figure out how I’d make it through the rest of the day. I’d often break down in tears on the drive home, too overwhelmed to even listen to the radio.
A mixture of frustration, shame, and disappointment flooded my mind and heart as I tried to reason with myself. Maybe I should try a different school again, I wondered. Perhaps I should try to get a nanny job instead. Deep down, though, I knew neither of these was the long-term solution I was craving.
And knowing that the few hours I had to myself in the evenings after coming home from work were no longer enough to recharge my introvert battery, my anxiety worsened. Plus, the weekends always blew by too quickly and were often packed with other various responsibilities I needed to tend to.
Before I knew it, I felt completely burnt out. I knew I needed to make a change.
But I also felt trapped.
Working with kids was all I had ever done; it was all I knew how to do professionally. And despite my constant discomfort, it was still my comfort zone.
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I Felt Confused and Alone, So I Confided in Others
Eventually, I hesitantly attempted to confide in some of my coworkers. I explained how I was feeling and that I worried about no longer being a good teacher.
While many of them listened politely, it was apparent that none of them could relate. I observed these fellow teachers as they seemed to thrive around the kids, singing songs and making up entertaining games while dancing around the classroom. Whenever I tried engaging this way, I often felt awkward; it was like I was forcing extroverted energy.
I envied them.
Watching them, I was suddenly overcome with such sadness, feeling like I’d never be like them, that I’d never be able to so effortlessly give all of myself to these deserving kids, every minute of every day. It was also not lost on me that many of these teachers also went home to children of their own each night, which made me feel even more guilty.
I Found a Solution: I Pursued a More Introvert-Friendly Career Path
Once I realized that teaching young children was no longer an ideal line of work for my introverted personality, I knew I had to make a change. But first, I needed to recognize that being an introvert is not a bad thing; it didn’t mean something was “wrong” with me. Being an introvert isn’t something to “overcome” or “change”; it is just part of who I am.
After all, we introverts are deeply thoughtful, considerate of others, and wonderfully independent. Once I fully embraced my introversion, relief and self-love unexpectedly and abundantly flooded in.
It took some time, but I eventually convinced myself that I was not a bad person for leaving the realm of teaching and childcare after devoting eight years to it. Though it might have felt like it to my overly self-critical and highly sensitive mind, I did not abandon the children.
Additionally, I did not fail because I chose to change career paths to fit my introversion better. I decided to follow my passion and enter the world of freelance writing.
The idea of doing something I love from the comfort of my home was, of course, extremely enticing! By doing so, I don’t have to worry about being continually overstimulated by endless small talk with coworkers or forcing myself to be outgoing when I’m not.
Though changing my career path has involved a huge learning curve that includes taking risks and putting myself out there, it is still decidedly worth the peace I feel, knowing that I can honor my introversion.
If you’re considering switching jobs to something more introvert-friendly, but are scared, I urge you to follow your heart. I know it can be daunting to try new things and meet new people, but you deserve to be in an environment in which you thrive, doing work you find meaningful.
And, remember, job descriptions don’t always provide enough information to base your decision on, so first research ones you think you’d enjoy to make sure they’d be a good fit for you.
Overall, I’m proud of myself for prioritizing my mental health and listening to my instincts when it came to switching careers to something more suited to my introverted personality. And I wish the same thing for you.