It was some 25 years ago that I figured out what I wanted to do with my life: teach college. I wanted to make a difference in the lives of young people, the way my professors at Fordham University had done for me. I envisioned myself becoming a sort of latter day Mr. Chips, dispensing wisdom and hope to younger generations. I wanted to be the kind of professor that former students came back to visit and talk about their life. People before me had done it, I figured. Why not me?
I went into graduate school with high hopes and higher ideals. I was a kid from a tough blue collar neighborhood in Queens, the first in the family to go to college. I was going to make a difference in the lives of other kids like me. So I spent a decade in graduate school and dissertation writing, got my degree, and then reality dawned. There were no jobs out there, except for adjuncts.
So I took an adjunct position in a Brooklyn college, and loved it. I loved working with the kids, who were also usually the first in their families to attend college. I taught the basic core courses, in hopes that I could eventually teach something I really wanted to teach. I hoped a fulltime position would open up some day. It never happened. That was as far as I was going.
So I took a day job as an archivist for a religious organization, which I really enjoyed. Between that and adjuncting, I thought, I could make a nice life for myself. And I did, until the crash of 2008, which led to my being cut from the archives job. I moved into a variety of jobs, none of which worked out too well. I felt I had been deprived of something, I became bitter, and fell into a deep depression. Why had I wasted all those years in school? Why was this happening to me? What was I going to do next?
I had a morbid fear of having to go back to work I considered “beneath me.” I was deathly afraid of taking a “menial” job where someone I know might spot me and say, “Holy shit! What’s he doing there? He’s got a Ph.D.! What’s wrong with him?” I pictured myself hanging my head in shame and disgrace.
Well, you know what? I realize now I don’t have to hang my head. I’m proud of myself. Coming from a tough blue collar background like I did, I’m not afraid of hard work. Today I work at Home Depot in lumber, and I write books (my fourth just got published). I like it because I don’t have to deal with the bullshit of a white collar job, where you have the sword of unemployment hanging over your head all the time. Furthermore, the so-called “American dream” is dead. We live in a different economy than our parents or grandparents did. Many of their hopes are now unrealizable.
But I don’t feel despair at all. I’m proud of myself, because I didn’t let the system break me. And I’ll do whatever I have to do while I’m cranking out the books. And I’m working with a nice group of people along the way. So if you’re scared of the future like I was, don’t be. It can’t bring you down unless you let it. And don’t be surprised if you have a fun time along the way!