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Workin' it

This week's Friday Five asks about work. I will answer the questions, but first, here is my favorite song about work:

Now, if you're still interested, the questions:

1. What's a real-world lesson you learned from your first job?
If my "first job" was all that babysitting I did as a teen, then one important real-world lesson I learned was how to change a diaper. If the question is talking about my first proper "time-clocks and paychecks" job -- i.e., the waitress gig I started two weeks before HS graduation -- then let's say a big lesson was "buy good shoes."

2. What was pleasantly unexpected about your current (or most recent) job?
I am currently both a teacher and a church musician. Now, I've been teaching for 30 years, all but the first six of them as some kind of adjunct (often at multiple schools simultaneously). And I've been responsible for music in churches for 32 years; however, only the last four-and-a-half of them have been in a paid capacity, so I guess that's the most recent job. Thanks to all the decades in both milieux, though, I can't remember when any aspect of either position felt new, let alone unexpected ... and frankly, when I try to think of something, the things that come to mind don't tend to be pleasant!

Okay, here's something. It's a little more meta than I think the question wanted, but it's all I got. Because I am classified as "part-time" everywhere I work, I am always pleasantly surprised by any job-related perks (as in, benefits over and above salary) that I'm granted. And there has been at least one nice one from each of my current employers, including a generous tuition discount for Number Two Son when he attended College #1, reimbursement for organ lessons at the Church, and (most recently) the opportunity to buy into the group insurance program (at a subsidized rate!) at College #2. Until having them offered, those were all things that I would have expected were reserved for full-time employees. (And I try to remember them when other aspects of the jobs frustrate me.)

3. What are some identifying tools of your trade?
Tools of the humanities teaching trade? Besides a briefcase, red pens, dry-erase markers, and a cup of coffee (note that I did not include "Power Point"), I'm afraid they're all non-physical: the gift of gab, a penchant for (over-)analysis, and (relatedly) a certain pedantry -- even if it's about *not* being an old-school grammar fundamentalist, or whatever. Can't you always pick out a teacher after a few minutes of conversation? I usually can.

Tools of the traditional church musician trade? I won't count pianos and organs, since they're not portable; nor batons, since I don't know any church choir directors (who aren't also community orchestra directors) that use one. That leaves a big ring of keys (amirite, fellow church workers of all sorts?), a pair of organ shoes (with the built-up heels and felt soles), music-symbol scarves and/or jewelry (a favorite gift of choirs to their directors), metronome and pitch-pipe apps on your phone, the tendency to conduct every time you hear music, the insistence on harmonizing whenever you sing with a group, and maybe a John Rutter anecdote. Also, if you're male, a stock of bad music puns. And if you're female, vibrato.

4. What’s something a job required that you thought was far outside your skill set?
Almost EVERYTHING I was asked to do at my first grown-up job -- the full-time position I accepted right after college, I mean -- was outside my skill set. And was I ever surprised by that! See, I'd been a mathematics major and had actually interned at the place for a few summers, assisting all the operations research analysts by processing their data and writing bits of code; and it had gone really well! Thus when, upon graduation, the boss offered me a position as an operations research analyst, I saw no reason not to take it ... and I immediately became a poster girl for the Peter principle.

The thing was, I could write code, sure, but I had no post-HS science background at all! So when the first thing I was asked to do was write a program conformally mapping a radar grid onto the nose cone of an aircraft, I thought, "Girl, you are SOOOOOOOOO in the wrong place!" I faked it for two years (fooling no one, I realize in retrospect) before retreating to the ivory tower to become a philosopher. Thirty-some years later, I may now be tired of academic life, but there is no way I regret leaving that other job. I saw, in my short time there, that some people had managed to fake whole careers, but I think the attempt would have destroyed me. (Lingering question: how could the boss not have seen, from my transcript, that I was not the droid he was looking for?)

5. Robert Frost wrote, "My object in living is to unite / My vocation and my avocation / as my two eyes make one in sight." To what degree have you united your vocation (your job) and your avocation (your hobby)?
My college degrees are in math and philosophy, and the line of work I settled into (after the false start described in #4 above) was teaching. However, my life's obsessions (the word "hobby" is inadequate) have always been theology and music, which I've been able to combine since the age of 22 in a mostly avocational career as a church musician. To be honest, I'd've trained for the ministry itself, had my wing of the church ordained women, but it didn't (and, back in the day, leaving my wing of the church was inconceivable to me). So the church music was a nice consolation prize.

