Before working my business full time, I spent 13 years as an elementary school teacher. It was my second career, one I fell into knowing I wanted to make a difference somewhere (something I wasn’t doing in my public relations career).
During those 13 years, I became a mother, got divorced, started freelancing and eventually left to be a full time business owner. I learned a lot in those years, mostly about myself and how I work. But I also learned some lessons that carried over into business ownership. Lessons that I was thankful to have under my belt from Day One.
Sometimes you have to throw the schedule out the window
Stuff happens. That’s life. And when you’re in a classroom with 30+ children, a lot of stuff happens. Because as much as I liked to think I could control the situation, I couldn’t always. Being a teacher taught me to roll with the punches and go with the flow, something I’m not always keen to do. (I’m a bit of a control freak.) In business, I can’t control if my website goes down or a call gets cancelled. But I can control how I react when things like this happen. All I can do is plan ahead and be flexible when the crap hits the fan.
Eat the frog
The thing I dreaded the most when I was teaching was grading papers. I hated it. I’d put it off for way too long. Sometimes, I’d just “file” the papers in my rectangular file bin (which is the garbage can, for all you non-teachers—yes, your child’s teacher does the same thing). But every time the end to a grading period loomed, I knew I needed to get my act together and get those last few pieces of homework graded. As soon as the dreaded task was done, a weight lifted off my shoulders. In business, I like to think that I get the undesirable tasks out of the way first. When I do, I enjoy life and my business so much more than when I let it sit and stare at me from my to-do list.
Down time is the best time to grow
I didn’t know it when I became a teacher, but I’m truly an introvert. Chaos, noise and a room full of little, needy people drained the life out of me every day. In some respects, I think I grew into introversion because of my dissatisfaction with being in the classroom. Every year, the weight on my chest became heavier and heavier and I found myself having a difficult time getting through the day.
[bctt tweet=”Teaching is not the right profession for an introvert. Teaching is where I learned I was an introvert.” username=””]
What I discovered is that I need down time. I crave the comfort of a quiet room, the buzz from my computer screen and those early mornings in my office before my email and Facebook become distractions. It’s during these times that I grow as a writer and a business owner, and something I never could have gotten while in the classroom.
Structure = more productivity
Sometimes the structure of my day at school really irked me. Teach language arts at 8:30 a.m. Then math at 9:45 a.m. Then lunch at 10:30 a.m. (yes, you read that right). Pee at 10:35 and again before bringing the cherubs back to the classroom at 11:15 a.m. Oh, how I don’t miss having to plan when I use the bathroom.
But the truth is, I had zero structure in my business when I first dove in full time. And it showed. Without structure, I floundered and worked too many hours every week. Once I learned how to structure my week so I still felt in control, but I had the down time and flexibility I desperately needed, I became much more productive (and my business exploded with growth).
I like doing business on my terms
Yes, I’ve already said I’m a bit of a control freak. As a teacher, I had no control over when I could use the bathroom, much less over how the rest of my day was going to go. Teachers are subjected to last-minute meetings, random classroom visitors and 30+ children who we can’t actually make want to learn. Working in a low-income school, my students came to school hungry, had parents who were in prison and moved in and out of the area so quickly my class often had 40 percent new students by the end of the year. I had no control over what happened and when, even with all the blood, sweat and tears I put into it.
[bctt tweet=”Before I owned my biz, I had no control over the blood, sweat and tears I put into my job.” username=””]
I started my business allowing every outside factor influence how I ran my business. Clients told me how much they’d pay me (and when), I felt sorry for myself when business was slow and I allowed others to dictate how I made decisions. Because that’s the kind of environment I had been in for 13 years. But looking back, I realized that that loss of control was one of the things that really turned me off from teaching. So I learned how to have a backbone and stick up for myself. I figured out to empower myself so I could run my business on my terms and throw out the philosophy that someone knows my business better than I know it myself.
Just like my years in public relations made me a better teacher, my years as a teacher have made me a better business owner. I have more life experience under my belt and I have a much better handle on how I want to grow as a leader. I enjoyed my time as a teacher, but now that I have the down time I crave and the room to make decisions on my own, I know I’m in exactly the right place.
What are some lessons you’ve learned in previous careers that have helped you as you build your business? Tell me in the comments!