The journey is the joy. Life must be lived as we go along. -Robert J. Hastings
Toward the end of our senior year of high school, my best friend Jenny took a poll of our history class. The question was simple enough. Journalist or teacher…in which profession would Caitlin end up? At the time, I was proudly informing anyone who would listen of my decision to study journalism and history at Elon University in NC, and my answer to her poll was clear.
“I can’t imagine being confined to the four walls of a classroom every day!” I scoffed. “I’m going to travel the globe, live a life of adventure, change the world with my words.”
Little did I know, the 20 or so people – an overwhelming majority – who responded that afternoon with “teacher” were correct. Maybe they recognized something within me that I did not at the time.
It’s been a lengthy, sometimes arduous, journey returning to the profession that first stirred my heart at a young age, and the one my mother always predicted I would pursue.
As a student at Elon, I plunged headfirst into the craft of journalism, picking up stories my first week on campus for the campus paper, The Pendulum (for which I would eventually serve as Editor-in-Chief) and pursuing every opportunity to learn, both inside and outside of the classroom.
For three years, my life was consumed with interviews, deadlines, headlines, and leads. I knew I was capable, I knew I was talented at the job, I enjoyed the finished product. But, in retrospect, I don’t know if I ever truly loved the newsgathering process.
I still remember the moment those insecurities and fears, which had been brewing for so long, finally bubbled to the surface. I was about three weeks into a top-notch internship in Phoenix, Az. and it hit me like a pile of bricks. I knew I wasn’t where I was supposed to be and I knew that journalism would not be the fulfilling career I had always dreamed of, for multiple reasons.
It was around this time that Teach for America first came onto my radar. I’d had a few friends from Elon who had joined the corps the previous year, but I hadn’t paid much attention to the program itself. Suddenly, it began popping up everywhere! It was also around this time that I began reflecting on the type of career I wanted to invest my life in – one that was steeped in positivity, selflessness, service, and impacting the lives of others.
The basic, common characteristics of teaching are all there for me – I have a heart for children and patience with their antics, I’m an organized perfectionist (some would argue OCD) who loves planning, and don’t even let me near Office Depot or the school supply section in Target. Oh and apples? They’re my favorite fruit.
But, on a deeper level, teaching represents so much more than that.
Teaching is about seeing the beauty and potential in every person – no matter their background or situation – and believing that they are worth the time and effort. Teaching is about advocating, inspiring, encouraging, and hoping on behalf of someone other than yourself. And it’s about loving others, loving ideas, and even making time to love yourself.
It ended up being a summer of self-reflection and hard decisions. I’d invested so much time, energy, and – let’s be real – money in pursuing a career in the news industry and it seemed impossible and disappointing to let it all go to waste.
But now, almost a year since my “big decision” summer, I haven’t regretted it once. I’ve successfully reintroduced the Oxford comma into my life and gotten used to being called Ms. O’Donnell. I’m also brimming with excitement, determination, and a healthy dose of nerves as I prepare to begin my first year teaching. I know, without a doubt, I’m where I need to be – with a purpose and for a purpose.
My name is Caitlin O’Donnell. I can’t walk into a bookstore without buying a book, I can’t get through the day without a Diet Coke, and I can’t imagine my life without Michael Scott and Dwight Schrute. I am a proud Elon alum, recovering journalist, self-taught knitter, wannabe runner, and follower of Christ.
And, I’m happy and thankful to say, I am a teacher.