Friday, August 27, 2010

Midlife crisis, if you allow me the cliché

It was just a web add, at the right side of the viewer, trying to call the attention of the common internet surfer, I suppose. Like those ads urging you to refinance your house or learn a foreign language. This one, however, got me thinking longer than usual. It was short: something simple and direct, like, if you make less than $45,000 you may qualify for a grant to go back to school. I confess I read the first part with some interest. But, no, I do not qualify to go back to school because I hold a PhD degree. This means I already went back to school. And, still, I do not make the money one could believe such a degree entitles.

Of course, this is nobody’s fault, although the whole financial crisis certainly did not help at all. I don’t think it is even my own fault. Even though, some times, I wonder what I should have done differently to be part of the happy group of high educated people, with stellar careers, impressive résumés and, on the pragmatic line, pretty decent paychecks. Sometimes, most of the time to be honest, I wish I could do better than I have done.

As I mentioned above, it is important to understand that we live in a particular economical recession. Jobs are rare, apparently regardless qualifications. I also know I work with a very specific niche of knowledge. Consider for instance how many people in the US are really interested in literature and language. If this sounds kind of restrictive, imagine if this literature refers to a language that is admittedly a less taught one…

It is no surprise that being in my second career it doesn’t make things easier for me either. On the other hand, if there is any bright side to all of this it is that writing and teaching, respectively essential activities connected to my two dear careers, are the two things I like the most and what I think I do the best. This should be enough to inflate me with hope.

I know that having a nice paycheck is not what makes the biggest part of a professional story of success. I have sweet memories of teachers, when I was growing up in Brazil, who made less than half of what they deserved and, still, were amazing teachers. I remember a woman, my Portuguese teacher, (think about it as your English teacher here in the US), who taught me in sixth grade. Until today she is a source of inspiration, as a teacher and as an example of a human being. She is the first face to come to my mind when I think about someone who is competent, knowledgeable and who truly loved her work.

I also know that after over ten years of teaching Portuguese in the US, the most amazing moments I was rewarded with came from my students. There is nothing more motivating for me to keep going, every school year again and again, to the classroom than the perspective of meeting my former students and getting to know the new ones. I have never received from any institution even a smallest part of what I was granted from students along the years. Every beginning of the semester I struggle with the anxiety of meeting them and at the end of each semester I suffer when I have to let them go. And still, I miss something else…

It sounds selfish, kind of pretentious to think that the world should recognize one’s work. Well, let’s say I never shoot that high. I did start targeting a life different from my parents, that’s true. I knew from very early in life I would not accept the constraints of my childhood surroundings. It was not poverty that scared me but limitation. I just had an unstoppable desire for different perspectives to see and, later, to experiment the world. It took me years to break the walls and it seems that, for very long, for each one I could finally put down another one would present itself in front of me.

It also took me years to lose my Christian ingenuity. I would not be rewarded for being an honest, decent person. Goodness is something to choose and to practice without compensations, divine or human. Love is unconditional after all. If you believe in something that represents your values, go for it; no strings attached, no place in heaven or trophies. This certainty can make one a bit cynical, while can also lead me to believe that we do what we think is right. That is our fate or should be.

I did here what sometimes I do in class… I start teaching a simple verb and when we see we are talking about life, in which rules and conjugations explain nothing. Sorry… Let’s go back to the point, where I will leave you, since I have no answers to my major questions… I wish I could qualify for a school that would turn me into a well-paid, role-model capitalist. Although, I still doubt that I would have the answers.


Jenn said...

First, I am so amazed at how well you write in English. I really shows how lazy we are in this country that we don't learn other languages (although I did take Latin). But most people who take a 2nd language don't speak or write it fluently.

Secondly, I know how you feel. I often lament getting my Master's Degree. Even when I was teaching, I didn't feel I was using anything I learned from the degree. My students certainly weren't deconstructing the postmodern subtext. I was lucky they could identify a noun! Now that I'm a full-time mom, I feel so removed from that world. I know at some point I'll have to go back, but I don't envision ever having a career again. I will have a job to help pay the bills.

I like your comment about religion too. We go to a Unitarian church, and that sounds very Unitarian. :)

I think it is always easy to look back and say, "I should have done this" or "maybe I shouldn't have done that." I guess the best way to be happy is to make peace with your decisions and enjoy where you are. Never an easy task.

blog da mima said...

Thanks for the encouragement. As I told you before, it takes me longer to write in English, so I tend to write more in my first language, to be on the safe side. But I also think it is very difficult to learn (and write) in a second language if you really don’t need it. I’m sure if I had stayed in Brazil forever, my English would not be much better than when I started trying to learn. This is especially true for a grown up. I also believe that if you like writing in your own language, you certainly will get this skill flowing in a foreign language. I see this happening among my students all the time.
You know, I agree when you say that “the best way to be happy is to make peace with your decisions and enjoy where you are”. I think this is, in a way, my new motto now. As you added, it is not easy but I’m very enthusiastic about focusing more on what I have and less on what escaped me. And send me your blog’s link one of these days.