Tonight was another one of those nights that I wish I could be less closed-mouthed about what I do for a living these days and share some hilarious anecdotes, because for all the initial confusion and drama about hours and fulltime status I genuinely do love my job itself (as in what I do when I am on the clock) and like my co-workers. We have FUN at work, and as part of our job we get to do little things to pamper people that make them happy, and customers write Management nice letters about it, and that? Kicks all kinds of ass.
I will share that tonight a much-younger co-worker who is working toward an advanced degree at a university that happens to be my undergraduate alma mater and I got to talking about higher education in general while we sat together and performed a tedious task. They expressed some ambivalence about finishing the degree, and asked me what I thought. My answer, after I considered the question for a moment, kind of surprised me, because it's a very different one from the one I would have given the same co-worker ten years ago. Before, I would have said "you started it, so of COURSE you need to finish it plus DEGREES ARE GOOD TO HAVE!" Tonight I told my co-worker that it depended on why they were pursuing the degree. "If it's because you think you SHOULD, or that it'll necessarily offer you much of an edge in today's job market,* or that teaching would be nice to have as an option to fall back on, fuck it. If, on the other hand, you are studying what you are studying because you love learning about it, and it fills you up more than it empties you out, keep on plugging," I advised. I told them that in my experience UNLESS you wanted to teach or work in a technical field where a degree is a necessity to advance in your career of choice, a degree is more of a hindrance than a help in getting hired anywhere BUT your degree field (true story--I finally found my current job, a "real," permanent job that pays more than minimum wage and comes with benefits, only AFTER I started leaving the MFA off my resume). "And teaching," I told them, with a rueful grin..."Well. If you are one of the very best and most prolific in your field and can publish and get tenure, that's one thing, but teaching as an adjunct pays a LOT less than what you and I are doing right now, and doesn't come with benefits."
"Holy shit, really," my co-worker asked, saucer-eyed. "I was wondering why you'd do this if you could teach instead...a couple of us were talking about that and thinking you had to be crazy!" I said there was more to it than the money, but certainly that was part of it, and then I changed the subject.
When I decided to walk away from teaching (after yes, technically I got fired for blowing a deadline that, under the circumstances I would blow again in a heartbeat--since there is Stalky out there reading avidly and dampening her desk chair any time she thinks I'm not being entirely transparent I don't want to make it seem like I am glossing over that), I had two main feelings: relief (because gawd, I hated it by the time I decided not to do it anymore, and if you go back and read the post I linked to about the getting fired you'll see that I had been planning to stop teaching anyway, just not quite that abruptly) and shame. Not because I feel like I failed as a teacher (I actually think I was pretty damned good at the actual teaching part, although the administrative "no I will not NOT fail you for plagiarism even if your daddy DOES call the dean and haul me into campus for your grievance hearing" part was not my favorite by a long shot and probably I could have put off or avoided getting so burnt out had I let go of caring so much about trying to teach my students not only about writing but also The Importance Of Doing Right In General), but because...seriously? I spent years and years (not to mention a kajillion dollars) working toward a terminal degree to work in a blue-collar industry? How embarrassing! Who DOES that?!?
Well, you know what, fuck it. I guess I am who does that, and I'm a much happier person because of it, not to mention making better money. I did the math one time, and what with teaching paying per credit hour, not per how-many-students-you-have or how-many-hours-you-spend-on-administrative-crap and busting plagiarists I was teaching for LESS than minimum wage. That? Was pretty freaking disheartening. I haven't worked for minimum wage, let alone LESS than minimum wage, since I stopped teaching. Plus my current (blue-collar) job comes with benefits. I'm doing what makes the best sense for my mental health and the needs of my family, I'm enjoying life a lot more as a result, and? I'm READING and WRITING again (no, I don't mean blogs, although I read those too and obviously I write this one). Teaching writing and literature appreciation turned it from something I loved enough to study it at an advanced level for eight years to something that I hated to even think about, and that? THAT, my friends, was a shame.
The funny part is that if all of this extra-curricular reading and writing I do continues in the direction it's going, I'll eventually be in a position where I might actually HAVE a snowball's chance in hell at pursuing tenure somewhere, and if that does happen? I'll take great satisfaction in my accomplishments in my degree field and keep right on working in the service industry. I like getting paid to do little kind things that make people happy, and working with people who don't judge me for being broke because THEY GET IT, and not having to worry about what I'll wear to work (because I have a uniform), and I really, REALLY like that once I've been at this job past the initial waiting period, doing all of these things that I like will not only result in my getting paid but also in my securing medical, dental, and vision benefits for myself and my husband. Once the benefits kick in and I can stop paying through the nose for medical insurance we'll be far better off than we were when I was teaching (and than we are right now, ugh**). Where is the shame in that? I'm having a hard time finding any.
Are there people who will judge me for this choice? Yep, probably plenty of 'em. Do I actually give a solitary fuck if someone ignorant to the facts in re: what teaching pays vs. working in the service industry (or who maybe just looks down on those who work in fields that support and care for others) thinks I'm a nutter for choosing the way I did? Nope. Do I regret going for the MFA? Nah, I freaking LOVED grad school and learned a lot of amazing things from some very cool people. Do I feel like a failure for not using the MFA at work? I did at first, but now that I'm actually able to CREATE again in my degree field, I actually feel like LESS of a failure on a day-to-day basis than I did while I was teaching.
* I won't say what my co-worker is majoring in, but I will say that, like English, it's one of those majors that is all about the study of ideas and subjective discourse, rather than, say, specialized technical skills one might use in earn a living in a specific career field.
** You know, barring weeks where there's a tornado, a car wreck, multiple ER visits and an emergency surgery to contend with. But it'd be pretty fucked up if THAT happened again, and so I am hoping that it just, you know, won't.