Education, success, and J. K. Rowling

Welcome to my second TED talk! Today I will be talking education, success, and having your J. K. Rowling moment in life.

The author of Harry Potter gave a commencement speech at Harvard, and this quote has always stood out to me from that speech:

“Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”

How assuring it is to know that. It isn’t the same thing as “Things can’t get any worse,” which has made me feel sore. I’m learning what J. K. Rowling means is that the fact you have nothing can actually help you. Let rock bottom be your asset and strength.

Here, I will share my story. I spent years and a lot of money to become a teacher. I spent a lot of money taking tests, going to school, getting gas so that I could commute to school, and moving so that I could pursue teaching positions. I spent a lot of time doing everything that teachers are expected to do. All in all, teaching is an incredibly expensive endeavor in terms of money and time.

But that is not the worst part. When I became a teacher, I lost myself. I didn’t know who I was supposed to be. It felt like all of my best qualities–being personable, creative, passionate, kind, and accepting–did not help me at all. In fact, they hurt me. They made a subpar teacher and I struggled with getting students to listen to and respect me. I had a hard time with administrators and coworkers. Yet, I felt like I had to “work through” this because my parents wouldn’t let me quit, and because I had already spent so much on teaching. It made me extremely miserable until one day, I took the plunge, called my principal on the phone, and resigned from my job.

This is the cliche part of the story, where people say “When one door closes, another opens.” But I closed the door myself, and there isn’t another open. I’m just in the hallway, locked out but not having another room to go to.

In the past, I’ve always made sure I have one job or school lined up before one ended. Doors closing have never really bothered me because I knew where I’d go next. For the first time, I didn’t. At the moment, I’m not successful by any means. I’m at the least successful point in my life but I feel really happy with myself. Being compassionate is no longer a flaw. Being me, is alright.

At the same time, I start reaching out to editors and book people I follow on Twitter. The funny thing is that I never would’ve gotten on Twitter if it weren’t for this last job I had, where the school district required everyone to get a Twitter account. I came for the job and I stayed for my love of reading. Then I started following, commenting, and DMing these readers and authors and it’s been the best thing ever! I feel like there are people like me, and they have grown-up jobs doing what they love. It. Is. Possible!!!!!

My world started to open up because I’m finding so many connections, articles, books, and TV shows that speak to me. It’s like the things that have always existed, but I didn’t notice or was ignoring, are coming to the surface.

Recently, I talked to an editor, Cheryl Klein. I did a little research and found one of her talks, another convocation speech. In it, she talks about the idea of “the wand choosing the wizard,” and how the best time to move is when you have nothing. I’m not tied down by marriage, family, or a career. In this way, all of my past failures and breakups have actually given me the freedom to get up and pursue my dreams.

But, my experience has also shown me that I’m going to struggle a lot and have a hard time. I’m going to. I’m going to have to start at the beginning. There isn’t a shortcut just because I’ve worked and people are not necessarily going to care that I’ve been a teacher.

No matter how much writing I had done, I hadn’t done this before, and the only way to do it was to start at the beginning. Just like everybody else.

It’s not really logical to step away from job security and a salaried job, especially one as stable as teaching. But I know I am not alone. This is the right choice and rather than seeing myself as being too weak or not able to hack teaching, I see it as having the courage to step away what isn’t right for me to go for what might be right. I don’t need to know and no one gets to tell me “I told you so,” because it is all unknown. EVEN IF someday I go back to teaching/a desk job/cashiering, there is absolutely no shame in that because it is my choice. Plus, how could there be shame in working? People get to change their minds and circumstances change. I am done with shame!

My life now makes far more sense than it ever has. My therapist said that when you are doing what aligns with your values, the universe will start to expand and doors will open. (Feels, I know!)

