As hard as this whole process has been (grad school, not just comps), I have to say that I know I am already a better person for it, and things will only get better with time. Too often we humans get too wrapped up in ourselves and our own bullshit hangups that we forget to see life for what it is: a test, foremost, and a constant opportunity for self-improvement. It doesn’t seem productive or smart to worry only about the difficulties something will present, how much time it will take, how much money it will cost, etc. We (and by this I mean “I”) should worry more about the end result and how much self-improvement a particular opportunity will generate. If a given opportunity won’t benefit you or somebody else in some meaningful way, it’s probably not worth doing, and it’s certainly not worth any significant emotional investment.
I read a post the other day on The Simple Dollar that really struck me in a way that I needed to be struck. Too often in this stage of life, people get their knickers in a twist over a job, when really they need to be looking long term and focus on their careers. It’s never to early to plan ahead, as they say, and I wonder if I’ve been looking at things all wrong. I occasionally…ok, frequently…complain about my job to anyone who will listen, mostly due to the fact that I don’t do a whole lot. I know it seems crazy, but being stuck at work with nothing meaningful to do is harder than it sounds. Most of this lack of activity is not my fault, which makes it all the more frustrating. I resent the fact that I’m expected to be here 20 or so hours a week, and more often than not, I’m here only to say that I showed up for work for the required amount of time.
However, I have failed to see how this job is good for me in the long term and, to an extent, in the short term. Long term, I’ll have more practice with research designs, techniques, and implementation. All of this face-to-face contact with students will help me be a better teacher and adviser if I go the academic route. If I take the research and assessment path, this sort of gig looks good on a resume, and I’ve been afforded a bounty of opportunity to learn and use new software that a lot of people don’t even know about. I’m on campus in my office five days a week, which really helps me see the ins and outs of daily life as an academic.
Short term, I have a relatively quiet place to work towards accomplishing my short term goals, like writing comps. My adviser’s office is right next to mine, and it’s reassuring to know he’s there if I have any sort of issues come up. I have unlimited print privileges, lots of work space, and a super-fast network connection. It pays me enough, and my tuition and fees are covered 100%. I’m a 6 minute walk from the student union, and 3 minutes from the library. I can catch a bus right outside my building and meet my husband at his office within 10 minutes. If nothing else, it gives me an excuse to leave the house when I otherwise would have none. Being home is nice, but it gets old after approximately two days. This job, despite its frustrations, keeps me sane.
I’ve been making steady progress on my second question, and I feel strangely calm and in control. At my current pace, I’ll finish in plenty of time. As I work, I realize that I know a lot and that I’ve really come a long way over these past three years. My way of thinking about things has revolutionized, I’m far more organized and responsible than I used to be, and I’ve learned to prioritize. I’ve learned to distinguish what’s important for a happy successful life and what’s just a bunch of bullshit that gets in the way. (Spoiler: most of it’s bullshit!)
One of my favorite books ever is Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet. If you haven’t read it, I urge you to read it. It’s some of the most beautiful poetry written in the last 100 years. I was reading it the other day and read his poem “Work,” and it really resonated with what I’ve been experiencing over the course of the past couple of years. An excerpt:
And I say that life is indeed darkness save when there is urge,
And all urge is blind save when there is knowledge,
And all knowledge is vain save when there is work,
And all work is empty save when there is love;
And when you work with love you bind yourself to yourself, and to one another, and to God.