How I Turned My Passion Into Not One, but Two CareersBy Mattie Schuler May 18th, 2022
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For the past five years, I’ve split time between being an outdoor adventure journalist and leading a nature-based pre-kindergarten program. I write one or two articles per week, totaling about 10 hours of work. I also spend about 35 hours each week in my role as an educator.
I never imagined myself working in either of these careers. Although I went to journalism school, I didn’t initially consider freelancing—I figured I would get an editorial job at a magazine—because I was wary of financial instability. I also never thought I’d be a teacher, but then I stumbled into a year-long master’s program for educational psychology and found I was fascinated by how children’s brains work and learn.
Today, I honestly prefer having both roles over just one or the other. But achieving this level of balance and success has been a journey.
Here are the steps that worked for me to launch and manage a dual career path.
I noted a common theme
I tied my two careers together with a common thread—my love for the outdoors. During undergrad, internships, and grad school, this theme kept coming up. I didn’t want to work in adventure tourism or as a guide, however, so I knew I’d need to get inventive to get my fill of nature some other way.
After journalism school, I completed an internship at Outside magazine, where I suddenly added a bunch of writers, editors, and outdoor gear contacts to my professional network. Freelance writing was a natural next step.
This left space for me to pursue teaching at the same time—but again, I wanted to do it a little differently. I realized that if I chose to teach at private preschools, which aren’t dictated by a state-based curriculum, I could teach in line with my own philosophy and interests.
I found the perfect program to do just this: The forest school where I work encourages students (mostly four- and five-year-olds) to learn and play outside from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. every day—and mostly all year, pending extreme weather (hello, Colorado!).
I sorted out my priorities
Much like with relationships, figuring out the non-negotiables for a career early on is critical. For me, freedom was the most obvious thing I wanted.
In my case, “freedom” applies both to how and where I spend my time and to opportunities for exploration and growth. With writing, freedom means having the time to test out running gear or travel to go mountain biking for a story. With teaching, it means having the support and space to see how I can grow the outdoor program—which I’m proud to say has indeed grown. I started the program three years ago with one classroom and three teachers. Next year, we’re expanding to two outdoor classrooms, weekly nature-based classes for parents and toddlers, and I’ll be supervising a team of five teachers. I’m just as proud of this feat as I am of my feature story last year in Women’s Health on solo backpacking.
I flexed my time management muscles
Depending on the week, I am definitely hustling for both jobs. Sometimes, I have to cover for other teachers in the afternoons, which are normally dedicated to writing. Other times, I have free afternoons, but suddenly find myself with four deadlines in a week.
Despite being tethered to both careers, I’ve got slack in the lines.
Most often, though, I’m able to dedicate a sweet spot of five to 10 hours a week to writing. That window in my schedule was important when I was looking for a teaching job. I didn’t want to work more than fifty hours a week and burn out. Ultimately, the main takeaway I learned from that first year of the two-career juggling act was to make dedicated time for writing—and stick to a schedule as much as possible.
I learned how to balance income streams
Having different types of income complements the freedom and independence I experience in my dual career. As a teacher, I get health insurance and a retirement fund, which adds a layer of stability to the mix. My steady paycheck from teaching also allows me to say no to stories that aren’t in my wheelhouse—or projects I’m just not jazzed about. Instead, I pitch stories I actually want to write. This is huge. It keeps me engaged and interested in the work.
When it comes to budgeting, I make sure that my teaching wages cover all of my monthly expenses. Each month or quarter, I adjust my budget according to how freelancing is going—and vice versa. If I’ve got a month where I’m saving up for a big purchase, my freelance quota goes up. If I suddenly have extra assignments, that additional money goes into savings or a “just for fun” fund.
I found the ‘sweet spot’ of crossover for both jobs
As an added bonus, I have plenty of crossover ideas for both jobs, like writing round-up articles of the best kids’ gear, how-to stories on keeping young kids entertained on a hike, and explainer pieces on how being outside can help prepare kids for academic success.
I’m also on a constant quest for new avenues for both careers—and my part-time schedules allow for this. If I need to spend a few extra hours creating a proposal for next year’s staffing plan or diving deep into research for a story, I can. Despite being tethered to both jobs, I’ve got slack in the lines.
Having two careers might seem difficult, or maybe it’s a journey you’ve never considered. But in my case, it works. The first step is to figure out what you have to have, what you want to have, and where you have leeway. It might be a hustle at first, but with some hard work and serendipity, you can arrive at the sweet spot—the intersection of two careers you love.Image by pikisuperstar