Sometimes it's time to move on
Actually, teaching wasn't my first career choice, it was merely a possible option. In truth, I wasn't focused in the way that some dedicated souls are; those who know they really really want to be a surgeon, lawyer or mob enforcer, and thusly begin to work towards that goal from an early age. So, with no particular work place to go to, I shilly-shallied through university; got grades sufficient to carry me through to the next year, and loved campus life in all it's facets from the classroom, to the beer-blasts, to making out in the back seat of a car. I toyed with the law as a possibility for a while before I got my degree, but wondered if I had sufficient arrogance to let myself become certifiably insufferable.
I also had some romantic notions of being a career academic, all tweedy, drinking too much to mask my 'pain', whatever it might be – you know, like the character that Michael Caine played in the film Educating Rita -- and seducing comely and romantic coeds all over the place. I kept the thought of academic graduate work in mind, but concluded after getting my degree that it would be satisfying to get out and earn a few dollars for two or three years, and then go back. So, I became a public school teacher.
I knew even then that I had no intention of regarding the schoolmaster's trade as anything more than an interim episode between stages of my 'real life'. The pay was terrible when I began teaching, but it was a secure job, and would enable me to 'settle down', and also to have a couple of months off each and every summer. I'll be honest, those big long vacations were alluring. Teachers lie about the never-ending vacations not being a motivator in career choice. It’s a huge one.
Oh well, maybe it was just me, and perhaps it was this lack of passion that ultimately drove me away from the trade. Anyway, after a few years of listening to contemporaries get into staff lounge discussions of such esoterica as "how much pension will I get when Iretire" when they were still in their twenties. I decided I didn't want my life mapped out in that way.
There was also the politics of a job that seemed toreward the mediocre and eschewed advancement for the genuinely creative, either teacher or student. Public education by its nature has to be an encouragement of mediocrity and of learning to play the game always by the rules. In that it's an effective preparation for the continuation of the North American dream, alas.
I know those are sweeping generalizations, but what I soon realized was that, as a teacher I was undergoing the same emotional stresses that put me off school when I was a student -- I was bored silly, and frustrated by the pettiness of the process.
"Think our team will take the basketball tournament this weekend?"
"Gee, Ralph, to have an opinion on that would mean I'd actually have togive a shit."
Didn't give a shit when I was seventeen, and still didn't give a shit at twenty-seven. In other words, the system and I weren't a good fit. I liked the education part of the equation, and was stimulated by the process of purveying knowledge. I liked my students, and cared about their well-being and their futures, but I was at a personal impasse. I just didn't want to be in that racket any more by the time I left my twenties, because I knew instinctively that I didn't have the power to make it a good fit for me. I wasn't getting out of it what I wanted to get out of a calling. I wasn’t sure exactly what it was that I wanted to get, but I knew it had little connection with chalk-dust. So, I parted ways with the pretty and perky girls, and the gawky but often amusingly charming boys, and ultimately (after a hiatus in which I flailed around in blind panic) found myself in the sleazily seductive world of newspapering.
A business that was (and is), of all occupations, held in even lower public esteem than the law was the one that drew me in after my teaching sojourn. It drew me because at many levels it worked much better than teaching for me. I was too irreverent for conventional pedagogy. I realized quickly that I felt more at home with a crew that felt like my kinda people: crude, lewd and rude, but also intelligent, inventive, cynically witty and creative as hell in some cases -- and certifiably wacky in others.
Newspaper work became a life calling of sorts, and is the occupation I labored at longer than others in my go-around. And, of course I still freelance and even earn a few bucks.
"It gets in your blood," is how the cliché goes, and that is fair enough. I am still connected enough that I can rage at a badly handled story, and I never visit another city or town without buying the local rag shortly after my arrival. If nothing else, I love the gossip that is the essential nature of the calling.
Then in a moment of something or other a few years ago I decided to leave the daily grind at a newspaper and to become certified as an addictions counselor and began working in a rehab for adult males. The impulse grew out of a series I had written about the drug and alcohol problems in the community. I decided, on somewhat of a whim to maybe become part of the solution, rather than just writing about it.
It was challenging work, and frustrating work, but it taught me a great deal about a certain highly-charged aspect of life. I learned a lot. I learned, for one thing, that I was blessed by my life choices, and came to cherish the fact that I had never gone in the direction of illicit hard-drugs and hadn't embraced that particular ongoing nightmare of a wasted life. I wasted life in my own way, thank-you.
So, all-in-all my life has been, even if inadvertently, about 'learning' -- especially the nastiest lessons.
What have I learned? For one thing, I have found I'm not in life for the ride. I want to give, and I assuredly want to 'get'. Such a philosophy may not work for some, but for me it is the only one that works. As for the 'getting' part, there are frustrations that hit us when we're in a career that is not a good fit.
Blessed is the person who devotes his or her life to doing what he or she loves, for such is the stuff of joy. For most of us, however, we waver between accepting a certain amount of tedious drudgery for what always seems like too little money, and sometimes wanting to take the advice of the late Johnny Paycheck and thus act accordingly.
What happens is that our motivations around work change past a certain age. When we're starting out, we are guided by two driving forces around the job: money, and ambition. When we're young we can do any kind of crud job as long as the bucks are right, or the opportunities are there. So, we take the abuse and the inconvenience, and the tedium, because we believe we will ultimately prevail and move into a blessed realm. But, once we reach a certain age we start to balk at work that isn't an ideal fit, and we wonder about the chances we 'didn't' take to make it better.
We can take that chance if we have the will to do so. Such a chance changes the scenery backdrop and sometimes, if we've made the right decision, it makes it all seem a bit better, and not just different.