by Jenny Smedra
The return from Taiwan last summer was full of life changes, both personally and professionally. In addition to my first life in the US in more than a decade, this also meant leaving my teaching career behind – at least for now. Instead of thinking about what I was losing, I focused on the new opportunities that lay before me. Now, almost a year later, it looks like I’m finally going back to work full time!
Make a career change
After booking my flights home, I immediately started looking for ESL apprenticeships as I prepared to retreat. Unfortunately, my options were very limited. Although I had spent nearly a decade teaching English as a second language, none of it was considered a “teaching experience,” according to the Department of Education. As a result, all of my certifications had expired and my teaching experience was irrelevant. Two universities told me that I had not gone to school for too long and that my field of study. So if I want to become a certified teacher in the state of Nebraska, I will have to retake my entire undergrad certification.
For obvious financial reasons, this was out of the question at all. So I focused on positions that were specifically looking for teachers with my unique qualifications. However, most ESL teaching assignments require you to leave the country. As a result, my location has eliminated 95 percent of the potential job opportunities.
The next option was to work online and teach remotely. There are a number of online companies around the world that are actively looking for teachers like me. However, after talking to several friends who worked for different ESL companies, this didn’t seem like a viable option. First, they cannot guarantee lessons that are inconsistent at best. In addition, the timetables are based on the students’ time zone. This meant that most of the class spaces available were in the middle of the night as the majority of students are in Asia. As I faced more and more obstacles, I started to think that it was time for a career change.
Strike on your own
Instead of forcing myself into an underpaid or volunteer position, I started looking into other career opportunities. I had to find something with flexible hours so I could help my family during the day and work remotely to keep them safe. After several weeks of intensive searches on construction sites and a few unsuccessful interviews, it was time to think outside the box.
During my studies, I made a decent income as a freelance writer / consultant and part-time tutor. My additional eight years teaching grammar and writing have also improved my qualifications. With few other options, I figured I had nothing to lose in exploring what was out there.
Fortunately, some of my English students wanted to continue weekly classes when I returned to the United States. But that was barely enough to make ends meet. So I decided to reach out to my previous contacts and see what opportunities this could bring. Fortunately, one of them actually worked for a company looking for a new consultant. Although I only received a few assignments at the beginning, I was enthusiastic about the work.
As I got more clients and won more jobs, I realized that I had stumbled upon a golden opportunity. While I’d always talked about working for myself, I was now in a position where I could actually make a living from it. With a lot of encouragement from family and friends, it was finally time to start my own business. On the first day of the new year I registered as a sole proprietorship and started my own business.
The first big milestone
The first quarter of 2021 was a big milestone for me. When I mailed my quarterly self-employment tax check to the IRS, I found that this was the first time in my life that my income had come entirely from my own efforts. Although I survived part-time, the freedom to work for myself means no more incompetent bosses, lack of wages or gossip in the workplace. I can now determine who I work with and which jobs I take on. This was one of the most liberating realizations and the biggest motivator for me to keep growing my business.
It wasn’t easy by any means and I don’t make millions, but I’m completely self-sufficient. All self-doubts and fears of the unknown have dissolved. Now that my hard work is paying off, I feel more motivated than ever. The work has increased steadily, and gradually my monthly income as well. Reaching and celebrating these milestones keeps me focused and motivated to keep moving forward.
Return to full-time work
On this wave of momentum, I received a very unexpected email last week that may also mean a return to full-time work. A former employee reached out to me on the popular networking site LinkedIn. She recently started her own consultancy and was looking for someone with my skills. I was so excited I almost sent my reply before finishing my message. After a short exchange, we conducted an initial interview to discuss the projects she had planned for me.
It turns out she has dozens of customers who need professional editing and proofreading for thousands of pages of content. While not a teaching position, it uses the grammar and proofreading skills I have built based on my teaching experience. Although nothing has been confirmed yet, I have scheduled another interview with the CEO this week. I do my best to control myself, but I am overjoyed. If all goes well, it means I will be working full-time for the first time since leaving Taiwan. Even if the CEO decides to take a different route, the fact that new customers are approaching me shows that I’m on the right track.