More Thoughts on Vocation

I had ruminated, in an earlier post, about the differences in how I view my vocation now as compared to a young idealistic high school senior fed on an undending diet of rhetorical questions about what I was going to do with “God’s Plan for My LifeTM.”  Reading Trevor’s posts (here and here) got me to thinking about this matter again.  For one thing that I did not reflect on in my previous post is how my understanding of “God’s Plan for My LifeTM” shifted in the early part of this century from “doing the Lord’s work” in “vocational ministry” to doing said divine work in academia.

Here’s the funny thing: most of these fleece-positioning and -scrutinizing activities have focused on assessments (both self-reflective and via “testing”) regarding my gifts and aptitudes.  But they haven’t focused on struggling against sin and leading my family in that struggle.  It’s been about “What’s My Mission in Life?TM”  Well, Orthodoxy has given me a reorientation of that “mission.”

And academic life (just as did “vocational ministry” life) has solidified that reorientation.

In other words, whatever I might think (and on whatever basis) of my skills and aptitudes, motivations and attitudes regarding a life’s work, the facts on the ground have shown me that if I want to pursue a vocational course, it’s going to be in the face of mostly stuff that irritates me, gets in the way of what I really want to pursue, or just isn’t worth it.  I’m not considering ministry here, since I now firmly believe this is not a vocational consideration.  Rather, I’m speaking specifically of academia.

Here’s the hard truth: I will not likely make my living as a traditional academic, and even if I were to carve out that opportunity, it would not in any way match what I want to do as an academic.  Academic freedom is a huge misnomer.  Academia has largely lost the orientation of the pursuit of the truth, and if one does, indeed, pursue the truth, it will cost one very dearly.  Of course, one can pursue the various all-too-similar activisms and agendas that have pushed out the pursuit of truth, but for me that would be selling out my soul.

When I thought to finally make good on my desire to make a living, writing, teaching and researching in ancient philosophy, I still had the old classical university picture in my mind.  Adjunct teaching for these past five years, as well as having front row seating to what goes on in the “ivory towers,” has definitively demolished what I thought I was pursuing: a quiet life of raising a family, pursuing research and writing, mentoring students toward the pursuit of the beautiful, the good and the true, and working out my salvation with fear and trembling.  I had thought–O grand naivete!–that academia had been preserved from the corporate mentality and structure, and that robust, free and open debate could be had.

Instead, what I’ve found is a university working for the bottom line: overusing adjuncts, paying them like crap and not providing health care; thoughtless polemics, platitudes and activism in place of real engagement of ideas and true listening; and gutting departments of their funding for assistantships while raising the price of tuition, requiring those of us who don’t have the stellar CV’s (due to a rather meandering academic history) to sell the next three decades of our lives into indentured servitude to the banks providing the loans to get us through our program.  (And some of us stand on the edge of dissertation project approval wondering how to go forward.)

No, the Lyceum and the Academy are dead and gone historical entities that provide models of a reality that no longer is.

So, while I haven’t reached Trevor’s stage of tossing out the PhD program–I still think there are non-traditional avenues for me to pursue, even as a “scholar-at-large” or “freelance-professor”–I definitely understand the emotion underlying his decision.  I’ve chosen to focus on the career aspects, but I also understand too too well the relational consequences.

The Lord bless you, Trevor, and your family with deepening love and peace.  And pray for me, a sinner.

3 thoughts on “More Thoughts on Vocation

  1. Tough realizations… If one has the heart of a Teacher, then one teaches where ever one is and in whatever relationship one is in regardless of paychecks and tenure etc. If you can get those things too, its a bonus. Unfortunately many of the best teachers are making a living doing something other than teaching-for-a-living it seems. Career or vocation…sometimes that is what if really comes down to.

  2. Wow, Cliff. This is a remarkable post. I am reminded of a blogger that AKMA used to follow. She was trying to get a job as a professor…history, I think. She had her PhD from some “good school.” The whole process chewed her up and spit her out. She stepped away from academia. And she stopped blogging.

    Anyway. I will pray for you in all of this as you balance you various vocations and aptitudes.

  3. Clifton,

    I struggle with many of the same issues re: vocation. I’d love to finish my M.A. but I can’t justify the costs in time and money for what really is a glorified hobby. I’ve had enough experience in the contemporary university (both personally and through the lives of others) that any thoughts of an honest academic life in a humanities dept is a joke to consider seriously.

    But what about private tutoring?

    My wife, who loved teaching in the classroom before motherhood, has decided to remain a private tutor (rather than go back to the classroom when our kids are older) because it has been so rewarding for her. 1) The hours are very flexible and you see students flourish. 2) Thanks to the utter ineptness of our publik skools, you are never without potential clients. 3) Financially, you can make decent money especially if you can get 4-5 hours in per day.

    While it may not ever fully support a family by itself, it could be an interesting (and, ironically more classical) way of using your gifts.

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