Lifestyle

The Pros and Cons of being an Introvert

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I have always held the view that one’s level of natural or inherent introversion or extroversion is part of their core personality. I believe that one’s level of introversion/extroversion can be altered or improved to an extent, however, I do not believe that it is possible to ‘fully’ transform traits that are part of your innate personality, especially to the opposite end of the spectrum. I have always been an introvert, although my level of introversion/extroversion changes depending on the social context with which I am in. For the most part, I would say that 10% of the time I am an extrovert (usually at drinks or clubs), 20% of time I am an ambivert (usually when I am hanging out with friends, going to cafes, for walks, and so forth), and 70% of the time I am an introvert (almost always during formal settings – such as school, university or work). While I feel content being an introvert and believe there are various benefits of being introverted, there are also a wide array of challenges to this personality trait. Let’s begin with the positives…

Pros:

Deep thinking:

Introverted people tend to spend a lot of time observing and analysing situations, thinking logically and analytically. Introverts generally enjoy deep and intellectual conversation over small talk. They are seemingly curious about the world around them, how things and people work.

Talk is meaningful:

Because introverts are usually deep thinkers, when they do vocalise their thoughts and opinions, they tend to be well thought out and meaningful. Introverts usually don’t talk, just for the sake of talking.

Being self-aware:

Introverts tend to engage in a lot of introspection, analysing themselves, trying to figure out why they are the way they are, or how certain personality traits developed. For this reason, introverts are generally quite self-aware and have a good idea of who they are as a person.

Enjoying your own company:

Introverts feel content being on their own and tend to enjoy their own company. One of my favourite feelings in the world, is to wander around somewhere on my own in my free time, being alone with my thoughts, not having to compromise with anyone. That feeling of being completely and utterly free is a state which I highly value, as they are the times I am able to organise my thoughts and gain clarity.

Scarcely feeling alone:

Because introverts tend to enjoy their own company, this means they seldom feel lonely. One thing I have learned over the past few years is that there is a notable difference between being alone and being lonely. Even though I spend a considerable amount of time on my own, this does not mean that I feel lonely. As long as I have at least one or two ‘constant’ friends i.e. someone that I feel comfortable talking to and confiding in on a regular basis, then I’m happy.

Being accepting and empathetic:

Because introverts are prone to being misjudged as ‘weird’, this tends to make them more empathetic and non-judgemental of others, because they understand what it is like to be misjudged themselves. I have found that I usually connect more with people that are most likely to be perceived as being socially awkward or shy because I feel an instant sense of empathy for them.

Being comfortable with silence:

Because introverts tend to enjoy being on their own, this means they are usually quite accustom to silence and quiet environments. Introverts are therefore more likely to feel comfortable during silent moments compared to their extroverted counterparts.

Always being prepared:

Introverts like to be well-prepared – in regards to attending events, appointments, lectures, exams and so forth. I find that I check my belongings several times before I’ve left the house to ensure I haven’t forgotten anything, and usually turn up to lectures or appointments at least half an hour early. I struggle to recall the last time I was actually late for something. I have added this point to the list of pros, as being well-prepared also demonstrates that introverts tend to possess a sense of reliability.

Cons:

Overanalysing:

While I would consider deep thinking to be a positive attribute, on the other hand, introverts may think too much. For as long as I can remember, it has always taken me at least three hours to fall asleep every night, because I cannot switch my mind off. I tend to spend absurd amounts of time pondering over some of the bigger questions in life “what is the meaning of life? How was the universe created? How do blackholes, spacetime and relativity work? Will we ever be able to manage climate change? How long until humanity develops self-aware AI?”. Thinking about these topics on frequent basis can make you feel like your brain is in overdrive a lot of the time.

Being pre-judged and misjudged:

Because introverts are usually quite independent and withdrawn, this can sometimes make them difficult to read. I have found that the biggest con to being an introvert is the fact that I am constantly being pre and misjudged. There have been several occasions where I’ve been told I come across as “cold”, “distant”, “reserved”, “conservative”, even “snobby!”. While I am fully aware that I can come across this way when I first meet someone or when I don’t feel completely comfortable around them, once I do feel comfortable enough to come out of my shell, then a totally different side of my personality arises (one which not many people have seen). Unfortunately, it can be difficult trying not to internalise the criticisms of others, especially when you hear the same insults over and over. What I have found, is that extroverts are usually more likely misjudge and perceive introverts in a negative sense because they don’t understand them, whereas introverts tend to ‘get’ other introverts and their quirky personality traits –  so even though some people won’t get you, there will always be others who do.

Dating is difficult:

Being misjudged, and taking a considerable amount of time to ‘be myself’ around another person makes dating very difficult. We now live in a world that seeks instant gratification, if someone doesn’t feel that sense of gratification on a first date then they will most likely give up and move onto the next. No-one really seems to give each other a chance anymore.

