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Taking the Time to Find My Calling

Taking the Time to Find My Calling

When I graduated from Cornell last May, I was a little burned out. Not only was I managing a vigorous GPA, I had a full plate of extracurricular stuff and a part-time job. So, I decided to move to San Francisco, to take it easy, take some time deciding what to do. I had originally considered New York, where many of my friends were headed directly towards, but I was intimidated by the hard-core hustle and bustle of Manhattan. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, and I wanted to feel O.K. about it. I had the impression that New York would not tolerate any professional dilly-dallying. San Francisco, on the other hand, would welcome it with open arms.

At school, I was an English major (with an affinity for writing workshops), the editor-in-chief of a popular confessional-literary journal and wrote a column for the Cornell Daily Sun. So, in the months before graduation, I saw myself working in publishing, reading slush piles and piping up inspired editorial ideas to my seniors. When I got to San Francisco, I immediately discovered that there were only a handful of real publishing houses, and most people were relocated from New York. Not to say there isn’t any media culture here, but San Francisco, and its economic buoy, Silicon Valley, is all tech. There is nothing in print—it’s online. Fair enough, but my online publishing experience is limited to my homey little blog. With this formidable obstacle in mind, I had to loosen up my employment options.

I eventually took on an internship at 826 Valencia, an educational/literary non-profit. It’s a giant writing workshop for kids that frequently publishes their stuff. It’s a big name in the literary world, being founded by super-cool Dave Eggers and sponsored by a litany of living literary greats. I was the designated a ‘design and publishing’ intern, meaning I supported 826’s book production guru. I got to use all my nifty editor-skills, from copy-editing, copy-writing, proof-reading to assorted assignments on InDesign. I did well and was happy to keep my editing muscles flexed. However, another part of the job was to participate in tutoring and workshops with the children who flooded the center every day.

Pulling kids through difficult spellings, having them run to the dictionary, discussing story elements with them, seeing joy on their faces, desperately trying to ease their frustration electrified an old instinct within me. I had always had a secret vision of myself as a teacher (which had been overshadowed by more glamorous visions of a publishing yuppie) and now, I realized, with some urgency, that this was something that made me happy.

This was something I could be good at. I would never get bored. Never feel like a cog in a machine. I thought of the teachers that I had grown up with in the international school in Sao Paulo, Brazil—they had all been bright, adventurous, crazy ex-pats, who saw the world as an enormous, beautiful place, and were absolutely convinced of their ability to induce change. And they got three months off a year! To live in a constant state of promise, challenge, and community seemed—forgive the cliché—too good to be true.

After my internship at 826 Valencia expired, I sent out a few half-hearted job applications to publishing, advertising positions, but went in earnest after entry-level teaching positions at excellent San Francisco schools. It worked out so well. Had I not given myself the time and space after college to study my options, I may not have developed confidence in my choice to teach.

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