I worry how I spend my time, though the metaphor "spend" bugs me because thinking of life as a transaction is gross. A life lived as a series of transactions is only as interesting as the conveyor belt at the Wegmans register and leads to unhappiness on the order of the terrible orange maggot in the White House. I prefer to wonder how I am living and this morning I have put hours into reading and thinking about a long essay.
The essay was Tim Urban's "How To Pick A Career" from the site Wait But Why, a great site of nothing but longreads. I printed the essay at school yesterday on the backs of previously used copy paper because I don't enjoy reading on a screen. 15,000 words took ninety pages. It's not Urban's longest or shortest piece and it has been about a year since he last published. You don't follow Wait But Why so much as wait for it. The wait is often worth it.
I have a long-running career. I've been a school teacher for twenty-three years. I've taught college too and a bit of middle school as well as some summer programs, summer school, an SAT prep course (ugh), and professional development seminars for teachers through the National Writing Project. I've thought about ditching that career for writing, but I'm not sure I can make money at that and (here's the kicker) I don't know that I want to make a living doing it. I love to write and send those words out into the world. It's my favorite work. I'm not sure I would love turning that work into my job, my career. For now, I'll keep writing and keep the teaching career.
Which makes it odd that I would spend most of my morning reading 15,000 words and thinking about how to pick a career.
Part of the reason is that I like Tim Urban's writing. I'll follow him most places he goes. That's especially true in the case of thinking about how to live.
I think a lot about the directions in which I'm moving, the ways in which I'm choosing to live. I worry I'll end in regret when I'm old. Regret come from a place of accepting what's handed out instead of actively choosing. Reading things like this helps me stay focused on making my own choices.
My two girls are coming of age and are making choices. I want to give them good advice, not about what to choose but about how to think and choose. I want to feel okay about their processes rather than anxious. My anxiety won't do us any good. Maybe some people do this sort of thing naturally, but if I leave it to chance, leave it unconsidered, I'll bung it all up.
I've also just come through some turbulence. I worked toward a life change only to have the opportunity evaporate. I was shocked and devastated, but have begun to think I may be on a more interesting path now.
A friend says he didn't know what he wanted to be when he grew up until his forties. He doesn't truly believe in end points or goal posts outside of sports. We keep going, keep becoming. We don't finish growing up. I've been growing up for nearly fifty years and I'm not quitting. I read articles such as this because I'm playing a game I don't ever want to end.
Back in the economic terminology, I wonder was reading and thinking about this worth most of my morning? It didn't earn me a damn thing in the immediate, but now, an hour later, I've got this piece of writing. I'll post it where, again, it will earn nothing for my wallet. Was reading the essay worth most of my morning? Only if there are bigger things than economics, only if there are other kinds of wealth.
A student asked me about college, if it was "like a great party time." I said that, going back after failing out, I wasn't much for parties but college remains the one concentrated time in my life to which I most like to return. He thought I meant that I'd go back if I could, but I meant I return to the college experience often in the form of deep-dives into ideas. I did it early this month reading Alan Jacobs' book How To Think when I kept reading all the articles he referenced in there and ordered three more books from the library because of it. I did it again this morning with Tim Urban's essay, writing notes, underlining passages, and now writing my own piece because of it. I like to study, to take on new ideas, incorporate them into my thinking, and see what happens. I'm curious how I might change. Reading "How To Pick A Career" didn't lead me directly into a new career or confirm my current career beyond a shadow of a doubt. It merely pushed me further into living, but that's good enough work for any morning.
I'm richer for it.