Needing to be alone to recharge:

While I do not think that needing to be alone to recharge is a negative attribute, I have only added it to the list of cons due to the negative perception other people may have of this behaviour. While extroverts require social interaction to recharge, introverts prefer quiet and solitude. During my lunch breaks, while most people sit, chat and eat lunch with their peers or colleagues, all I want is space. Sometimes I get paranoid that people will judge me for being rather anti-social, but with age, I care less and less about the perceptions of others. I’m at a stage now where I just don’t really care what others think – if someone chooses to prejudge me on my introversion, I figure that is their problem, not mine.

Feeling like you don’t fit in:

Introversion can sometimes be self-detrimental due to the tendency of excluding yourself in certain situations. For instance, if I am in a room with a group of people I am unfamiliar with, I automatically go into quiet mode while the other people happily and so naturally converse, chat and joke with each other. This can sometimes make me feel like I am the odd one out and that I must be a bit ‘socially weird’. In these situations I just try to remind myself – sure, some people can be themselves from the get go, that’s great! But there are plenty of other people out there who take time to open up, and that’s perfectly fine too, so try not to be so hard on yourself!

Not standing up for yourself:

When encountering socially confrontational situations, introverts tend to go into flight mode instead of fight mode. Unfortunately, this means that introverts can sometimes be walked all over because they don’t bite back or stand up for themselves. Sadly, many introverts may also be mistaken for being weak, which may place an even greater target on their back. One of my ultimate pet peeves in life, is when someone unnecessarily speaks to another person aggressively, with an attitude or with tone in their voice. No matter how stressed out you are in your own life, I don’t believe this gives anyone any legitimacy or right to take it out on those around them. There have been several occasions in the past few years when someone has spoken to me aggressively or with an attitude, and instead of standing up for myself, I bottle up all my emotions, wait until I get home and then have an angry gym work out as an outlet. While I am comfortable standing up for myself with people I feel comfortable around, I sometimes wish that I could also do this with people I am not so comfortable with.

Being overshadowed:

Being an introvert means that sometimes your work, effort and accomplishments go unrecognised. I remember in the last school I was working at in Australia, one of my colleagues was incredibly vocal, and frankly quite eager to brag about the work she had done, and in turn, got recognised and praised for this. Yet, much of the work and effort I had put in went completely unrecognised because I never vocalised what it was I had done, I just kept it to myself.

Overall, even though there are a fair few more cons to this list than pros, I would still never change being an introvert. All that I wish, is that we lived in a world that was a little more accepting and understanding of differing personality traits, a world where there wasn’t such a negative stigma attached to being introverted. Remember, just because you are introverted, doesn’t mean that you are weird – studies have found that 16-50% of the population are introverts, so if it is any reassurance, you are not alone, there are actually many of us in the same boat!

Materialism vs. Minimalism

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Many people today, particularly those living in OECD countries, live in what you could call a ‘consumerist society’. Cultures driven by self-indulgence and materialism – the more material items you own, the higher your perceived status. But does the possession of material items really increase happiness? Research suggests otherwise. In fact, studies have found that it is experience that leads to greater happiness rather than the amount of “stuff” one owns.

When I was in my late teens and early twenties, I worked a part-time job and spent every single dime I earned on material items – new clothes, jewellery, shoes and so forth. I would buy a new party dress every other week, sometimes only to wear the dress once and never again. The idea of materialism was a social ideal that had been projected onto me and engrained within my mentality from a very young age – the bigger the house, the bigger the garden, the more ‘things’ someone owned, the better. It wasn’t until I began working overseas, had to pack up my life into one suitcase and keep only the necessary and essential items, that I began to ponder over the topic of minimalism.

While I may not be the utmost dedicated minimalist, the past three years, I have definitely adopted a more minimalistic lifestyle. Being a student, I don’t really have any other choice. What I have learned, is that I actually prefer this lifestyle. I like knowing exactly what items I own and that I could easily pack up my life into one suitcase if I needed to, I like not having clutter. This lifestyle has also changed the way I consume – when I go shopping I no longer feel the urge to splurge on material items. For instance, if I see a jumper I like, instead of impulsively going ahead and purchasing it, I stop and ask myself “I already own four jumpers, they all serve the purpose of keeping me warm, so do I really need another one?”. The same applies to jewellery, I have two pairs of earrings, one necklace, and two rings, all of which come to under $30NZD. I don’t feel as though I need any more than this. I was actually watching a video a few days ago on a vloggers ‘room tour’ and was quite astounded at what I saw – fifteen draws stacked full of jewellery, twenty handbags, eight pairs of jeans, twenty different nail varnishes. I just didn’t understand it, all these items serve the same function, so why would someone need so many versions of it?

