Best Job on Earth (if you let it be the best job on earth)

Pardon me as I get all sentimental and schmaltzy for a mo …

One of my colleagues frequently says that as professors we have the best job on earth. He usually makes this comment during times when I’m grumbling about something or other, or someone else is grumbling about something or other, or when we’re stressed out and frustrated (as is the case when the semester draws to an end or the to do list gets too long or some new requirement for paperwork done in duplicate-triplicate comes out). I usually reply with a “but … [thing that is annoying right now].” However, I secretly agree with him.

The last few months have been difficult ones for me. My computer died. Twice. Once in the midst of some pretty hellish deadlines (and I wrote more than 4000 words on an iPad that week). Then there were more deadlines, and I often was late on them. Plus I fell ill with pneumonia. I traveled – not a lot, but enough. It was performance season, aka parent must drive kid to extra rehearsals and pay for costumes and sit with neck craned in uncomfortable seats during every spare minute of the day. Grades were due, and then summer session began. I’m pretty sure a million students defended their dissertations and I was on all of their committees. I read and commented and read and commented and read and commented some more. What did I not do? I didn’t sleep much … or at least not until the pneumonia caught up with me and I had no choice.

That all sounds pretty awful, doesn’t it? But let me flip it around a bit. My computer died, twice, but everything I needed was in the cloud. Technology death is frustrating, but it also can provide a reminder (and an opportunity) to slow down a bit. I learned that I was not as dependent on my technology as I think I am, and that I can write in other ways. Typing on the iPad reminded me of being an undergraduate and working on the small screen of a boxy Apple computer in the computer lab (can’t remember which model – I didn’t get my own, a IIVX, until I was starting graduate school). In those days, my work did not travel with me. It was contained, in a little box. Those were good times.

Pneumonia was not fun, but it was another reminder to slow down a bit. Ditto the missed deadlines. I missed them, and the world did not come crashing down around me.

My perfect storm of disastrous events made me think about what I do and why I do it. It also made me consider whether I really have to do it (or have to do it all).

The student defenses reminded me of why I do it. Seeing a student reach their goals is tremendously rewarding.

Seeing my daughter perform made me happy, and reminded me of why I work so hard at both work and home. For her, it was the payoff for a year of focused work on the triple trapeze, piano, violin, and stage. For me, it was the payoff of a year of driving to and fro, making sure tights and leotards were clean, etc.

The travel is a huge perk, and it lets me meet people from around the world. My life is much richer for these experiences.

When I focus on all that I have (want?) to do and the struggle to do it all, I get frustrated. But when I think of all of the personal goals that I accomplish, all that I see my students accomplish, and the varied experiences both at home and afar that are just part of “another day at the office” I realize that this job is truly a privilege.