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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.”