Out of the Teaching Plan and Into the Fire

Back in October I cleared a significant hurdle in my life: I got out of the English-teaching circuit and entered the non-education workforce in China. As someone who could not be regarded as a specialist or having many technical skills, the odds of accomplishing this felt slim. I was ready for a new chapter of my life.


Although I consider this a big, positive shift, it’s not my point to diminish the work of people for whom education is their field of choice. In fact, now that I’m here, the reality of life post-English teaching is not as exactly as I imagined. I thought I’d leave teaching and gigging in the rearview after obtaining my supposed Holy Grail, but it turns out things are a bit more complicated. I never hated teaching English; in hindsight, it is an absolute treat to be able to stand-up, walk around, and interface with real human beings for a living (I sit in front of a computer eight and a half hours a day at my current job). So, perhaps unsurprisingly to some readers, I still teach English from time to time to pad my pockets. But I’ll also do it because life at a 9–5 can be dreadfully routine and the premium on keeping variety and stimulation in my activities has gone up considerably. This probably isn’t lost on you, reader, but the life of an English teacher has many perks and that shouldn’t be forgotten, even if it is your explicit goal to change professions.

In essence, the list below is about hustling instead of chilling, acting instead of fantasizing. I won’t claim to be a paragon of action and goal-driven motivation, but these are lessons that stick out to me as I reflect on the past year: the most general, actionable things I can offer in terms of advice.

  1. Find jobs (or a job) with flexible hours. You have to earn some money unless you’re sitting on savings, and even if you aren’t strapped for cash, you most likely need a visa. Everyone has different needs, so work as much as you need to in order to be comfortable, and find a job (or jobs) that gives you an appropriate degree of structure in your life. If your work schedule leaves you with no energy (or money) to put into your social life or your personal goals, adjust it. Find out when you get your best work done and make sure that your job isn’t filling that time. Save that time for you.
  2. Use your free time to create something. You may write, you may plan events, you may cook… it doesn’t matter, as long as you do it well and you do it consistently. Definitely take advantage of the ability to sleep in while you can, but don’t become a homebody and don’t give in to the funemployment mindset. Your free time should be used to either build a portfolio, make social connections, or establish yourself as an authority on something.
  3. Get out and be social. Being social does not mean going out with your friends on the reg?—?it means keeping your ear to the ground for interesting events and opportunities for you to meet people who are (a) more developed in their career than you, and/or (b) in an industry you want to break into. I like to think of it as “deliberate socializing”: not just going with the flow, but going to events and having an objective in mind. You don’t need to meet CEOs?—?in fact, that will often be as unhelpful as hanging out with people who are at the same point in their career development as you are. You just need to meet people who are one or two steps ahead of you: they can empathize with your situation, recognize your eagerness, and are in a good position to help get your name in the front of the right people.
  4. Make and maintain good impressions. There is perhaps no more reviled creature of the 21st century than “the flake”, and it is an ever more common sight. It’s never been easier to ignore people, considering inundation of social media messages and impersonal qualities of chat messaging. Consider this both curse and blessing: as easy as it is to be the flake, it’s never been easier to set yourself apart from them. Don’t let your contacts wither and die, and don’t wait to communicate with someone until you need something from them, an age old transgression which is as common as it is transparent.
  5. Learn Chinese. If you would like to show to people that you are invested in your life here, start learning Chinese. You don’t need to be fluent?—?basically none of us are?—?but you might be shocked to realize that people read into what kind of person you are based on this simple, binary fact: you’re either trying, or you’re not. And the only kind of people who are going to be able to successfully make the shift from one industry to another are the people who can prove that they’re trying.

Maybe that’s all a little vague, but it’s up to you to fill in the gaps. You may be erroneously framing this endeavor as “get out of teaching for good” like I was, but realize that it can be a greater boon in your pursuits than a barrier.

Teaching English

Sure, the prospect of getting your life firing on all cylinders sounds like a lot. So to wrap this up, here’s one final piece of general advice from one of the most active hustlers I know, whose words echo in my ears every time I think I’m too short on time to fit something into my day, my week, or my life:

You’ll make the time for it if you want it bad enough.

8 thoughts on “Out of the Teaching Plan and Into the Fire”

  1. Pingback: Hao Hao Report
  2. Well-written piece Dan. I gotta say, I love teaching but do feel ambivalence at times, but the flexible hours are a huge advantage and let me do other things (to keep sane). Harland, some sour fucks at least have cutting humor. Your shit is just tired. Keyboard warrior shithead.

  3. Very good article. I especially like how you talked about not completely giving up/renouncing English teaching. I had that attitude for a while which was honestly a bad thing as is prevented me from making some easy money which freed me up to look for better jobs/work on other projects on the side. Also couldn’t agree more about the “deliberate socializing” aspect. There are opportunities in Chendgu (more and more recently) in more interesting fields, but it really requires a proactive approach to find them. And yeah, learn the f*** out of dat Chinese!

  4. Hey Dan

    Interesting article – so what is it your doing now (if you don’t mind me asking..)? Also, which resources did you find most useful for tracking down non-education-relate jobs in Chengdu? I’ll be moving to Chengdu next month having spent the last year teaching English in Shanghai and, like you, looking for something outside of teaching. Like you, don’t have many/any ‘technical’ skills, which most of the jobs on e.g. Linkedin seem to require (I’m assuming here you tracked down, or at least made applications, online?)

    Thanks, would appreciate your feedback!

    • Hey Jasper. My job I’ve got now was actually through serendipity: right place, right time kind of thing. At the time I found it, I just put in a lot of work being social, being aware, and doing work in my free time to try to stand out.

      I’ve had such a crap experience with online job applications that my job search was almost completely offline. That’s not to say everyone will have the same experience as me, but I strongly feel that coming at the job search focusing on job sites is a great way to feel like you’re getting a lot done without seeing any results. By all means have a good resume and by all means make your LinkedIn pretty, clean, clear, and focused (I don’t think any head hunters are going to look at the profile of a “generalist” and say “HE/SHE IS THE ONE!). But on that note, there are definitely services you can use that are established to connect individuals like you with non-education-related work. You can be proactive by enlisting their services.

      But, re:things you can do online: DO create a portfolio, do make work, and show people your skills and what they can create. Hard for me to make specific recommendations without knowing your background… so add me on LinkedIn so I can get a better idea? Best thing you can do for yourself is get to know people, so let us know when you get to Chengdu 😛


Leave a Comment