I used to hate my job. That’s right, I used to hate it! I fell into it by fluke. (Let’s leave aside metaphysical speculation as to whether or not it was a fluke.) It started when I was a university student, long, long ago. Like many arts majors, I was driven to school by a desire for knowledge culled by existential yearning. I clued out to education as an adolescent. I hated that, too! Education and learning piqued my interest about as much as my road bike fascinates a slug. If it didn’t have to do with girls or drums—yes, drums; a subject for another blog!—I could care less.
And there I was, years later, in a classroom, studying philosophy and theology! Was this a high-school dropout’s idea of a joke? Did I mention I lacked a sense of humor? There I was, at the top of my class. “So what do you want to do once you get your PhD?” my mentor asked. (Once I awoke to learning, I wanted the PhD. My mentor knew that.) “Do you want to teach?” “Sure,” I responded. “Sure”! Imagine it with me. An undergraduate barely finished his degree, committing himself to a minimum decade-long pursuit and subsequent lifelong career with a prosaic “sure”. I know, it sounds terribly flippant. To a certain extent it was. Back then it was believed, certainly more than it is now, that those who chase the PhD also embrace a life of teaching and publishing in their area of expertise. My “sure” was basically a kneejerk approval. Still, it didn’t feel as flippant then as it did rolling off my tongue, at least that’s what I vaguely remember and also what I like to believe.
And there I was, years later, on a podium, being handed my PhD. “Enjoy it,” whispered another mentor, “because the buck stops here!” He was right. What a rude awakening! Only weeks later I was teaching students eager to learn about things I probably shouldn’t have been teaching. I’m almost as embarrassed by it now as I was painfully aware of it then. But in trying to make a living comfort is rarely an initial luxury. This is when I started to hate my job and consequently … sigh! … myself. The self-aggrandizing intoxication of learning, excited by a budding list of credentials, turned into a vomitus impostor syndrome. I wasn’t a fraud but I felt like one. I embodied the view that knowledge is communicated best when depersonalized. I lost myself to guard a semblance of objectivity and academic integrity. Understandable, necessary even, this nonetheless went a long way to contributing to my self-alienation: my past, my present, my strengths, my fragility.
Ok, you get the picture. An unhappy camper feeling he has no voice, no opinion. Bleak! Blah! Yuck! But suddenly it dawned! Through accidental slips, in lectures, academic advising, and the like, my quirky self, quarantined upon academic enlightenment, crashed the stodgy party I was hosting. Students found me interesting: me … interesting. Cue heavenly choir! I didn’t like my past. I didn’t like that person who subconsciously fed the one I now gratefully exploit. That past was … weird, so different from what I gathered was my socially acceptable present (the subject of another blog). Through trial and error—and a great deal of courage—I invited this person in, into my teaching self. The party became less stuffy and I began to feel revitalized and full of direction. The content I was teaching remained but I had changed. This made all the difference in the world as it reunited the joy of learning in me with that of teaching.
The lesson? I now love my job and I’ll be damned if I suffer the drab of professionalism without all my idiosyncrasies!