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Embracing minimalism has also allowed me to analyse and apply this concept to other areas of life. One thing I have learned over the past few years, is that human beings tend to passively go through life without questioning what it is they are doing and why. Here, I will provide three examples of this – engagement, weddings and homes. Unfortunately there is the social ideal that the more money one spends on an engagement ring, the more moral value it possesses. Personally, I find this to be an absolutely absurd concept. A man that can only afford to spend $200 on a ring, could love their partner just as much as someone who were to spend $20,000 on a ring. At the end of the day, the amount of money a person spends on a tiny circular object that sits on your finger does not represent how much you love that person or how committed you are to them. The same applies to weddings. To break it down, the average human lives 788,400 hours, and the average wedding lasts four hours and costs $35,000 NZD. Therefore, the average person spends $35,000 on an event that lasts 0.0005% of their life. When you really think about it, this is utterly disgusting. While this might sound cliché, there are millions of people in the world that struggle to afford food and shelter, every single day of their lives. To spend $35,000 on an event that lasts 0.0005% of a life would surely seem unfathomable to these people. Furthermore, another interesting finding is that in many OECD countries home sizes have dramatically increased over the past decade, despite family sizes becoming smaller. One study found that on average, a family that owns a large home (approx 2000 square feet) will make use of only 68% of the space, with some rooms going almost completely unused. It seems like many of us need a complete re-evaluation of our lifestyles.

I suppose the main point of this post, is to encourage you to think beyond the social ideals and to question everything you do. Could your money be spent on something of more personal and moral value rather than purely material value? Ask yourself – when you come to the end of your life, would you feel more fulfilled reminiscing over all the material items you owned, or how you used your finances on something more meaningful/on someway to give back to the community and contribute to the world? Research has found that splurging on material items leads to only temporary satisfaction, so instead, why not splurge on purposeful and meaningful experiences that will leave you with lifelong fulfillment.

Breaking away from social media

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Social media or social manipulation? Today, most of us spend a significant amount of time living in a fake reality on an online world. A skewed society where people present the best versions of themselves, instead of the real versions. Pointlessly browsing through Facebook or Instagram rarely results in positive feelings about yourself and your life. If you skim through people’s profiles, you will see countless pictures of people looking flawless, attending noteworthy events, jetting of on extravagant holidays, staying in luxurious hotels, getting engaged, getting married, buying a house! All of these life events are positive. People scarcely post about the negative life events they go through. So many people encounter the same struggles, yet so little people open up about them on social media. How people portray their lives is not real and it’s not authentic. This unauthentic portrayal ultimately gives people an unhealthy and warped perception of life. The reality is, this roller coaster of life is full of both positive and negative events. The ups and downs of our individual journey’s are part of the natural human experience.

From the age of seventeen to twenty-four, like many others, I was somewhat consumed by the narcissistic world of social media; posting posing selfies, photos of my holidays, tagging friends, places and social events. It’s only been very recently, that I had an “aha” moment and realised, what is the point? While I still have social media, I decided to completely minimise my profiles for several reasons:

  • I started comparing myself to others. In the past, I had never been the type of person to compare myself to others on social media, because I knew it wasn’t real. However, being back in New Zealand, where there’s not a whole lot to do and see and life is seemingly basic and mundane, I found that my mind wasn’t overly preoccupied. Therefore, I ended up spending exceedingly more time on social media than usual. Another problem living in New Zealand, is that everyone here does the same thing. Everyone lives very similar lives. People are very eager to settle down, and settle down young. There isn’t a great deal of variety in how people choose to live their lives, as opposed to a more modern and liberal place like Hong Kong where I previously lived. There is nothing wrong with this, but it can create a sense of pressure. I started seeing repeated posts on Facebook of people getting married, engaged, having kids which began triggering feelings of inferiority; that I was behind in my life and so far from the stage that so many people seemed to be at. Subconsciously, I began to believe that I should be adopting this life script, that this mainstream lifestyle is the norm and is the life path I should be following. Yet in reality, I’m not sure I want this sort of life at all. We only have a very short time on this planet and a large part of me wants to spend it in a way that is unique; travelling and working overseas, growing as a person and learning about the world. I’m not sure I want to comply to the norm just because it’s what everyone else does. For this reason, I felt the need to break away from social media in order to maintain an authentic mindset.
  • Witnessing others consumed by their social media profiles. A few weeks ago, I was in a night club and ended up hanging out with a group of rather pretentious people, a group I suppose you would deem the “wannabe socialites of Auckland”. Even though I found this experience to be rather unnerving, I also found it to be incredibly eye opening. I remember watching a few of the girls; they were standoffish and moody, yet as soon as they got their phones out to take a snapchat video, their whole demeanours changed. They suddenly became lively, bubbly and acted as though they were having the time of their life. When they put their phones away, they quickly resorted back to their solemn selves. It was in this moment that I realised I never wanted to be like this. I never want to become so utterly engrossed by social media that it affects my actions and behaviours. Our existence is limited and it would be such a shame to spend such a large proportion of this time being so concerned about self-images and perceptions. It was for this reason, I decided to break away from the influences social media.
  • I realised, what is the point? I used to post dozens of photos of my holidays and the majestic places I visited, photos of inebriated nights out with friends and drunken selfies. Then one day I realised, what is the point? What is the point of showing people my life? How does it benefit other people’s lives and how does it benefit my life? Why am I actually doing this? I know that social media is fake, so why am I contributing to it?

