Often my friends will ask me why I have decided to remain a lifetime student. They wonder why in the world would I forego a chance to earn more money and to have nice things. If I got a real job, they hint, I might be able to do more. Like go to Hawaii or buy a house, or have a baby. You know, adult things.
And sometimes I agree with them.
My bank account waits anxiously for the beginnings of semesters, when my fellowship is deposited. Then, at the end of semesters, I cry when I see my credit card statements and compare that to the $100 left in my checking account. I limit myself to shopping only at Old Navy and H&M, because I can’t afford to pay more than $10 for a shirt on my ‘salary’.
When I have two books and several articles to read per week, plus my Chinese homework, and my eyes actually ache from overuse, I wonder why I’ve chosen this path. I’m reading about things that no one in their right minds would ever sit down to learn. Or, for that matter, would ever even know existed. Like a two-volume tome written by an old missionary on life in China in 1860.
When I’m writing an essay in Chinese and it’s taking me forever, or when I’m asked to play “Rock, paper, scissors” in Chinese class and I have no idea what that is because I don’t recognize the way they say it, I think that I’ll never be good enough at this language. I cried in my Laoshi’s office the other day, trying to explain why I’m so quiet in a classroom full of background speakers (meaning that they learned Chinese growing up, but haven’t officially learned how to write, etc.).
On a Saturday and Sunday, when I think to myself: “Great! The weekend’s here. Now I can get some serious work done!” I ruefully think about the years when my weekends were actually mine, instead of just an unbroken amount of time for reading more and maybe writing some of that new field statement.
When I visit friends who have jobs, lives, cars, homes, kids – I think, wow, maybe I missed the boat.
And then, spring break comes around and I realize why I’m still in school.
Because it rocks. Hard.
I have a week to do anything I want. Closely followed by an entire summer to do whatever I want. And I’m not even French.
I won the lottery with this job. Here’s why:
I get to teach next year, which will be great. Making a difference? Check next to that career box.
I get to write and research about things I care about, and which will make some contribution to the overall knowledge of the world. Loving what you do? Yep. Most of the time.
I get to write for a living. Oh, it’s not the novels I imagined, but it’s writing nonetheless. Fulfilling career choice? Uh, yeah. I guess so.
Plus, those summers, Christmas breaks, and spring breaks off. Totally free. To write those novels. To travel to China and do more research. To wander the earth in the pursuit of knowledge.
When you put it that way, it doesn’t seem so bad, this life I’m living.
Money is nice, but having time to spend it is nicer.