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What I Want To Be When I Grow Up: A Teacher Looking Back… and Forward

If you asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up…

at 8-10 years old, I would unravel huge dreams. First, I’d be an astronaut. That’d take some time, but by about 30, I’d be a lawyer, because it’s a really good idea to be a lawyer if you want to be president, and I did. “I’m gonna be the youngest president and the first female.” Don’t ask me how I knew at 8 that the president has to be 35 and that many of them were lawyers.

at 14-18 years old, lots of futures crossed my mind. At one point, I wanted to teach English literature in Germany so that I could live there. For several years, I was going to get my PhD and my MD so I could be a research virologist and discover cures for viral diseases. Later, I decided that one doctorate was more than enough, and I would go to med school so I could have a career where I got to marvel at the intricate wonders of the human body. I even applied to UMKC, Dad’s alma material.

at 18-23, I wanted to teach English and develop my web design skills. Then, Dr. Mark Trevor Smith and Dr. Biava introduced me to the field of linguistics. Noam Chomsky. Descriptive and prescriptive grammar. First and second language acquisition. Dialects, idiolects, regional variations. Language isolates… I could go on and on with the ideas that excited my mind.

by 23, I had started grad school and teaching, and, being quite averse to public speaking, I was all nerves the first day. But something clicked, and I felt right standing up there on the other side of the desk, armed with a plan and expectations.

by 25, I had secured a teaching job in a German university. I would teach English language classes for two years, and have the time of my life while doing it. It was hard, don’t get me wrong, but I learned so much while I was there, from my students, from my colleagues, from my in-laws, from grocery shopping and traveling.

at 28, I hated teaching. I had an awful semester. It wasn’t only the classroom that was bad during that time, but it was easiest to blame. At lunch with a friend, one of those who is blunt and honest and sees you for who you really are, I was told that I obviously hated teaching and I needed to get out, that it was okay. But what else could I do?

by almost 29, I wanted to be a social media virtual assistant, or an online community manager. I had gotten out of my rotten funk about teaching and re-discovered the joys it offers, too.

Now I’m almost 30 and I am trying to work out the future I want and the future Rob and I want and what is best for that, so that I can make it happen. Do I go for any old job, but get security and consistency? Or do I pursue a career with flexibility and frequent developments and new technology, that is still in its infancy, really; one that will satisfy me in other ways than an 8-to-5 would?

Who knows.

Passions: How to Be Happy Despite/Because of Them?

Long and Windy Road

Lorraine wrote about this topic first in her post called “Passions: How to Put Them To Use?“, and while this post takes a decidedly different journey than her post does, it does follow in her footsteps and was indeed inspired by her post. Feel free to write your own chapter on your blog!

My heart has always been pulled in several directions. As a senior in high school, I was seriously considering at least three different career paths: I wanted to be a doctor, a virologist, or a teacher. At the heart of all these interests was a deep-seated belief that no matter which path I chose, my family would be most important, and in the end, my career choice would have to make sense with who I wanted to be as a wife and mother. After being accepted to UMKC’s unique 6-year medical school program and receiving a full-ride scholarship to what was then Southwest Missouri State University, I had a very difficult decision.

After weighing the evidence around me, after considering very carefully what I knew about relationships, parenting, and being a child, after getting advice from my father, a family practice doc, about the direction in which the medical field was progressing, I turned down my admission, my one spot out of the 100 accepted each school year, to med school and turned instead to SMSU and a career as a teacher.

I have never looked back. The human body never ceases to amaze me, but I know that being a university instructor provides me all the freedoms I will want as a mother and will continue to challenge me day after day, semester after semester, year after academic year.

But that hasn’t stopped me from questioning other career paths.

I love working with technology: explaining how to get the most from Microsoft Excel to fellow colleagues; coaching my grandpa in using a flash drive, sending emails, or troubleshooting; and discovering and exploring the emerging social networking sites (like Orkut, Twine, Twitter, Plurk, and others) and web applications (Google Calendar, I Want Sandy, Diigo), then making them work for me and sharing them with my friends who are also excited by all of the possibilities that technology gives us. But this is a hard market to get into and with two degrees in English plus wanting to settle down in Springfield, Missouri, the likelihood of me switching to this career seems slim.

I love figuring out how to be organized, how to be efficient with my space. I have not yet achieved it, but I am enjoying determining how I work most efficiently, how my brain works in order to eliminate most procrastination, how to get things done. I have come a long way in that department in two years, and it will only get better. I would make a good secretary to an executive who needs a warm, friendly, focused, organized person to keep all his ducks in a line. I can’t even begin to imagine how I would get a job like that in Springfield, Missouri. Apply, I guess? But no summers off and a very set schedule, unlike teaching.

I love learning about, thinking about, observing space. I read NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day every day after learning about it in an astronomy course in college. I’ve read Black Holes, Wormholes & Time Machines twice and Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time, all on my own accord. I stay up all night to wonder at eclipses and meteor showers. But getting into this field would require, at the least, a move, and definitely more schooling.

I love taking pictures, love learning about cameras and how complex they are, love discovering that I have taken a breathtaking image, even though this doesn’t happen nearly as often as I’d like. Yet. I could be a photographer I suppose, but it will be years before I have the skills and equipment necessary to make it a career.

Of course I love writing, but dreaming of making money on writing is like dreaming that I’d make it big in sports or music.

I need and want the stability of the life I’ve chosen. I am, despite all dreams of the opposite, very ready to settle down in Springfield and live the life Rob and I are imagining right now, one that will begin when we step off the plane on September 10, or maybe sooner.

All those other dreams are always beckoning me, the What Ifs haunting me at night when I can’t sleep. I imagine I’d be happier as a techie, an astrophysicist, a writer. But I know that “the grass is always greener” and that I cannot imagine right now what might disappoint in those professions, only what is disappointing in this one.

I must continue to find happiness in what I have chosen. I love working with students, I love being challenged on the first day by a new mixture of personalities and needs. I love being challenged by trying to explain something that has always come so naturally to me to people who have other strengths and talents. It is beyond rewarding to hear a new spark of passion in a student’s voice once they have understood a concept or been hooked on a new idea, by me nonetheless.

I enjoy the long breaks from the classroom. What other profession affords summer, Christmas, and spring break, plus weekends and holidays off (or mostly off, as grading or planning often intrudes into that time reserved for family)? What other profession will allow me to schedule my classes around the combination of when my children have school or other activities and when Rob has to work?

In then end, while I will always derive pleasure from my job, it should never compete for the passion I have for my family, my extended family, my friends. Those people will always be more fulfilling than work. They will always bring more joy.

I am convinced that most PhD candidates (and 20-somethings, and 30-somethings, and mid-life crises people, and . . . ) have this same mental struggle. The work ahead seems endless, monstrous, monotonous at times, so why not change, try something new? Surely something else will be more fulfilling than this, and easier. But I’m sticking to it.

There are other ways to pursue my passions, but they just don’t involve a career change. I think they will be–and are, in some cases–hobbies. I write every day. Sometimes here or on one of my other blogs, sometimes creatively, and sometimes only in my journal. I carry my camera with me everywhere I go and have renewed my photoblog as incentive to work harder at composition. I read, observe, wonder to satisfy my curiosity about the heavens. And I write and teach about technology whenever I get the chance.

Hm. Sometimes I wonder why all that doesn’t fulfil me. I think it’s because it always leaves me wanting more. No matter which interest I pursue, I want more than than hobby status allows.

What interests and hobbies do you have that you wish you could pursue as careers? Or just pursue more regularly?

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Image from Andrew.R.W. Thanks for releasing it under a Creative Commons license!