Breaking away from social media has been a good decision, I no longer get the urge to post about where I am, what I’m doing or who I’m with. I now live my life more in the moment. I still believe there are some benefits to social media – staying in contact with friends and keeping up with social events. However, minimising my profiles has been a huge refreshment. While I dislike social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, there are still some domains I appreciate because they are authentic, real and relatable. One of these platforms are self blogs – I love reading people’s honest posts about their lives and experiences. A lot of bloggers aren’t afraid to talk about challenges they go through or negative emotions they feel. Another platform I really enjoy browsing through at the moment is reddit – this is a forum where no topic is off limits. Any topic that is taboo is discussed somewhere on this forum. It’s a place where people state their genuine thoughts and I find a lot of the posts very insightful. Finally, I enjoy watching certain YouTube vloggers. My favourite Youtuber’s are the ones that openly and honestly articulate their thoughts and feelings, both positive and negative. If you are interested to know, one of these YouTuber’s is ‘Mum to Millionaire” – while I cannot necessarily relate to her videos because I am not a Mother, what I do like is that she’s not reluctant to touch on a rather taboo topic – the struggles and regrets of parenthood (a subject I am weirdly fascinated with at the moment). My current favourite YouTuber, is a girl living in Singapore called Brianna Degasaton – in several of her videos she vents to the camera and openly talks about the struggles she goes through. In actuality, the struggles most of us go through. She is authentically herself, and her videos are highly refreshing to watch, you can find her channel here https://www.youtube.com/user/briannadeg.

If you are someone that is fed up with social media, tired of how it makes you feel, I hope some of these pointers are of help. I think disconnecting from the unauthentic platforms of social and connecting with more authentic platforms provides some solution – you’re still part of the online world, but the content you are viewing is more raw, real and relatable. As I mention repeatedly on this blog, we only live one very short and precious life, so make the decisions that will lead you to the best possible life – if social media is making you unhappy, change that and break away from it.

Cutting ties – the five indicators that it’s time to let go

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Cutting ties with people and filtering out friends is a natural process most of us go through with age. Friend groups are ever evolving; old friends may leave your life and new friends may enter. For many reasons, friendships change; they may become stronger or they may dwindle and become strained. But when do you stop to think, enough is enough? What does it take to finally realise that trying to maintain a friendship is no longer worth the effort? Making the decision to cut ties with friends, particularly ones that have been in your life for many years can be trying, it can be difficult, and it can make you feel guilty. But usually, these alterations are for the best and will hopefully help to relieve any negative emotions you may have been experiencing as a result of detrimental friendships. Below are what I believe to be the five indicators that it’s time to cut ties and move on.

  1. The absent friend – a friend that is no longer present or available. If you have consistently called, texted, messaged on various occasions, only to be met with no response, it may be time give up. More importantly, if you have been going through a difficult time and have confided in your friend, yet they ignore you and turned a blind eye to your struggles, that is probably a strong indicator that you don’t mean a whole lot to them. Undoubtedly, one sided friendships do not work.
  1. The unreliable friend – a friend that continuously cancels on you. Obviously in many circumstances the reasons for bailing on a friend may be legitimate. However, if the cancellations become overly frequent and get to a point where it becomes inconceivably ridiculous, it may be time to part ways. Reliability is vital to maintaining secure friendships and a lack of it can create feelings of mistrust and doubt.
  1. The egocentric friend – someone that is concerned only with themselves, their wants and their needs. An egocentric friend is one that prefers to talk about themselves, their lives and their relationships, yet neglects asking about your life, and fails to consider the perspectives of others. A healthy friendship is one that involves mutual interest, as well as reciprocal care and concern for the other person. If you meet up with a friend and after the catch-up, feel as though you hadn’t had the opportunity to talk about your life because your friend never cared to ask, it might be time to let go.
  1. The defensive friend – a friend that isn’t willing to hear and consider alternate or opposing views. Having a good friendship doesn’t mean you have to agree with everything your friend says or does. Close friends should be able to openly articulate their views, thoughts and beliefs, even if they are not in alignment with the views of their friend. A good friend is one that is eager to hear your advice, listen to your suggestions and value your opinion, whether they agree with you or not. If you have a friend that gets defensive and aggressive when you disagree with something they say or do, it may be best to lay that battle to rest and move on.
  1. The untrustworthy friend – a friend that talks behind your back. If you have discovered that your friends have been talking negatively about you to others, yet act pleasant and friendly to your face, its best to part ways with them. Maybe you have discovered that your friends have been explicitly bitching about you in a facebook conversation, or maybe you just have a gut instinct that they put you down when you’re not around…this lack of trust can be upsetting and not worth the emotional toll.

Let’s be honest though, no one is perfect. It would be rare to find a friend that perfectly fits all criteria. I will admit that while I would consider myself capable of being a good, supportive and reliable friend, there are still certain criteria I do not completely fulfil. But what is important, is to ask yourself, does the good outweigh the bad? Does your friend add something to your life? Does your friends presence bring you more positive emotions than negative ones? Personally, in any area of my life, once someone starts causing me more negative emotions than positive ones, that is the defining factor for me – the moment I know it’s time to let that person go. Unfortunately, poor friendships can make you feel more alone than if you were to have no friends at all. That constant longing for your friend to finally be there for you, only to be repeatedly disappointed can actually create undeniably feelings of loneliness. However, on a more positive note, I can say that once you have cut the destructive and depleted friendships off, you may feel an instant sense of relief. Those negative emotions you were experiencing may be instantaneously eradicated by a click of a button, deleting that person from your existence. Personally, I didn’t realise how low a certain failed friendship of mine had been making me feel until I eliminated that person from my life, and almost immediately, I felt a tremendous weight being lifted off my shoulders. If you are feeling unhappy in your life, I think it’s important to assess what exactly is making you unhappy. If certain friendships are contributing to your unhappiness, it may be best to cut ties with them and move on.

