When I was married to Husband #2, I often wondered why he wouldn’t just be like me and get his shit together. Weren’t we both in grad school together to become college professors and published writers? Wasn’t that his plan too? After graduating, I worked as an adjunct college professor at night while working full time during the day in the marketing department for a company in northern Virginia, very far from where we lived in Maryland. An hour away in the mornings, and often two hours home in the evenings. The college where I worked was even farther away. It was my first year sober, so I spent all of that year basically busting my ass. I worked, I learned on my own how to teach, and I focused on my sobriety. And I was planning my wedding.
Meanwhile my ex-husband watched television, smoked pot, and worked at a retail job part time while going to school for yet another master’s degree in creative writing that he has yet to apply to his professional life. His parents had bribed us into moving to Maryland from Atlanta by offering to help pay our rent, which lasted for about the first three months we lived here. It’s fair to say that eventually I became resentful, and like he was a child whom his parents and I supported. But at the time, I believed that I was doing it for a reason, that one day he would help me when I needed to change careers. The problem is that I never communicated that expectation to him. When I lost my job and suggested that we move to a cheaper area so I could teach full time, he eventually came around, but not before panicking about how we could maintain our lifestyle that he’d always been accustomed to, having been raised by wealthy parents who’d always provided for him. We were on the verge of moving to Frederick, Maryland, when his parents offered to help us until I could find another job in marketing so that we could stay in our affluent little Maryland suburb of DC. To be fair, they thought they were helping us, but in reality I just wanted to teach, and moving to Frederick would’ve been great with me. But we chose to stay where we were, out of fear, I guess.
Fear is the same reason why he didn’t leave his retail job to become a college professor. That’s what laziness and procrastination are: fear. He was afraid he wouldn’t succeed, afraid of the uncertainty of a job he’s never done before, and he knew if he stayed in retail he could make more as he got promoted. These are all the same reasons most people don’t change careers. I tried to explain to him that if he would look at it long term, he’d see that as a full time, tenured professor he can make as much as $90,000 in some areas, while, as a store manager working in retail he’d probably make about $65,000. But unfortunately we have to start at the bottom in academia. He was only 32 at the time, so it’s not like his life was over.
When I think of myself on the other hand, I forget all of this. I’m almost 39 years old, and I’ve calculated that, if I become a college professor, then by the time I am 53 years old, I can live potentially a comfortable life on my own, and I only have to live in poverty and squalor (half kidding) for about five to 10 years, depending on what else happens in my life.
Another option is to go back to marketing, live comfortably, get all the manicures, organic groceries, spa trips, nice vacations, massage therapy, personal trainers, and housecleaners that I want, while hating my life and myself for doing work that means nothing to me and nothing to society and only serves to make the rich get richer. I could do that for the next 15 to 25 years, depending on when I retire.
I’ll try not to think of the what-ifs. What if I hate teaching? What if I’m terrible at it? What if the students hate me, hate literature, hate writing? What if no one cares about it at all? More likely one to five out of every 30 students will care, and that will mean something. And other options exist, because no one knows what turn my life will take.
All I know is that right now, today, I cannot work in marketing, and I have to keep giving this a try, or else I’ll keep wondering what my life would’ve been like, and I’ll hate myself for not trying if I don’t. That is all I can do today.