Laura Schulte #empoweredWritten

When I graduated from The College of Wooster in May 2009, I moved back in with my folks in Vermont. I know I’m lucky: I love (and like!) my family, our home is in a beautiful place, I lived there rent-free and I quickly found a fun part-time job working at an indie video store — but it’s still weird moving back in with your parents, no matter what. 

Most of my friends had moved to Chicago after graduation, my boyfriend (now husband) Max still had another year of college to get through before we could move in together, and I hardly knew anyone in my small town anymore. Lying awake on those long summer nights in my childhood bedroom, it was hard not to feel like I’d taken a big step backward. 

Luckily, when September came I had a lot less time to lay around feeling sorry for myself: in addition to working evenings at the video store and nannying one day a week, I started substitute teaching at my mom’s school. Four days a week, my mom and I would commute together, 45 minutes each way. Again, I’m lucky: my mom is one of my best friends, so spending a few hours together each day was pretty great. 

But here’s the thing: I have never wanted to be a teacher. I come from a family of educators, and I majored in English, so most people assumed I would go down that path. But I firmly believe that only people who are passionate about teaching should teach — it’s difficult to imagine a more important responsibility than shaping children’s minds, and also? Teaching is HARD. I was grateful for the work, but wow, I am so not cut out for it. 

So. There I was, spending my days subbing, nannying, and working at a video store. I didn’t have any intention of doing those things for more than a year, but had no idea what I’d do next, either. When subbing, I was either surrounded by children, or by middle aged people who had known me when I was a child, which meant I usually felt like an irrelevant grownup or an overgrown child. (Basically my life was a blink-182 song.)

Enter Laura. I had been hearing about Laura for years — she and my mom had become good work friends, but I hadn’t met her before. Turns out, Laura was in her late 20s, had a decidedly non-teacher-y wardrobe (preferring Fryes to Crocs), and her cheerful confidence was inspiring to me in a big way. 

With Laura by my side in the cafeteria, or after sharing a laugh in the copy room, it was a lot easier to handle the more stressful moments of the job. Plus, I now had a link to my coworkers that wasn’t my mom — I don’t know if that mattered to anyone else’s view of me, but it certainly made me feel more professional and legitimate. And every Tuesday, while my mom and the rest of the teachers had their staff meeting after school, I’d wait for my ride home by grabbing a beer nearby with Laura. During our weekly “staff meetings,” I learned about her studio art background, about her goal of becoming an art teacher, and about how her 20s had unfolded since she graduated. 

Seeing how she had navigated the ups and downs of post-college life with such grace and flexibility was simultaneously comforting and inspiring. Laura has a certain magnetic je n’ais se quoi that’s hard to pin down, but the word I keep returning to is “confidence.” When she and I became friends, I was 21, I was living with my parents, I had three jobs that didn’t light a spark in me, and all I wanted was some confidence. I wanted confidence in my future, I wanted confidence in my work, and I wanted confidence that I could build a happy life, regardless of what circumstances arose in the years to come. 

I still struggle with confidence, of course—and I’m sure in some ways I always will—but knowing Laura during that strange transitional time in my life helped me to see that everything could be okay. In the summer of 2010, Max and I decided to move to Columbus, Ohio, sight unseen. I didn’t have a job lined up, I didn’t know anyone in the city, and I didn’t know what it would be like living with my boyfriend — but I took the plunge, confident that I could figure it out when I got there. 

And I did, and I still am.