Returning to University at age 25

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For a variety of different reasons, people end up going back to University later in life. I did my first degree in Psychology which I thoroughly enjoyed, however, this degree is limited in career prospects. Because of this, I then completed a Graduate Diploma in Teaching. While this qualification guaranteed me to work as a teacher, I never enjoyed the University course or the line of work. Throughout my short-lived career as a teacher, I would often ponder over the thought of going back to University and starting again. Yet I would always think of reasons that opposed this, because I ideally, I didn’t want to start again. It wasn’t until my third year as a teacher that I realised I could no longer work in the profession; that I didn’t want to live my life unhappy in my career and finally felt the desire to go back and start again.

Once I had made the decision to go back to University, I decided to research what it would be like returning to University as a mature student (although I’m not sure 25 would qualify as being “mature”). I noticed this topic was a search trend on google. Therefore, I thought this post may be useful to any readers considering going back to University in their mid-twenties, and as with most of my blog posts, what the pros and cons of this may be.

Before I delve into the list of pros and cons, I think it’s firstly quite important to establish whether returning to University would be a viable option for you. I believe there are two main factors you need to consider before making the commitment of returning to University in your mid-twenties.

  • Your financial situation. University is very expensive. Many people are already in substantial debt due to previous studies. I think it’s very important to consider whether returning to University is worth the financial burden. Personally, I believe that if you are truly unhappy in your career, then you should change your situation, despite the financial liabilities. However, if you are seriously in debt, you may need to consider other options. It’s also important to find out whether you qualify for any allowances. In New Zealand, if you are 25 and over, you may qualify for a housing allowance, as well a supplementary allowance. While the allowances aren’t much, it is fantastic in the sense that it almost allows people to take a second shot at getting their careers right without having to reach too far into their pockets. Also, if your future career offers a decent salary, this should also be taken into consideration. As a teacher, the salary was relatively low, however, as a dental hygienist/therapist I will be earning almost double what I was a teacher, so this alleviates any stressors of having a small student debt once completing my new degree.
  • Putting your life on hold. When you decide to go back to University, you not only have to put your life on hold in a financial sense, but also personally. If you have a partner and are wanting to start a family, these plans may need to be delayed. Raising a child and attending University won’t be an easy option. However, if you are single, or have a partner, but no plans to settle down in the near future, then you are in a great position to return to University.

If you have made your decision to return to University, fantastic! I have been back at University about a month now, and below are what I have found to be the main pros and cons of returning to University at age 25.

Pros:

  • Increased work ethic. When you’re older, you tend to have less of a desire to socialise and “party”, compared to when you were in your early twenties. All of that is probably out of your system, and as a result you are able to become a lot more focused on your work and motivated to achieve high grades. I have found that I have a much greater work ethic than ever before.
  • Increased confidence. The majority of people at University are around age 18-21. I find that with age, you become more confident in yourself and less concerned as to what people think of you. At age 25, I feel a lot more confident speaking up and do not feel intimated by people that I may have been when I was younger.
  • Feeling better suited to the career path and with your classmates. People tend to know themselves better as they get older and become more self aware. Once you have figured out a career path that is best suited to you, you may find that you fit in better with the ‘crowd’. As a student studying education, I felt no drive and no passion towards the profession and I did not fit in with the crowd. While I should not generalise, I will admit that the majority of people on my teaching course were very loud, extroverted and arty. I remember everyone being so enthusiastic when singing nursery rhymes and demonstrating lesson plans, while I felt completely awkward and uncomfortable.  I have always been introverted and quite a logical/structured person. I find that a lot of people on my current course also possess these personality traits and I see this as being a huge indicator that I am on a career path much better suited to my personality.

Cons:

  • As mentioned before, there are financial consequences of returning to University, as well as having to delay certain life plans.
  • Comparing yourself to others. All of my friends are now working full time, earning an annual salary, being able to save and travel abroad. I sometimes find it frustrating knowing that I will need to wait several years before doing these things again and sometimes feel as though I am slightly behind compared to my friends. Yet, when I hear someone speaking about being unhappy in their job, that tends to reassure me that while I may be behind, it is still worth starting again and getting my career right.

Overall, I definitely find that the pros of returning to University at age 25 outweigh the cons. If you are thinking of returning to University, just make sure you do your research in regards to the financial aspects and find out whether you qualify for any allowances. While returning to University and putting your life on hold may not sound ideal, it’s important to look at your life in the long run. Getting your career right while you are still young is easier than starting again much later in life.

Do High School’s really prepare students for University and the workforce?

