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IWSG: Life works in mysterious ways

It’s time for another Insecure Writers’ Support Group post, that time every month when a widespread group of awesome writers share their fears, struggles, and occasional triumphs.

I’d been wracking my brain for something to post about this month, some wisdom to share. Of course there was no shortage of things to be insecure about, but what fun is that?

As I sat there, staring at a blank screen, I kept getting distracted. You see, one of my first groups of international students had held a combination Vietnamese New Year/Chinese New Year/birthday party celebration tonight, and they’d invited me and my partner to join them. I was so touched and honoured to be included. Nguyen and her husband made dish after dish of wonderful, traditional Vietnamese food, and it always makes me so happy to be reunited with my students and see how well they’re doing. Together we represented India, Bangladesh, Brazil, Britain, Canada, Vietnam, China, the Ukraine, and Saudi Arabia (by way of the Philippines–it’s a long story).

If you’d told me a few years ago that I’d become a teacher, I wouldn’t have believed you. It wasn’t on my radar until I started teaching workshops to writers at conferences. I was surprised by how much fun it was, and by the positive feedback I received. Although I’d risked everything, remortgaging my home and leaving my corporate job to go full time as an author, I was also terrified of failing and having to return to an office. So, after many sleepless nights, fretting about bankruptcy and homelessness, I decided to ask around and see if local schools would hire me to teach here. I never could have guessed how much this would change my life.

When I wrote the initial IWSG post about risking it all for writing, a member commented that her friend did the same, and ended up finding a completely unexpected path that brought her happiness. I never thought that would happen to me–not in a million years. Don’t get me wrong; I’m still committed to writing and dream of six-figure book deals and global tours. But teaching has enriched my life more than I ever could have predicted.

I was teaching creative writing and online marketing classes when asked to hold preparatory courses for a class of new arrivals from China. Talk about insecure! What did I know about teaching international students? What could I possibly offer them? I didn’t have English as an Additional Language certification, or any experience with this kind of teaching. But the college believed in me (or perhaps they were just desperate), and before I knew it, I was in charge of nine students from China. By the time the summer ended, it was my responsibility to make sure they were prepared for Canadian university and the workplace.

It wasn’t easy at first. We had different ideas about punctuality, interrupting other students, and paying attention in general. Over time, I developed a ton of empathy, respect, and admiration for my students–even the difficult ones. Teaching isn’t easy, especially if you care. I’m not gonna lie; it’s the hardest job I’ve ever had. You’re always performing, there’s usually someone testing you, and by the end of the class, you have nothing left. It makes it challenging to write several thousand words on your work-in-progress, that’s for sure. But when isn’t that challenging?

When that program came to an end and I had to say goodbye, I bawled like a baby. I mostly held it together until I saw one of my best students had tears in his eyes–then I lost it. Those students will always mean the world to me.

Now I prefer to teach international students. I’m so excited to hear about their experiences, their cultures and traditions, where they come from and where they hope to go. They are the bravest, kindest, most open-hearted people I know. The fact that they’ve accepted me as not only their teacher, but also their friend, makes me more grateful than this writer can adequately express. I may be the one standing at the front of the class, but I always learn just as much–or more–from them.

We can never predict where life will take us, and sometimes that’s a good thing. It may cause insecurity, but in so many ways, it’s also a gift.

Sending love to all of my students–past, present, and future. Thank you for the gift you’ve given me.

Has something unexpected–something that arose from insecurity–ever ended up being a gift?

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67 Comments

    • Avatar

      I love how you mentioned we can never predict where are journey will take us. What a wonderful path for you, and also very rewarding. Happy IWSG Day ๐Ÿ™‚

      Reply
      • JH

        Thanks for the kind words, Erika. I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

        Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Raimey. To you as well!

      Reply
  1. Avatar

    I was really nervous when I learned I’d be doing my first radio interview. Talk about insecure!! Then it happened and I wasn’t a bundle of nerves at all. Weird. You can plan for things, but you never really know how they will work out!

