Relationships, Work & Money

I felt like a failure in my twenties … until I became a teacher

By ISABELLA ABIGAIL OW , 5 August 2022

In my early twenties, I couldn’t hold down a job. I also suffered from social anxiety and struggled with my mental health.

Making connections and building relationships were extremely challenging for me.

Unhelpful thoughts spun in my mind like a broken record: I’m a failure. I’ll never be able to finish what I started. My parents are ashamed of me.

In 2012, when I was 23 and about to graduate with a master’s degree, I was plagued by the fear of not being able to secure a job. I was severely anxious as my degrees in Theatre Studies and International Performance Research were very unconventional.

I didn’t know how to navigate through such uncertainty. I suffered from a deep lack of confidence and believed that finding a job would be nearly impossible.

My non-stop worrying dragged me into a downward spiral of anxiety.

I eventually completed my master’s degree – just barely passing. 

Following that, I struggled emotionally for years as I jumped from one job to another.

The rough years

My toughest season was between the ages of 23 to 27. 

My obsessive fears about failing and being socially rejected crippled my self-esteem. I struggled at work.

For example, I’d think my colleagues were deliberately trying to exclude me, or that they were out to get me in trouble on purpose. 

I felt like I couldn’t trust anyone, regardless of whether my thoughts were justified or not.

Beautiful blessings

Although I didn’t see it at that time, I was surrounded by loving and caring people during my season of struggle. 

I had bosses who gave me second chances whenever I needed time to work through difficult emotions.

My family – especially my mum – were loving and supportive.  

I also had a small group of reliable Christian friends who were really patient with me through my highs and lows. 

I didn’t have a personal relationship with God then but I’m so grateful that He surrounded me with these people. Their kind gestures and words sowed hope and encouragement into my life,

Breakthrough at last

Things finally started to change for me after I became a teacher in 2016.

Though the job does have its share of emotional and stress triggers, there are many aspects of the work that help a person become stronger and better.

The stronger my body felt, the more equipped I became to deal with my challenges.

For instance, a teacher needs to be a role model to their students. So I aspired to be a responsible figure for them to look up to – even if I did not feel up to the mark initially.

I was also blessed with a good working environment. Many of my teaching colleagues were nice and nurturing. 

Some teachers enjoyed fitness and hiking, which also inspired me to take an interest in my own health and well-being.

Whenever I couldn’t process my thoughts, I took walks, jogged or exercised. I even received my first-ever medal for running an 8×50 metre marathon relay for Sports Day. 

Over time, the stronger my body felt, the more equipped I became to deal with my challenges.

It’s been six years since I became a teacher.

Working things out

My mental healing was a gradual process. It didn’t happen overnight, though there were several things that really helped along the way.

In 2019, a counsellor introduced me to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) which helped me work through many difficult thoughts and feelings. I had a breakthrough.

I was soon able to identify recurring negative thought patterns and actively seek to reframe them.

Through God’s prompting, I also discovered unresolved hurts from my university days which I needed healing from. 

I was soon able to identify recurring negative thought patterns and actively seek to reframe them.

Looking back, I’m able to appreciate how God placed me in the right environment at the right time to help me heal and become stronger.

In the past, whenever I tried to release my emotions and feelings to God, I felt stuck and blocked.

But as I began spending more personal time with God, He showed me some of my hurts and issues via dreams and impressions.

The more I prioritise time and intimacy with Him, the deeper our relationship grows and the clearer I hear from Him.

Why I share

I used to feel ashamed of my past weaknesses and insecurities. For years, I refused to speak about them to anyone.

But in 2021, God encouraged me to share my struggles with others. This sharing has also been a part of my healing process. 

God doesn’t waste our painful experiences. There are many lessons we can glean from each other.

Our testimonies can be like beacons of hope for someone else. You never know how it may touch someone. I encourage you to share yours.


A version of this article first appeared in Thir.st.

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