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Choosing what to study at University and what career path to go down, is one of the most significant and life-changing decisions a person can make during their lifetime. It is now expected that our generation will reach retirement around the age of sixty-seven, meaning that on average we will spend fifty odd years in the workforce. For that reason, it is so important to make the right decision when choosing a career. But at the tender age of eighteen, do we really know our selves well enough to make such a pivotal decision? And do our educational systems really support us in making these decisions?

During my final two years of High School there were two weeks, just two weeks, dedicated to learning about the workforce in a practical sense. My High school education did not prepare me any way, shape or form for the world of work or for University. In these career classes, we were never taught the necessary basics. I had no idea what a “bachelor’s degree” meant, or what a “major” or “minor” were. I didn’t know the meaning of a “graduate diploma”, “certificate, “thesis”, “masters”, or “PhD”. Without being taught the basic university terminology, how was I supposed to set out my degree.

Another problem with education today, is that students aren’t being told the whole truth. We live in a society that has a tendency to only consider one side of the coin. If the other side of the coin is a bit taboo or goes against social norms, ideals and expectations, then it is swept under the rug and kept under wraps. We can look at two examples of this:

  • being taught to “follow our passions”; to follow our dreams and we will succeed. This is a notion I find slightly problematic and misleading. We often read articles and hear motivational speeches of people who have set out to pursue their passions, how they have tried, tried and tried again. Failed and tried again. And eventually, they make it. Not only do they make it, but they make it big. Society uses these successful figures as prime examples; to reinforce to us that we should follow our passions and we will succeed. But is this realistic? Unfortunately not. Society doesn’t teach us about the other side of the coin. We don’t hear motivational speeches of people that have tried, tried and tried again, and failed. Speeches and articles about people who have lost everything, and are now spending the rest of their lives trying to rebuild a life. Schools won’t teach us this reality because it goes against the social ideal of following our passions. I believe that the highly successful figures that have made it big in the world can somewhat be a little out of touch with reality. Yes, I do believe its important to work in a field you are interested in, but it is equally as important to be made aware of the pros and cons of following a “risky” passion.
  • Another reality school’s don’t teach pupil’s is that arts degrees will not guarantee you a job. Because schools teach us to follow our passions, they then can’t go and tell us that we should think twice about doing an arts degree, as it goes against what they teach us about following our dreams. Arts degrees are risky because they don’t necessarily lead to a specific job, and may not guarantee you with a work by the end of your studies. Arts degrees may equip you with a random set of skills in say history, or sociology, anthropology and so forth, but unfortunately, there aren’t many jobs out there that require such a skill set.

I studied psychology through a bachelor of arts for my first degree, and loved it. I had found my niche, and it was through this degree that my love for science developed. However, at the end this degree, I didn’t know what to do. My qualification hadn’t led me anywhere, and my future was uncertain. I then decided to undertake a graduate diploma in teaching, as I knew it would lead me down a route where I could actually receive work. So even though I initially followed my passion, at the end of the day, it didn’t get me to where I wanted to be in life, hence, I had to re-start again and take a more realistic approach.

Schools also don’t teach us about the alternatives i.e. a gap year. If you are eighteen, you don’t know yourself or what to do with your life, one valuable experience you could undergo is the experience of a gap year. Travelling alone is invaluable, it will help you to grow and discover yourself – your likes, dislikes, personality traits, interests and so forth. When I left High School, I didn’t fully understand what a gap year was and had no idea that it could even be an option. In hindsight, taking a gap year may have been beneficial to me and I wish that we had been taught more about this in school.

If you are a student reading this, about to go onto university, my advice would be to:

  • do research on the pros and cons of the career you are considering, see if it is a career that is realistic and achievable.
  • do research on the type of bachelors you are considering i.e. will doing a degree through the arts leave you with good job prospects, or would it be better to do your major through a bachelor of science or law, if possible.
  • if your school hasn’t provided you with enough practical experience in the workforce, then go out and do it yourself. Go and spend a week in a school, or a law firm and try and get as involved as you possibly can. Use these opportunities to gain as much insight as you can into the careers; what the pros and cons are, what personality traits you might need, what the salary is and so forth.
  • if you really don’t know yourself or what you want to do, consider taking a gap year, maybe even two years abroad. Take some time to travel and learn about yourself in the process.
  • do not rush. Don’t let anyone pressure you into picking up the pace. Take as much time as you need to research or travel. If you rush, you could end up going down the wrong career path and then find yourself at square one again. Major life-changing decisions should not be rushed.

The truth about teaching

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Let’s start off with a statistic – 40-50% of teachers leave the profession within the first five years. The significance of this statistic has to indicate that there is something catastrophically wrong with the teaching profession today. There are many inaccurate notions and assumptions surrounding teaching. I believe a large number of people go into the career because of these assumptions, yet quickly find out it’s not what they expected, and not long after, leave the field.

I was one of those statistics. I went into preschool teaching for all of the wrong reasons. I had the assumption that teaching would be a relatively easy and stress-free career, one that would go hand in hand with having a family (back then I was quite family oriented, now I don’t even want kids). I couldn’t have been more wrong. Teaching was anything but easy. It all became too much. After three years in the teaching profession, I decided it was time for a career change, even if that meant returning to University to do another degree (I will now be doing a degree in dentistry).

