I put off this edition of my Year in Review for last because it’s the hardest one to write. It means admitting failure, something I hate doing. That hardly makes me special; nobody likes feeling like they’ve fallen short.
And yet, here I am. I have a pile of W2s waiting for me to do my taxes. Let’s find out why.
The end of an internship
This was the last time I had no doubts about what I was doing. I felt like I was on an upward trajectory. Everything was going my way. My semi-viral blog post landed me an internship at realtor.com, where I got to work on video shoots, write articles, and learn about how a newsroom works.
I’ve put what I learned there to work over the past year. The editorial calendar I use for my blog is a straight up copy of what I used during my internship. I learned some WordPress tricks on the job. While they couldn’t convert me into a full-time employee, they let me stay on until I could find a full-time job. It looked like my gamble to bail on getting my teaching credential was working out just fine.
Things were working out so fine that I got two job offers in January. One was for a medical technology company, another for a digital magazine platform. One was a few minutes drive away in an older office building, the other for a few minutes walk away in a trendy co-working space. Both offered the same pay.
Can you blame me for taking the sexier option? I went to work for Joomag, writing their design blog. In my defense, it wasn’t just the free coffee, beer, and DTSJ views that sold me. I’d worked on magazines in college. I knew some things about design. If I had gone with the other option, I’d be starting from scratch.
Things started well enough. I had a decent amount of autonomy. My three co-workers were lovely, barring the occasional brush with an abrasive colleague in sales who tried to tell me how to write.
A month in, the intern that the marketing assistant was training up was let go instead of converted. The assistant wasn’t happy about it, but we soldiered on. When my coworker who did sales was abruptly let go not long after, I worried that I’d be next.
I wasn’t, but even as the months passed, I could never shake the sense of uneasiness that had taken hold of me that week. Blah blah blah, all workers are expendable within a capitalist framework (I blame my boyfriend for radicalizing me), but I could never shake the feeling that I’d get dropped as soon as I’d outlived my usefulness.
So as the summer rolled on and the marketing assistant was told to post job listings for positions that turned out to be vaguely worded unpaid internships, are you surprised that we were gone within a month?
Adventures in JournaLizm
Luckily for me, I’d been eyeing an exit strategy and was already looking for a new job. I had a few interviews and was able to turn my funemployment into a quick vacation for the MLQ Championships before starting my job at one of the last small-town papers still standing in the Bay Area.
Even after bargaining for a higher salary, I was still paid less than I had been in my previous job. But hey, no pay is worst than lower pay, right? And I got to write about education and real estate, two subjects that I had a strong background in and had strong feelings about.
I didn’t realize how I was unhappy until a few months in, when I collapsed on the couch one night after a four-hour school board meeting, shaking with a terrible cocktail of exhaustion and frustration. When Jim asked what was wrong, the answer came without a second thought. “If I wanted to be working this hard for this kind of pay, I would have been a teacher.”
Between getting recruited for a marketing writer job at a local construction company and having the opportunity to be a substitute teacher dangled before me, I didn’t hesitate. The experiment known as Liz Barcelos, Professional Writer, was over.
Back to the classroom
While writing was my primary means of paying my rent and feeding myself last year, it wasn’t my only paycheck. While my day job was far from consistent, being Professora Elizabeth by night gave me something stable, consistent, and above all else, unambiguously rewarding. Whenever I was teaching, I never doubted that I was doing what I was supposed to be doing.
To be painfully honest, I hate admitting that I’m wrong. I quit the credential program in 2016 because I thought teachers were overworked and underpaid… and that I could do better.
It’s 2018, teachers and still overworked and underpaid, but I was paid even less in the past year than I would have been if I’d been a first-year teacher in San Jose. If I’m going to be overworked and underpaid, then let me at least be doing something I love, something that doesn’t fill me with self-doubt, and something that does good for others.
It’s going to be humbling going back to school, picking up where I left off, and being an old college student again. (Or grad student, I suppose.) The thing that comforts me is that knowing that at least I tried. The only reason I know I should be teaching is that I tried doing other things and learned that it wasn’t for me.
If I hadn’t tried, I would never know. I might be sitting in a classroom right now, wondering if the grass is greener on the other side.