Paul's Internet Landfill/ 2017/ All or Nothing

All or Nothing

This is kind of part three of my long boring Six Months In series, even though it is now 13 months in and I am in month four of a four-month teaching contract, doing a sessional lectureship for a first year computer science course.

I am very grateful that I got this teaching gig. Many people think it is more prestigious than what I was doing for the cult, but in fact it is a step down the career ladder. I used to teach sessionals ten years ago. Now I am teaching sessionals again.

My co-instructors are great. They are super-enthusiastic and on the ball and super-smart. I am grateful to have had such great co-instructors, but it has been difficult to keep up, and it is painfully apparent that they are an order of magnitude better at teaching than I am. I have forgotten most of my mathematical background, and I am a slow lecturer and a slower programmer, and I have real trouble coming up with creative assignment and test questions the way they do. It's been hard, but I would much rather be the weakest link in the teaching staff than the opposite.

I am lucky that the university decided to take a chance on me, and it was a combination of networking and blind luck that I got the chance. I had attended a talk at the university (a lecture by Silvio Micali which was kind of amazing) and decided to ruin my health with junk food at the C&D afterwards. I ran into an old supervisor of mine, who told me that sessionals might be available for the following term. So I applied and I got something. The only people willing to hire me are those whom I have worked for already, it seems. Nobody else is remotely interested.

And the job is cushy. I don't need to do much marking. The course content has been in place for a decade, and my co-instructors know the tricks and traps intimately. My students are smart and engaged. Because there are so many other instructors I don't even have to come up with all of the assignments. And the pay is good -- one four month contract almost gets me to income Level 1, so I am not forced to beg for sessionals each and every term. What do I have to complain about?

Nothing, I guess. Others have things much worse than I do. But I am exhausted. It seems that every waking minute gets sucked up by this course. I have tried to cordon off time for volunteering, and it has been super-hard. Meanwhile the course hangs over my head continually. I put time into getting things done and I am never caught up. I have anxiety outbreaks before each and every lecture (and then I run to buy food, which has made my weight balloon). I don't like feeling incompetent. I don't like not being able to keep up with the demands of the position. Honestly I feel as if I am in university again. I feel as overwhelmed as I did when I was during my own undergraduate career.

When I took this job I hoped it would be a part time job with a full-time salary. But it has been a full-time job with a full-time salary.

Maybe I am not cut out to be a sessional lecturer. Fair enough. Is there anything I am cut out for? Is there any way that I can contribute to others for money without exhausting myself?

Lately I have realized that I am selfish. If I work, I want to have energy left over for other things. I want to contribute to something meaningful, that I believe in. I want to receive enough money that I can get by without feeling deprived, either now or when I am too old to work. Unfortunately, these expectations are completely unrealistic, and that makes me resentful.

Work feels as if it is all-or-nothing. If I want to be hired in my field then I had better be prepared to hand over 110% of myself to my job. Otherwise why would anybody hire me over the next person who is willing to give 110%?

If I want to have energy left over for non-work things then I had better be prepared to work in some dead-end, soul-crushing service job, doing unreliable shift work for minimal pay. That is the gig economy, and it is growing. The gig economy offers flexibility, but sacrifices everything else.

Otherwise I should prepare to be chronically unemployed, in which case I will be destitute.

I don't see any way out. Teaching sessionals is not the answer. At best it is a compromise on all three axes. I don't feel as if I have much time or energy for anything else. I've read my John Taylor Gatto; I am not fooling myself into thinking that contributing to the filtering of smart students is doing much good in the world. The pay is good enough given how cushy the job is, but it won't make me financially secure. Even if I wanted to teach sessionals for the rest of my working life, I don't think I could do so. It is too exhausting. So what do I do? Is there anything that would be a better fit? And if there was, why should I have any expectations that I would be able to get that job? Why should I have any expectations that I can even discover that such jobs exist?

POSTSCRIPT: I was looking through old entries and ran across this: Clueless Paul Gets a Career from 1998. It is amazing to me that at least 80% of that entry still rings true. Have I seriously not explored any different career paths for the last 20 years?