There’s lots of inspirational images these days doing the rounds on twitter, Facebook, pinterest and the like along the lines “ending the struggle and dancing with life”, “finding your passion”, “stopping the glorification of busy” and so on and so forth. Indeed, I have been guilty of retweeting, resharing, pinning and liking lots of these motivational quotes. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. It’s good for us to be reminded about the fragility of time, the impermeance of life and the need to seize the day. But with all this clicking and sharing and pinning are we actually doing any of these things. Are we taking any of this advice that we promote? Perhaps instead of all this mouse clicking we should actually start doing some of these things. (Note: I’m using the royal “we” here. I don’t assume I’m talking for anyone apart from myself).
I’m inspired by the people I see who actually have found their passion and are acting it out. For instance, the article doing the rounds by Peter Higgs was a wonderful shout out to all those working in academia who spend their lives glued to email, stuck in meetings and fighting with Learning Management Systems rather than researching and teaching in any meaningful way. If higher education isn’t about research, teaching and building the next generation of thinkers and doers then what is all this “productivity” for?
Many people buy into the need to be busy, working, productive (i.e. making as much money as you possibly can). They wear it like a great big badge of honour. I have had this conversation more times than I can remember.
Me: How are you?
Person: I’ve just been SO busy.
Me: (in my head) Well that’s not what I asked and stop showing off.
We have a delightful family saying “There’s no pockets in coffins”. (Feel free to adopt that saying into your own networks!). For me though, it means that quality of life is far more important than hanging on to a job that is grinding away your sense of self until you wonder who you have become. Alain de Botton (who I have a few issues with but nonetheless) talks about this problem of defining ourselves by our work. Career anxiety and job snobbery are certainly two very simple concepts that have shaped a few experiences I have had lately. The most recent was on Saturday evening at a party. I’m paraphrasing, but the conversation went something like this:
Person: (interrogation begins) So what are you going to do now you’re not working?
Me: (cagey) I’m taking a break for a while.
Person: (persists) Do you have another job to go to?
Me: (still cagey)No. I’ll probably start with some piano teaching.
Person: (confused now) So you’re looking for work?
Me: If something comes up that’s good.
Person: (really confounded and more insistent) But what’s your plan?
Me: I don’t really have a plan. I’m just going to put myself out there and see what happens.
Person: (grasping desperately for a way to end the conversation without being totally lost in my alien worldview): Oh well I suppose you’ve got lots of money to fall back on.
Me: (smiles benignly and walks away).
This was in stark contrast to the many supportive conversations I had before and after my decision to apply for a separation from my job. These colleagues and friends understood the desire for a life of quality. Productivity was draining all of us. They understood that there’s nothing particularly prestigious about being an “academic”. In the contemporary landscape of funding cuts, budget pressure, the expectation to do more with less to keep the “business” of education running, the reasons we got into our jobs in the first place were a fuzzy memory.
Because here is what education means me, whether it’s teaching in a higher ed institution or teaching a piano student.
- building social capital
- equity and access
- independent and critical thinking
- learning for learning’s sake
- generating new knowledge
- encouraging individuality
You might add more to the list. However, if none of that is happening then we have to really consider what it is all for. And so I find myself questioning what kind of educator (and person, because the two are intertwined) I want to be. What is my passion? What would I do (and here’s the kicker!!) EVEN IF I WASN’T GETTING PAID FOR IT? How would I seize the day, stop the glorification of busy and end the struggle and dance with life? Much as I’ve often denied it, I believe that I would teach. Heck. I already do. I don’t think you work a 7 day job for years and still make time to teach the piano “after hours” without believing in the power of education. I don’t think you’re (mostly) happy volunteering hours of your time for rehearsals and concerts in the local community if you don’t believe in building social capital through cultural activities. For all these are learning experiences as well, for me and everyone else involved.
No doubt I will have more to write about this.2 Comments »