    Reply
    • JH

      Welcome to my blog, Jennifer.

      So true. Personally, I love doing media interviews. I think they’re a lot of fun.

      Reply
  2. Avatar

    It sounds like you get such a lot out of teaching. It’s fantastic that you’ve found your passion in the most unexpected place
    Debbie

    Reply
    • JH

      Yes, this was certainly unexpected, and it happened so quickly. It hasn’t even been a year yet, and I already have over a hundred hours of new teaching experience.

      Reply
  3. Avatar

    What a great opportunity for you. I’m sure you learned as much from them as they did from you. It expanded your horizons I’m sure.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Alex. It definitely did. I learn from them every class–about their countries and experiences, but also not to jump to conclusions, and how to be a better, more empathetic teacher.

      Reply
  4. Avatar

    What a wonderful story! I do think teaching is harder than it looks. The relationship between teacher and student does take a certain amount of chemistry. Some students will learn from your teaching style and do really well, others will not (and sometimes blame you for that failure). For me, I applied to a program for new math professors aimed at improvements in teaching and issues like teaching/research balance just after graduation, because I knew it would look good on my resume. At the first conference, I met the guy who would eventually become my husband, cause me to move to the north, and have two incredible kids and a houseful of chaos. Definitely not what I expected when I applied!

    Reply
    • JH

      That’s such a cool story, Tamara! Life works in mysterious ways, indeed.

      What you said about chemistry is so true. Half of my success (if not more) is based on the fact that my students like me. I think (hope) that they can tell I genuinely care about them.

      Reply
  5. Avatar

    How wonderful! It’s like my professional speaking and teach classes at NC’s community colleges. Never in a million years did I think I would enjoy it.

    Reply
    • JH

      Yes, I find it often works that way for those of us who “fall” into teaching. Either you love it or you don’t.

      Reply
  6. Avatar

    What a great post, JH! I especially love this – “We can never predict where life will take us, and sometimes thatโ€™s a good thing. It may cause insecurity, but in so many ways, itโ€™s also a gift.”

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks for the kind words, Madeline. I’m glad you liked it.

      Reply
  7. Avatar

    Life is full of surprises. I’m so glad you found your path in teaching. It is the most rewarding experience I’ve ever had. I always knew I wanted to be a teacher, but a reviewer for professional theater? Never. It fell into my lap, with a little effort on my part, and I love it. People think I’m nuts to drive to the city “all the time” to view and review theater productions, but I love it. I learn so much about storytelling, acting, teaching, and human interaction. Cheers!

    Reply
    • JH

      I’ve always believed it’s possible for a person to have more than one path. Even though being a novelist has always been The Dream, I enjoyed being a journalist as well.

      I’m glad you’ve found fulfillment reviewing plays. I imagine it could get tricky, as a playwright, if you ever saw a production you really didn’t like?

      Reply
  8. Avatar

    Oh! Your post is such a joy to read. You’ve clearly found a path that suits you & gives you as much as you give your students. I’m pondering workshops & training myself as part of my life coaching side hustle and your experience has given me great encouragement. Thanks so much ๐Ÿ™‚

    Reply
    • JH

      You’re very welcome, Debs. I also hope to offer my classes online, if I ever get around to organizing that. Everything seems to take more time than I have lately.

      Reply
  9. Avatar

    I enjoy teaching but I’m terrible at it. I guess it’s the performance aspect that appeals to me. In my old job I did a lot of training, and everyone enjoyed my classes and we all had a good time, but some brief surveys afterward proved that the students didn’t learn a gawddam thing.

    My parents wanted me to be a teacher. It’s probably for the best I didn’t follow their wishes.

    Reply
    • JH

      The performance aspect is definitely a high. The problem is, if you ever aren’t feeling well, or are off, or exhausted, you have to suck it up. The show must go on. That’s what makes it challenging.

