I am a hypocrite of the worst sort. This week I will ask my First Year Seminar students to share their plan for where they want to be in five years as they discuss their college major and career goals. How can I ask these young people about their career plan when I clearly, even after 25 years of professional work, don’t have one of my own? The number of jobs and goals I have had is better represented by this mishmash of animal tracks than a straight road. Isn’t that just a little hypocritical? I am hard pressed to say where I will be five years from now and, at the moment, I could not even say where I want to be five years from now.
I can’t even give good advice to those struggling to choose a major or questioning whether or not their current choice is right for them. I always knew that I wanted to be an English major. I always knew that I wanted to work with words. Every one of my four degrees is related to English. A major part of my current angst is the fear that I may never again be part of an English Department. Just the thought kills my soul a little. But that means I have two strikes against my potential value as a mentor and guide…doesn’t it?
I knew I wanted to be a writer, but my parents were not convinced I could make a living as a plain “English” major so I added a concentration in journalism and worked on the student newspaper as well as took creative writing. I found that I loved journalism and my decade working as a community journalist, as both a reporter and editor, was tremendously rewarding. I found that I not only loved working with words but also working with people. I also discovered that I needed to do a job that mattered — that impacted other people and their lives. During this time I also began writing fiction. This was tremendous fun and led to publishing three novels – which had been a lifelong goal – but while writing was a passion I wasn’t driven to write novels and the publication process was time consuming and stressful.
And so, when I decided it was time to leave journalism and seek another field where I could advance and have more regular hours, I turned to education. Back when I first graduated from college I took a brief detour into the field of education. I taught at Ansonia High School (CT) while earning my master’s degree in secondary education (with a focus on English – see I didn’t lie, every degree English). I loved teaching and planning lessons. I loved the students (most) and my colleagues (many) but I didn’t love the system and I missed writing, so when I wrapped up that degree and contracted year I focused my job search on journalism. However, I never really left teaching behind. Even as I embarked on my new career as a journalist I taught GED classes in two different states. I found teaching adults both challenging and rewarding so when I returned to teaching I chose to go into higher education .
Thus began my composition years. First at Eastern Kentucky University and then at Morehead State University, I taught writing to underprepared writers, first-year students, and upperclassmen. I loved the work and constantly worked to be a better teacher, mentor, and coach which led me to online teaching. This fed and challenged me in more ways and I knew I had found my niche. As I continued to freelance write and even developed my own online publishing business, I felt I had the best of both worlds, but if I was to advance I needed a terminal degree. This led me to my Ph.D. in Technical Communication and Rhetoric. I fell in love with rhetoric all over again and now I had the opportunity to explore the intersections of rhetoric and technology and teaching as well as return to the inquiry I so enjoyed as a journalist and student. This was it for me. Then I was offered the opportunity to direct the Morehead Writing Project and that passion for writing and rhetoric, love of teaching, and fascination with technology and communication could all come together. I had found my place.
But earning my Ph.D. has not brought me to nirvana. My degree and experience snagged me the upper level professional writing class for a time but I knew it was only temporary as I was not a member of the tenured faculty. Similarly, developing a new class or teaching a graduate class was also out of the question. My quest for a tenure-track job was derailed by the fact that I could not find the right job in the right place. I wanted a better job than the one I had but what did that job look like? Apparently my dream job just didn’t exist, but applying for jobs was so time consuming and stressful that I decided to take a year off to recover my physical and mental health while focusing on the positive aspects of my job.
Now I find myself still at Morehead State but no longer in the English Department. I am on an alternate academic career path as the College Readiness Coordinator while still continuing to direct the Morehead Writing Project. This is an exciting job with lots of interesting challenges to take on as we create this program. I think I can be happy in this job. I think I can be good at it and I know this work matters, but MSU has already failed to deliver on some of the promises made when I made the jump which does not bode well for the future. I already knew that this would not be my forever job but now I’m questioning just how many years I want to give to this job. Or how many years this job will give to me?
During our Morehead Writing Project Writing Retreat last weekend, I wrote a celebration poem about my job. It was written in response to a prompt but I think it also helped me think about what is important to me in my work. Some of those key lessons include:
- I love learning and helping others learn. I want to stay in education for those reasons.
- I love writing and helping others find their voice. I must have a job that gives me both.
- I love building and creating programs. I don’t think I will be happy simply returning to the classroom and doing nothing but teaching and research — I need those things but I need more as well.
This week I saw a job posting for what might be my dream job and now I find myself at a crossroads again. Where do I belong? What do I want to do with my life? How many leaps of faith must I take in one career? So yeah, I’m just a little hypocritical asking my students to describe where they will be in five years when I can’t even answer the question myself.