Did I Choose the Wrong Profession?
As I do every Tuesday and Wednesday morning, I'm making out bills and balancing the checkbook and this morning I'm opening up a bill from the electrician for $3K for a days work, parts, and permits. The work, he said, was crucial as our house was a little behind code and the recent storms seemed to put a big exclamation point on that as strong winds sent everything flickering and visually pointed out all the exposure. So, sigh, though we couldn't afford it, I signed up to teach an extra class for a month's worth of work so I could pay the electrician for a day of his.
Usually, I don't whine about this and just accept it as American life's big irony. You wouldn't know it from No Child Left Behind and our big push to guilt all into getting an education they can ill afford, but what really is the trade off? Where's that big pay off in the end for 4 years for a BA and 2 for MA? I look at my kids playing and learning their ABCs. Should I push college as the be all end all or should I push the practical, reliable trades?
Nothing puts this into perspective more than buying a house. Suddenly you come into contact with jobs and careers you vaguely knew existed. The real estate agent, the appraiser, the inspector, the electrician, the plumber, the painter, and such. Before this, you only knew about the mechanic. Suddenly you are surrounded by people who can charge $75 an hour without batting an eye and we, the sucker house buyers settling down for a long winter's nap with our student loans and our mortgages and our 2.5 kids, pay up because we have to. I'd love for all the friends, family members and acquaintences that call up and email with the tag line, 'hey, you're a writer, can you fix this for me?' to pay me $75 an hour. But we don't think of writing that way. Anyone can do it, we think--why should i have to pay for that? Clearly we don't respect it as a profession--would the writers' strike in Hollywood be going on to its third month if we did?
My father and an old friend, both doctors, face similar issues. Their Tuesday and Wednesday morning bill paying is much worse: steeper student loans, mandatory conferences to keep their licenses, malpractice insurance along with the regular payments of daily life make the allure of becoming a doctor to make money just seem ludicrous. Teachers pay out of pocket for their own on going training and development long after their degree is earned. As do social workers.
I try to keep it in a happy perspective. Remember all those fun drunken nights in college? Hold on to those sweet memories and those days of international travel. I try to think of all those great books I'd probably have never gotten around to reading on my own if they hadn't been assigned to me. That I can say I'd like to go with the all I can drink plan for two hours in Japanese. Or that I can tell you the finer points of Italian film from the post World War II neo-realism era. That without that civil rights and liberties class I could enjoy the world a lot more from not knowing how it works. Yikes.
But at this point, a nagging voice in the back of my brain says who cares? You should have learned how to fix the sink, raise a bathroom, bring the electricity in a house up to code, and take out asbestos without inhaling. And you should have learned how to charge $100 an hour without laughing.
As for my kids...they are our kids so more than likely they'll be just as impractical and they will sell themselves short. They like to sing, dance, create things, and––now that they aren't toddlers--their interest in the toilet has severely waned. Perhaps I should invest in mini-construction sets for them instead of kiddie microscopes. Put away that Puppet Circus, Diego! Here's a tire jack. Learn from your broke parents. Don't go to college.