I joined the Peace Corps in 1998.  I had just gotten my bachellor’s degree, and wanted some time off before I decided to go on to graduate school.  I wanted to do some volunteering, and to spend some more time outside of the US since a semester abroad in England hadn’t been “exotic” enough for me.  But these two years were also supposed to answer an important question for me: what did I want to do with my life?

When I was in college I could predict people’s responses to the question, “What are you studying?” based on how much information I gave them.  If I simply said I was an English major, they’d say, “Oh, so you want to teach.”  If I said I was a creative writing major, they’d say, “Sooo….. you want to be a poet??”  And if I gave them the full story — creative writing major with a minor in cultural anthropology — they invariably replied, “Oh… and what exactly do you want to do???”

And that was the problem.  I really didn’t know.  I was just studying what interested me.

So living in Kyrgyzstan and teaching English as a foreign language for 2 years was supposed to help me decide between three options: poetry, teaching, and anthropology.  At the end of those 2 years, I thought I had an answer.  I really enjoyed teaching, but I would never teach in a high school in the US.  And I hadn’t coped particularly well with living in Kyrgyzstan — the pressure of always being the center of attention caused me to really isolate myself, and focus most of my energy on spending time with other PCVs.  So the only conclusion to be made?  I would be a poet!  I’d work on my writing for a few years, get a portfolio together, and then apply for an MFA.  Maybe teach creative writing eventually.

Well, about 6 months into that decision, I realized that without an assignment due-date, I have very little drive to write poetry.  I concluded that, in fact, I was not A Poet.  And that didn’t bother me too much.  But now I was really at a loss.

Fast forward through a few years of working in retail and merchant processing, when a dream sent me back to grad school.  I dreamt about changing my major from English to anthropology, woke up, thought about it for a few weeks, and decided that I didn’t have to live overseas to be an anthropologist.  So I applied to grad school for cultural anthropology, planning on studying Native American arts in some way.

As it turns out, I did have to go overseas again for my masters degree.  And I even went back to Kyrgyzstan.  And this time around I coped much better with my surroundings (perhaps because I was only there for a few months) and faced a few demons, which was liberating.  And after 2 years in a masters program, I had come to a few more conclusions.  I still liked teaching, and would be happy to teach anthropology.  But not at a big university.  I hadn’t found a line of inquiry that I was interested in studying indefinitely, and didn’t want to be constantly pushed to publish articles.  I also wasn’t interested in playing adjunct roulette, moving from one university to the next for years until I could get tenure.  But teaching at a community college sounded just about my speed.

And then, on  whim, I went to archaeology field school.  And then, on another whim, I applied for a job as an archaeology field tech, aka: a shovelbum.  And became an archaeologist.  And loved the job, and decided this was definitely What I Wanted To Do.  Even though I don’t like shovelbumming: constantly being on the road, going from job to job, employer to employer, never sure how long you’ll be working and rarely being home.  But I got lucky, got office jobs, and thought I was doing pretty well.  Until recently.  When I realized that maybe I don’t have what it takes to move up the ladder and be a project manager in archaeology — namely, the knowledge to run a project from start to finish, and/or the desire to be the boss.  I’m perfectly content to be an upper-level peon for the rest of my life, having some responsibility and doing a good job but letting someone else make all the decisions.  And that’s not what employers want from someone like me.  That’s a shovelbum.

Somewhere in there, I actually got a shot at the community college gig.  One class of intro to cultural anthropology, which I taught while working full-time.  It was a humbling experience — I literally had half my class drop the course after the first exam.  My TA experience was with 300-level courses, and I was trying to teach a 100-level course the same way.  And with the full-time job, I wasn’t putting enough time into my lesson planning, so most days I was boring as hell.  But I thought I had learned from the experience, and I would have made a lot of changes and improvements if I’d had the opportunity to teach a second semester.  Alas, the second class was cancelled for too few students, and then we moved.  So I walked away from teaching for another few years.

And now, 11 years after I returned from the Peace Corps, I find myself at the same crossroads again (minus the poetry).  What do I want to do?  Do I settle, “accept my limitations”, and stay a peon in archaeology?  Or work at it, and hope that I someday develop the confidence to start running the cultural resources show?  Or should I give up on archaeology altogether, and start teaching at a private college, where I just had a good initial interview?  It’s not anthropology, but it is teaching, and I think I could do a good job.  Or can I do both?

In the past, when I have “decided” one way or another, life has shown me that I had no idea what I was doing when I came to that decision (Poetry!  No.  Native Americans!  No.  Community college!  No.  Program manager!  No.).  Maybe I should just do what I have always done — take the opportunities that have been afforded to me, and learn from them as they come.  Or maybe I should get some feedback and see what you all think I should do.  *smile*

Advertisements