I want to end with a video from Tiffany Young, a former k-pop singer I’ve followed for 10 years now. She inspires me because she left a very very successful career in Korea and came back to the U.S. to start over. At age 29, she is living her best life and starting as a “new” singer. I just love everything about this. You don’t need to be 18 to start a career. Sometimes, the right choice is leaving behind something that isn’t working and starting over. AND, the best part is, you don’t need to be immediately successful. The older I get, the more I realize there is no rush. I am going to be here as long as I am here, and I want to live my fullest and highest-quality life rather than rushing and fearing what happens.

Thank you for coming to my second TED talk! I love you all. Live your best life.

TED talk #1: Being a woman

There have been a lot of conversations about gender, feminism, sexual misconduct, and toxic masculinity. While I am glad that perpetrators are finally being called out, I think those terms don’t begin to describe what it’s really like to live as a woman. I don’t like the term ‘sexual misconduct’ because to me, it sounds like ‘zero-tolerance policy’ or not following an ‘expectation’ at school. As teacher and students know, nothing really happens for breaking a rule at school except a slap on the wrist.

I would like to talk about:

  • What it’s like living in a female body
  • What it’s like to feel invalidated by both men and women
  • What it’s like making yourself vs. other people making you

The amount of criticism directed at women for having a non-perfect body is just astounding. It’s like people get offended when a woman doesn’t look good. How dare she not manage herself?? She looks terrible in that. Has she gained weight? Those are just the verbal ones. They hurt but with enough time and practice, you can learn to ignore.

But, I think the more sneaky and powerful criticism are actually compliments for women who do pass the test, who do meet the beauty standards. Nothing makes you feel as bad as not feeling good enough. When you hear things like She looks like a Barbie. Her eyes are so big and bright. She has such nice skin.  What you really hear is that You are not good enough. There are beautiful women, and there is you. Growing up, this has always been the thing nagging at me. My family criticized me plenty for not taking care of myself, not brushing my hair, etc, but what hurt me the most is when they complimented other girls and women. Even if they weren’t saying it to me or it doesn’t have anything to do with me at all, I was hearing these comments and feeling like, wow, I am so sub-par. I am so ugly and plain!!! Clearly, these women are a different class than myself.

All of this is to say that, I grew up thinking that I am not right. My body, my face and my looks aren’t right. There are much better looks out there.

I have a lot of encouraging women in my life, thankfully, but some of the people who’ve hurt me the most in my life are women. They’ve explicitly told me that I need to look better and manage myself, otherwise I’m not going to attract any guys. I think the biggest thing is for women to support each other. Men have such an easy time picking women apart because some women already do it to each other. That makes me feel really sad.

With men, I often feel that I don’t please them and that they are frustrated with me. They talk to me like I am stupid and I completely missed their point. I’m not stupid– I am smart, and they are frustrated because they are not getting or hearing what they want from me. I’m not going to apologize for that–I never have and I never will. I guess guys will just have to continue thinking I am stupid or I don’t get their point. *flips hair*

Which brings me to the last point: I am done letting other people make me, and I am starting to make myself. People can continue thinking I don’t look good enough, or that I don’t get what they are saying. But I KNOW myself, and I know that I am smart, and beautiful. I’m not smart because I have a PhD and a good job; I am not beautiful because what show up in the mirror or a picture.

I am smart and beautiful because I am me, and I am making myself.

Thank you for coming to my first TED talk <3. I love you all!

Some references;

#NunsToo are speaking out

“These nuns believe they’re the guilty ones for having seduced that holy man into committing sin,” she says, “because that’s what they’ve always been taught.”

Adding to the trauma, she says, raped nuns who get pregnant become outcasts from their orders.

Laurie Halse Anderson shouts

My secret hope is that if people enjoy it that they’ll find an older relative of theirs and share it with them. … Although we are beginning to create the ability to speak up, I think it’s a younger generation phenomena and I know how many millions of … older people who have their own stories to tell — their old wounds that are still seeping.

Sex scandals shake K-pop

“This time, because Korea has been directly grappling with issues like MeToo, spy cams, and women’s rights in general, there’s no way they will let these crimes go so easily. The things these men have allegedly done hit right at the heart of the biggest societal divisions in Korea right now.”