Because there is such a high teacher drop out rate, I think it’s really important to take a look at why exactly so many teachers leave. Unfortunately, when I was younger I was quite naive and hadn’t done a whole lot of research regarding teacher’s experiences and views of the pros and cons of the profession. I spent half a day at an early childcare centre to try and get a bit more insight, and thought that had made me well aware of what the job entails. But in reality, I was totally clueless. If you’re thinking about going into teaching, I would seriously recommend doing your research. On top of that, go and spend a full week or two working at a school so you can see what it’s really like and make sure you understand the full list of responsibilities that teachers have. The aim of this post is not to discourage anyone from the teaching profession, but to raise some awareness of the difficulties within the job.

Below is a list of what I believe to be the pros and cons of being a teacher based on my experience. Its also important to note that this post will relate mostly to preschool teachers, however, a large proportion of points may also relate to Primary and High-school teachers.

Pros

  • Teaching can serve as a means of travel and working overseas. Teachers are needed everywhere. However, I wouldn’t say it’s the smartest reason to go into teaching, because while you might get to travel, you may still be miserable in the job. That was the case for me, I ended up teaching in New Zealand, Hong Kong and Australia, which was amazing, but it never resulted in me feeling happy within the job.
  • The bonds you will make with the children. In every school I worked at, there were always a handful of children I formed incredible bonds with. Those bonds definitely made the job worthwhile. I loved coming in everyday seeing their little faces. I remember my very final day as a teacher, one of the girls I had formed a close bond with told me that she loved me. That was a memory I will keep with me for a long time. So yes, there are moments that can make the job rewarding.
  • Witnessing the progress children make. Not just on an academic level but also on a personal level. I always used to find it very rewarding seeing a shy/withdrawn child come out of their shell and gain confidence, especially when you have helped them in the process.

(Unfortunately, that’s it for the pros! No seriously…. that’s it. Now let’s delve down into the long list of cons….)

