Thursday, May 7, 2015

Elder. Monk.

The emails and envelopes arrive intermittently. They carry news of fresh hires in good jobs. Most of them are tenure track with potential for promotion and growth. I am glad for the young faculty starting out on their careers. The letters express gratitude for our time together. They say I helped them with their teaching, helped them with my letters of rec., helped them navigate the first years of grad school.

All of this feels good, but I also suffer from a twinge of envy at the news. I am in more of a dead-end job, with wages that never rise, with no prospect of promotion. It's been twenty years of the same thing, more or less. I compare my place in our profession to theirs and see underachievement if not failure. My ambitions were not fulfilled. I tried, but didn't make it onto the academic escalator.

That's what it is, and I accept the consequences of my decisions. In fact, I am grateful to have had a job that provides health insurance. I would be bankrupt, given all the health issues I and my family have dealt with, if we did not have health insurance. Just my snakebite alone would have cost us around $250,000.

That said, I am still searching for the narrative that will best infuse this stage of work and life with a context and some meaning.

One way to look at this transitional moment is that I am moving from one stage of life to another. I am leaving the warrior/householder stage and entering the elder/monk stage. The warrior stage was about achievement, climbing, "making it." I have yet to let that go, even though it is over. I am not going any higher in terms of social status. Them's just the facts.

The "curriculum" of the next stage is more about spiritual pursuits than work or status. It's time to pursue wisdom rather than knowledge, acceptance rather than acquisition, kindness rather than one-upping.

The jump from here to there looms more and more. The unwillingness or inability to do so feeds my envy of these junior faculty and their rise into successful careers. The problem is mine and has to do with how I frame these simple facts.

My beard has gone gray. My hair is following. My eyes can't see as well. I need glasses. My belly is getting soft.

I still want to climb a few mountains before I settle into life in the valley, but it's time to let go of striving to be more than I am.

Like it or not, I am becoming that "old guy." It's unbecoming to pretend otherwise. But I do have things to offer to anyone who wants to listen.

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