      With my university class, I verbally “quiz” them at the beginning and end of each class to make sure they’re retaining what I’m teaching. It’s a great trick my mentor taught me. I highly recommend it.

      Reply
  10. Avatar

    I love reading about these types of journeys where people find their dreams in the end. What a wonderful trip you have made!

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks so much, K.J. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

      Welcome to my blog. Hope to “see” you again.

      Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Anna. I’m keeping my old career, but it’s nice to have a fulfilling side venture. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Reply
  11. Avatar

    What a wonderful story! It’s only when we get out of our comfort zone that we open up to the marvelous opportunities around us. I can certainly understand, now, why your Ghost books have so much authenticity in them.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Lee, but I actually wrote those books before I was teaching international students. The authenticity comes from traveling to those countries and spending time there.

      Reply
  12. Avatar

    That’s a great story. If I ever wanted to teach, I think I’d like international students, too. It would open me up to so many places around the world and I’d be learning new things, too. That would be cool.

    Reply
    • JH

      There are so many wonderful things about it. By virtue of the fact they’ve taken huge risks and sacrificed a lot to move to our countries, they tend to be incredibly brave, positive, open-minded people.

      Reply
  13. Avatar

    Since my MA is in Linguistics and Intercultural Communication, I spent most of my working life with international students. I still keep in touch with many of them, and I’ll never be able to repay them for all the things they taught me. What you wrote today is exactly how I feel.

    Reply
    • JH

      Aw, thanks Lee. They’re amazing people and I’m honoured to know them. My greatest wish is that they’ll keep in touch over the years. What a gift that would be!

      Reply
  14. Avatar

    Woot! I’m so happy it’s worked out well for you!

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Loni. I feel very blessed. As much as I should have committed myself 100% to writing, I was so terrified at the prospect of a return to corporate life that it was becoming counterproductive. I write best when my mind is at relative ease.

      Reply
  15. Avatar

    I’m so happy for you that you’ve found something you really enjoy and get paid to do it. Life has a funny way of leading us where we never would’ve gone. Teaching is rewarding but also the hardest job I’ve ever done, too. Congrats on discovering so much joy.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks so much, Diane. Beautifully said.

      I feel very fortunate, if a bit befuddled by it all. “How did this happen?”

      Reply
  16. Avatar

    I got chills reading!
    I’m a teacher (elementary level) and we’ve had several families move in from other countries around the world. They enrich our school and our city and it’s so much fun learning together!

    Reply
    • JH

      That’s awesome, Jemi. I love diverse classes. The more countries represented in a single room, the better.

      Reply
  17. Avatar

    How exciting! Teaching is a hard job (a few in my family) but it is also rewarding. So glad to hear you’ve found a new calling to go along with your writing passion.

    Reply
    • JH

      That’s a great way of putting it, Meka–a new calling. I like it.

      And yes, I agree. Draining and rewarding at the same time.

      Reply
  18. Avatar

    Being a teacher is challenging, but oh so rewarding. For that reason, I miss my teaching years (6th grade) in Belgium. Yet, I don’t know whether I’ll ever be comfortable again doing it, especially with older students like you’re involved with. Getting to know people from different countries is definitely enriching!

    I’m so glad this new “career path” is working out for you, JH. Well done. I’m still so proud of you for making that huge “plunge”. ๐Ÿ™‚ As far as unexpected outcomes in our lives… I’d say every day brings a new surprise, as we never know what will come across our path, where we will sleep, or what we will encounter, living on the road. Every day is a new adventure.

    Reply
    • JH

      So true, Liesbet. While I resist thinking of this as a new career, because in my mind I’m still a full-time novelist and this is a side venture, it is one of, if not the most, rewarding thing I’ve ever done. Often with international students, especially the younger ones, you’re one of the few people who are looking out for them, so you have to be on high alert. As I was reminded today when one of my students didn’t look well and ended up needing to go to the hospital. You can’t phone it in and you can’t be unobservant. (Well, I suppose you could be, but then you shouldn’t be teaching international students.)