Cons

  • Preschool teaching is physically exhausting. You are literally on your feet all day. Walking around, monitoring the class, setting up activities, putting activities away. You will be lifting children up and down from things, some children may need to be carried when upset, you may have to spend a couple of hours each day supervising them outside (in the boiling heat in Australia). You will have to break up fights on occasion and you will constantly be cleaning – vacuuming, sweeping, mopping the floors, wiping down tables and the bathroom. Teaching is incredibly physically demanding. By the end of the day you’re legs and feet will be aching and you’ll probably be in bed by 8.30 every night.
  • Preschool teaching is socially exhausting. This was the most challenging factor of teaching for me, because I am more of an introvert. As a teacher you will be interacting and communicating non-stop throughout the day. Not only would I rarely get five minutes of time to sit, but rarely even five minutes of not having to talk or give instruction. You don’t just communicate with the children, but with the parents, other staff and management also. I think the constant communication can be a major struggle for introverted teachers, because unlike extroverts who are energised by social interaction, introverts recharge from quiet/alone time. Unfortunately, as a teacher you won’t really get any moments of privacy or solitude. Of course, you can still be a fantastic teacher and be on the introverted side (I’ve met a few), but I do think it holds far more challenges for introverts because you are constantly being pushed out of your comfort zone. In all honesty, I do think teaching comes more naturally to those on the extroverted and socially confident side, considering that it is a highly socially demanding job.
  • Teaching is emotionally exhausting. When you’re stuck in a classroom of twenty hyperactive children each day, who refuse to listen or follow instruction, you will reach breaking point. There are some days when the children’s behaviour can be so overbearing that you will shout, or break down in tears behind closed doors. Not to mention, having children with special needs or suspected ADHD. It can be incredibly difficult trying to manage all of these children on your own. There is also a lot of pressure from parents and from management, along with the workload which additionally contributes to teaching being an emotionally draining job (this will be further explained in points below).
  • Preschool teaching isn’t overly mentally stimulating. You will be teaching nursery rhymes, the ABC’s, numbers from 1-20. It can get incredibly tedious at times. While the job may be physically, socially and emotionally exhausting, it isn’t necessarily intellectually demanding (which is what I always wanted most in a job).
  • The workload. Unfortunately, teaching is a job that never stops. There is always something that can be done. On top of actually teaching every day, there is a long list of documentation and admin tasks that need to be completed on a daily, monthly and yearly basis. For instance, you might need to write daily learning journals of the children’s day, an observation and learning story for each child, each month. You will have to write reports and reflections. You will need to gather and make resources for all of the children. You will need to fill out detailed lesson planning templates for each week. You will need to show evidence of how your planning links to certain framework and guidelines. You will need to organise and maintain files for all of the children. You will have to plan and get organised for school events. You may need to plan for school assemblies, write scripts and gather resources for them. You will need to go home and mark homework. You may need to spend time each day responding to parent emails. You may need to spend some weekends going to craft shops and buying resources, with your own money. HOW are teachers expected to do ALL OF THIS ON TOP OF A FULL DAY OF TEACHING, which is exhausting enough as it is. It is ridiculous. There is just not enough time during the day to get everything done, not to mention only four weeks of holiday a year. In the last school I was working at, I would often spend half of my lunch breaks completing this documentation because there was never an ideal moment during the day when I could get it done.
  • You will get blamed for everything. If a child is having nightmares, you will get blamed for it. If a child comes home angry or upset, you will get blamed for it. If a child hits, or gets hit, you will get blamed for it. If a child gets paint on their clothes, you will get blamed for it. If a child loses a shoe, or a hair-clip, you will get blamed for it. If a child gets sick, you will get blamed for it. If a resource goes missing or gets broken, you will get blamed for it. As a teacher you really have to develop a thick skin. You will get blamed for things that are out of your control, so you’ll need to learn how to grin and bear it.
  • You may not be treated respectfully. By parents and by management. In New Zealand, the biggest complaint within Early Childhood Education, is that the school managers/directors treat their staff disrespectfully. My teaching experience overseas, taught me that this is probably more of a universal problem. It’s such a shame – one person can have a huge impact on the overall environment of the school and negatively influence their staff’s happiness within the workplace. If the staff aren’t happy then this in turn will affect their performance. It is absurd to me that people in management positions don’t seem to understand this. If you manage to find a job at a school with a nice, respectful manager, I would advise sticking to that school for as long as possible.
  • The teaching environment can get very catty. At times you will feel like you are back in High School. Unfortunately, when you are working in a team of all girls, things are inevitably going to get a bit bitchy.
  • Preschool teaching is messy and unhygienic. You will get spat on, you will get sneezed on, you will get burped on, you will get farted on. Children will wipe things on you, they will get paint on you, draw on you, poke you in the eye and in the ears. You will have to endure terrible smells on a daily basis. On top of that you will have a whole list of cleaning duties (as mentioned in one of the points above). You may need to clean the eating areas three times a day, and devastatingly, the bathrooms too. Trust me, you don’t want to know what a Preschool bathroom can look like.
  • The low salary. As a teacher working at an International school in Asia, they pay is very decent. However, as a Preschool teacher in Australia or New Zealand (probably the UK too), the pay isn’t great. Considering the amount of stress, time and energy teachers put into the job every day, the pay check is not reflective of these efforts.
  • The stigma attached to preschool teaching. I always felt hesitant and embarrassed to tell people I was a Preschool teacher because of the stereotypes and generalisations attached to it. There is the stigma that Preschool teachers are ‘dumb’ and that Preschool teaching is easy. I remember a couple of months ago, someone said to me “teaching is easy, I spent a day at a school, I know what it’s like. Plus don’t you guys only work like 6.5 hours a day?”. Still to this day, that comment infuriates me. If you are naive enough to think that teachers end their working day at 3pm, then you sure shouldn’t be judging how stressful or stress-free you consider the job to be.
  • Everyday is completely different. Children will get into fights, they will break things, they will hurt themselves, they will get sick. You never really know how your day is going to turn out. I would say, I’d usually have two or three terrible days during the week, one or two average days, and just one good day. If you’re someone that likes routine and someone that wants a job that you can walk into each day and know exactly what you need to do, you may find the variety of this job challenging.
  • Constant multitasking. Teaching is a job that basically requires you to have several pairs of eyes and ears. For instance, if I were to set up a painting activity on the table, I would have to explain the rules to the children while also having to keep an eye on the rest of the class, shout out to the children that are becoming a bit rowdy, while also trying to pay attention to the children at the table and make sure the water doesn’t get spilled. The amount of multitasking we are supposed to do all day can become overwhelming, and frankly not humanly possible. Its not an ideal job if you work best with having a specific focus.
  • Teaching does not go hand with having a family. It would be exhausting having to run around looking after other people’s kids every day and then having to go home and do the same for your own, in addition to the high workload. If you do some research online, you will find that being a teacher and a Mother is not an easy or an ideal combination.

There you have it. In the three years of teaching, I found that there were only three pros to the job and a extensive list of cons. If you are thinking of going into teaching, please, think twice. Do you’re research, spend a significant amount of time volunteering at a school, and figure out whether you have the right personality traits for the job. If you are unhappy in the job (as many teachers are), then maybe you should consider other options. Get a job in another field, or go back to University. There’s nothing worse that living your life doing a job you loathe. But just remember, you are never stuck. There are always other options out there. Now that I have left the profession, I feel so relieved and content with my decision. I look back now and can’t believe I even made it to the three year mark. Again, the aim of this post was not to discourage anyone from going into teaching (even though it probably comes across that way), but to provide information, insight and awareness to people thinking of going into the profession. If you found this post useful, or if you still aren’t convinced these are the realities of teaching today, then please take a look at the links below:

http://forums.atozteacherstuff.com/index.php?threads/ok-so-i-hate-teaching-what-else-can-i-do-with-this-teaching-degree.67063/

http://www.xojane.com/issues/i-quit-teaching-burn-out

https://toughnickel.com/business/I-Hate-My-Teaching-Job-Should-I-Quit

https://thosewhoteach.wordpress.com/2013/05/20/life-after-teaching-part-i-four-reasons-why-im-better-off/