Question: Can I ask myself a question? Answer: Yup.
I saw several people asking themselves what to do with their lives on my dash tonight, so I thought I’d write a little bit about that. That feels a little self-righteous or pretentious, but if I let that stop me every time it might be true…well, let’s not go down that path too far. If I can help one person, that’s why we write, right? I don’t pretend to have all the answers, or any, but I know I used to ask myself what I’d do with my life all the time, and I don’t worry about that quite so much anymore. I don’t know if I realized that before asking myself this, so this is kind of a cool reflection to pursue.
Growing up, I always wanted to be a writer. I think I wrote an autobiography to that effect at one point, and there was definitely a research project in middle school. Then I got to Oberlin, and I didn’t get into the Creative Writing course I needed to pursue it at that level. My English teachers in high school had convinced me I had a voice, but I didn’t have anything to say. (I still don’t know that I have much to say, even if I have lots of words.)
I went into my fourth semester still not knowing what I wanted to do. I didn’t even know what I wanted to major in and ended up switching at the last possible moment. A funny thing happened, though. One of my advisors (Anne Trubek) convinced me to take a higher level tutoring class. I was one of the only sophomores in the class. Some of the juniors and seniors were really committed to teaching. I had some really good experiences helping other students (Math and Science majors!) with their writing.
Then I looked at the choices I had made over those first four semesters. All of my work-study jobs were tutoring in the community, as all of my extracurricular activities were also in the community. I was learning to be a teacher without even realizing it.
Before graduating from Oberlin, I worked at Mutual Publishing as an intern. They wanted to hire me. If you’re not ready to write, editing is a very viable option (if you can get a job!), and I had a position open up to me. I realized, though, that I wanted to be part of a community. Truthfully, I didn’t even commit myself to teaching at that point. I told myself whatever I wanted to do as a long term career, I wanted to teach. I told myself I wanted, first, to surround myself with people who cared about teaching. I applied to a grad school program in teaching, and once I got into the communities I knew it’s where I wanted to stay.
Sometimes, I still ask myself what I’m doing with my life, if I’m doing enough. That question comes from a desire to make your mark or be remembered. Teaching is nice because it’s inherently about making a difference. I think you never fully answer that question until you get later into your life, when you start to get an idea of how you’ll be remembered. If it’s hard to see the light at the end of that tunnel, just look around. Look at what you’re already doing and what you love. It’s not easy, I know, but the answer might be right there.