      In this respect, you might not find there’s such a huge difference between teaching international students and what you did previously. There are more cell phones and laptops to deal with, but teaching is a small part of it. You’re also their den mother, counsellor, job coach, surrogate parent…sometimes, as their teacher, you’re the only one who can intervene if there’s an issue. It’s a humbling thought, and not a responsibility I take lightly.

      Reply
  19. Avatar

    I’m glad you’ve found such an enriching career path alongside writing!

    Reply
    • JH

      What’s that saying? Life is what happens when you’re making other plans.

      Reply
  20. Avatar

    Nice post. I was your student and it was a great experience. You’re doing very well. I’m sure every student appreciate your help.

    Reply
    • JH

      Of course you were, Wilmer. I will never forget you, and I’m so proud of how you’re doing. It means a lot that you took the time to comment–thank you! Your words mean the world to me.

      Reply
  21. Avatar

    What a great post – such a good reminder of how life takes you in unexpected directions and how often those turn out to the best thing ever.

    Reply
    • JH

      I’m glad you liked it, Ellen. Thanks for the kind words.

      Reply
  22. Avatar

    How wonderful to have your world opened up in such a beautiful way. You are blessed! I, too love being a part of international happenings.

    Reply
    • JH

      Do you teach international students too, Lisa?

      Reply
    • JH

      Glad you enjoyed it, Gina. Thanks for the kind words.

      Reply
  23. Avatar

    You took a chance and it paid off! How rewarding for you with all you have been through to be honoured by these students and to feel humbled to. Glad you took the chance and shows how few actually do.

    Reply
    • JH

      In an ironic twist, remember that credit union manager who believed in me and helped me get the loan? He teaches within the same program I do at the university, and my mentor is his uncle. I didn’t even know he taught! Hoping to bump into him at some point.

      Reply
  24. Avatar

    Sounds like a wonderful job that brings lots of joy to you. You can’t ask for better than that. Happy IWSG.

    Reply
    • JH

      A six-figure book contract? ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Reply
  25. Avatar

    Well… You deciding to take your chance was the kick in the butt I needed to take the same leap. I went the freelancing route and basically ended up landing a contract that basically gives me flexible time and enough money to not have to worry about rent, finances etc.

    Reply
    • JH

      That’s so cool, Misha. If my leap of faith inspired you in any way, that’s awesome. I’d say we’re both in a better (if more hectic) place now.

      Worrying about money is a surefire creativity killer, in my experience.

      Reply
  26. Avatar

    Sounds like a lovely party.
    I’m glad you are enjoying teaching. Teaching is the hardest job; it’s not easy, but can be so rewarding.
    I don’t think I’ve found an insecurity that turned out to be a gift, but anything could happen.

    Reply
    • JH

      I agree, Toi. It’s so rewarding, especially with international students. There’s something about the bond that forms that’s indescribable.

      Reply
  27. Avatar

    Sounds like you stumbled into a fabulous and rewarding job. Enjoy the heck out of it!

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Rebecca. It’s really tough sometimes, but so rewarding. It is funny how things developed…you just never know.

      Reply
  28. Avatar

    I had tears in my eyes reading this, because I am so proud of you! I can only imagine how wonderful you are as a teacher and how much you give to your students! =) The blessing of giving is often that we find ourselves receiving even more than we could ever give. So neat that you were invited to join in on the New Year Celebration (Tet?) with them, I bet that was so much fun! I’m so happy you have found something that brings you so much joy and allows you to keep writing, which brings joy to me! HA! =D And others, I know.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks so much, Nikki. What a beautiful comment.

      The celebration was a lot of fun, and it was such an honour to be invited. I was grateful to finally be able to introduce my bf to these people he’s heard so much about, and vice-versa.

      Teaching makes writing more challenging, but I’m doing the best I can and trying to find even better ways of balancing them.

      Reply
    • JH

      Thank you! I’ll check it out. Feel free to nudge me; life is crazy.

      Reply

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