How I found My Voice By Exiting My Comfort Zone

May 29, 2019

It all started the day I received a rejection letter for a job that, at the time, I was sure was my “dream job”.  My husband encouraged me to complete this fellowship application that I had been pushing off and, as per usual, talking myself out of. I thought he was absolutely crazy. The application consisted of five essays. I was sure I didn’t have a chance at the fellowship, and I had just two days to complete it.

I started typing.

Flash forward a week or two,  I am en route to Albany, New York to present at a conference when I receive a phone call from an out of area number. Typically, I would ignore calls like this, but something made me answer. It was Tami from National Board asking to arrange an interview that evening. I was en route to Albany, did I mention that? So I would be interviewing via video conference, in a hotel room, without any prep, for a fellowship I surely didn’t have a chance at. As a person who works works best under pressure, obviously I said yes. And believe it or not, taking that interview is now the second best decision of my professional career (next to Board certification, of course!). I felt better after that interview than I had about myself in years. Who feels good after an interview? But honestly, I became a better person because of that experience. The interviewers were honestly the most welcoming, kind, genuine people I’ve ever ‘met.’ They applauded my work to advance accomplished teaching and reassured me that what I was doing in the field was meaningful and worthwhile. If my journey had ended there, it would have been worth it. This organization was one I so desperately wanted to be a part of, in some capacity. This is the face of an organization I want to be associated with.

Thrilled. Shocked. Pumped. Ecstatic. Just some of the emotions I experienced after being offered the fellowship and a few days later traveling to DC to embark on my greatest professional adventure to date. Sitting around the table at the onboarding I felt that doubt creep up again. That voice that almost kept me from applying in the first place. The other four fellows had such incredible stories to share and accomplishments. I felt like I didn’t belong. I was literally sinking down in my chair.

As the fellowship progressed, I traveled to Orlando for the NB Academy. I led a focus committee filled with the most incredible people and worked with one of the 60 Networks across the country making strides to grow accomplished teaching. I was mentored along the way, given the support, thought partnership, guidance, and confidence that I needed while also creating lifelong friendships. The other fellows were my rocks.  We supported each other, challenged each other’s ideas, and moved each other’s work forward. This group of individuals will forever be my friends and members of my professional network. I was able to create a “passion project” with a focus on Institutions of Higher Education, a project fueled by my own experience when the National Board certification “seed” was planted in my preservice teaching brain.

As I reflect on this experience, I’m left almost speechless. I found myself. I started using the voice I had developed during the certification process. I found the confidence I have so desperately needed. The growth and networking I experienced is immeasurable. And how lucky am I that someone believed in me and encouraged this risk. I did belong at that table, and so do you.

I believe in you and I want you to take a risk! Here are four takeaways (and hopefully tips) to embark on your new adventure…

Quit the self-doubt

You can talk yourself out of any new challenge. Self-doubt is a constant struggle for me that I work every day to overcome. This doubt gets in your way and prevents you from reaching your dreams. I shouldn’t have to rely on my life cheerleader, my husband, to take on new risks. We need to start believing in ourselves and chasing our dreams. Starting the Board certification process took courage; dropping the self-doubt will take courage, too. It’s time to chase that dream you’ve been holding on to.

Stay Open

When opportunities present themselves, stay open to them. You never know unless you try, and if you don’t try, you’ll be faced with regret. Embrace the opportunity instead of talking yourself out of it. Enter with the understanding that you will learn something about yourself and gain new knowledge from the experience. Everything is an opportunity for growth, and when you are open to new opportunities you can use them as a vehicle. You were vulnerable when you started the Board certification process, it’s time to embrace that vulnerability.

Get uncomfortable

It is easy to become stagnant. Life gets the best of us, and when we get in a routine, why should we change that? Demolish that routine. Enter into the unknown. It is essential that as human beings we keep learning and growing to become the best version of ourselves. The education field is all I know, and what I know is that it’s easy to spend 30 years teaching the same grade level in the same classroom. Get out of your comfort zone, and get comfortable being uncomfortable.

Find your Tribe

My professional journey has only just begun. There is so much more to be written, but I would not be where I am today without my support group. This group is filled with friends, family, colleagues, our network and the other NBCTs from across the nation (my Twitter peeps). It is vitally important to build relationships with like-minded professionals. Start to build that tribe!

Amy Steger, NBCT

Amy Steger is currently in her 11th year as an exceptional education teacher with a focus on differentiating instruction in an integrated co-taught classroom over the past five years. She holds a degree in Elementary and Special Education from St. Bonaventure University and has a Masters in Differentiated Instruction. Steger is currently pursuing a degree in Educational Leadership at the University of New York at Buffalo. As a National Board Fellow from 2018 to 2019, she collaborated with teachers from across the country and connected with local universities and schools of education to assure that future educators had early insight into the value of becoming National Board certified. Along with this, Steger created a virtual space for discourse around the Five Core Propositions via a series of Twitter chats. She grew up and currently resides in Hamburg, NY, a suburb of Buffalo. She has an amazingly supportive husband and two adorable sons, Derek, 5 and Nolan, 3.