Twice have I been able to turn my church music avocation into a paid vocation. Once was in the late 1980s at the Bible college where I first taught. Into a single job were rolled all the things I had to offer: besides giving courses in both math and philosophy, I conducted the college's chorus and taught associated music classes. The college was not an ideal employer (religious institutions aren't famed for it), but, to this day, the music aspect of that job remains the most enjoyable and fulfilling thing I was ever paid to do. But it could not last: after three years or so, I started a family and wasn't available travel with the choir ... and, okay, there's also the fact that I lacked the on-paper credentials to justify (should anyone have demanded it) the college's awarding credit for my music classes (which they nevertheless did, and those classes were 100% worth it, if I do say it myself). Someone would have asked a question, eventually.

The second time I turned my avocation into a vocation was, of course, when I signed on with my current ecclesiastical employer four-and-a-half years ago. I was 25 years older than when I'd started at the Bible college, a little more beaten-up by life, and a lot more liberal in my theology and politics. Perhaps it was not the ideal moment to finally get the opportunity for my first formal church staff position (especially since it would be in addition to -- rather than instead of, or somehow combined with -- my teaching gigs), but had it not been for life beating me up (as in, the Man's desertion), I wouldn't have needed to professionalize my Sunday activities and wouldn't have sought the position in the first place. (So there you are.) Add to my metaphorically bedraggled state the fact of this particular congregation's not-inconsiderable idiosyncrasies, and, well, let's just say that the resulting experience has not been one of the more enjoyable and satisfying of my working life (and you read #4 above, right?). I continue to give it my best effort, though, I really do. There have even been moments when I thought that God might have put me in the position for a reason, and that's not the kind of thing I usually think about anything! But it continues to be a challenge, and I am still waiting to exhale, as it were.

Bottom line: be careful what you wish for.


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 13th, 2017 08:29 pm (UTC)
Faking It
There's something I need to learn: How to fake an entire career.... hmmm.

Coding and not knowing much about it. I should learn how to fake code something without destroying it or at least getting caught.


Jan. 13th, 2017 08:58 pm (UTC)
Re: Faking It
As a rank newbie, I was first assigned to junk projects -- which, a lot of colleagues were more than happy to tell me on the sly, *definitely* included this radar thing. The boss had paired me with an ancient PhD who should have retired a decade earlier and whose pet project the radar thing was. He'd first coded it himself on a TRS-80, I think, and now wanted it translated into FORTRAN. It was just something they were letting him do so he'd stay out of the way of the relevant people, I think, and as I wasn't yet a relevant person, I got to help. Except I didn't know from radar, so actually I got sent to some away training seminars to learn (have you divined yet that my employer was Uncle Sam?). By the time I could tell the difference between signal and noise, a REAL project arose for which all hands were needed on deck, and I never saw the radar thing again. Instead, I wrote subroutines for some monster communications simulation, and for that I was somehow included in the team roster when our model got an "award." I believe I was assigned to one other project (something to do with AHP), which netted me a trip to California (to confer with some people at the JPL who'd used it). Briefings were given. Suddenly, I noticed that two years had passed, and I was outa there.
Jan. 14th, 2017 04:38 pm (UTC)
This is a wonderful piece of writing. I would expect nothing less of a graduate philosophy major.
Cat Ster
Jan. 14th, 2017 06:47 pm (UTC)
A Real Philosophy
There aren't many philosophers around. I'm glad to have "met" you--and re the benefits thing...yeah, that is a mare's nest. Loved reading this.
Jan. 14th, 2017 10:33 pm (UTC)
Faking It
I was twenty-six when I first stepped in front of a classroom full of eager learners. I faked my way through that entire first few weeks, and found myself doing it again multiple times throughout my career. I remember saying to other new teachers that first week, "I had no idea how much of this job is acting." It's true. I am as sincere as teachers come, which has translated into great relationships (and credibility) with students, but so much of what we do is fakery! Do I care that you're chewing gum? No! But I have to make you believe I do because the school cares.
Jan. 14th, 2017 10:38 pm (UTC)
Re: Faking It
I agree that a lot of teaching is acting. In fact, for me, a lot of it is plain schtick. But that's the *good* kind of faking. :-)

(I was also 26 when I started!)

Edited at 2017-01-14 10:40 pm (UTC)
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )


"Poetry and Hums aren't things which you get, they're things which get you. And all you can do is go where they can find you." -- Winnie the Pooh (A.A. Milne)

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