Last week, one of the NaBloPoMo prompts at BlogHer was: “What is your secret (or not-so-secret) passion?” This is what I wrote.
I wait for the look: “I am religious,” I say, and pause. For what? Surprise, I suppose. Instead, I see simple acceptance of this as a simple fact. No questions. Nobody says, “But you’re smart” as though this necessarily precludes any belief in God. They just wait for me to get to my point about how my religion and values fit in to the conversation. In my former professional life, I hid my belief in God. It wasn’t necessarily a secret, but it wasn’t something I wanted to talk about. I needed my classmates and colleagues to see me as smart, more than anything. My intelligence comprised my worth, or so I believed.
My world has changed so much in the past eleven months that this particular perk of a non-academic life rises to the surface only after I have processed other, less subtle changes:
- January, 2011: I leave the PhD Program in English Literature in which I have been enrolled since fall, 2007. This marks the end of a twenty-year career as a full-time student. (I am twenty-six.) I decide to look for a career in child care after briefly playing with the idea of a structured office job. I never even hit send on the application I write for an administrative assistant position at a nonprofit, even though I still think it’s an amazing company.
- Late January, 2011: I begin to read for fun. I cannot remember the last time I have read a book that is recently published. But now… No one cares what I am reading? Really? At some point, I consume Steig Larsson’s The Millenium Trilogy on audio book, stopping only to sleep.
- Spring, 2011: I meet two of the most adorable toddlers anyone has ever met, and I’m lucky enough to care for them every week. These two jobs feel light compared to full-time grad-studenthood coupled with a teaching load of two distinct courses with different syllabi. I find great joy in repeating “Look at the birdies!” day after day, instead of repeating “No, I have not graded your paper, yet.” (I really hated grading papers.)
- Summer, 2011: I begin to work part-time at a professional, well-respected child care center. It is just a summer position, but there is structure. There is “Baa Baa Black Sheep.” There are hugs from tiny, pudgy arms. There are conversations about the progress of the seeds planted by the preschoolers–green sprouts! I am the only witness to a trouble child’s first success at using his words instead of his fists to resolve a conflict. I get to congratulate him. I get to tell his teachers. I get to see the beaming pride on his face at the enormity of this accomplishment. When I go home at the end of each day, I truly believe that I am free to do whatever I please–no homework. I stop feeling guilty for doing “nothing.”
- Fall, 2011: I go back to babysitting and continue to look for more permanent work in a formal child care center. I revel in watching television, knitting, sewing, spending hours on Twitter, Facebook, reading blogs. I create my own blog, where I write for fun. I have not written anything for fun in years. I cannot remember the last time I wrote anything for fun! My literary heart feels better each time I hit “publish.” My bookish soul is healing.
- November 10, 2011: I tell two intelligent, well-respected women that I am religious in the course of a job interview; the conversation is about values and early childhood education. Neither professional bats an eye. I think, “Of course! Working with very young children and their parents means interacting with all kinds of people. Discussions about values and beliefs are common, here!” No one asks me to explain myself, because no one cares about the particulars of my religion.
There is no competition in my new professional life. Yes, I do see teachers covet other teachers’ salaries or job titles; I see them archly disapprove of another teacher’s habits or methods. It flickers past. I rarely see this become intense enough for the children to pick up on it. (Very small children pick up on hostility very quickly.) But I do not yet feel the need to compete with anyone.
I do not need to be The Smartest, The Favorite, The One With the Long CV, The One Who Is Published, The One Who Has Read Everything, The One With the Good Fellowship, The One With the Tenure-Track Job Offer. The world I left behind is a world for people who have thicker skin than I. They can rise above the competition, or thrive on it. I simply find myself paranoid and hyper-reactive, seeing competition and judgment everywhere.
As it turns out, my professional wants are very simple. I want to spend my days with small children, playing, soothing, laughing, teaching. I want to leave my job, go home and have that time to give freely to my family. I want to have a baby of my own and a career that welcomes that choice. I want to take my time. I want to feel at home in my professional skin. This is matters in this new professional life: am I kind, compassionate, honest, caring, patient, flexible? Can I work well with the other teachers? Can I accommodate the different needs of the individual infants and toddlers and interact well with them as a group? I want to prove myself by showing that I can do and be these things. My devotion, my prayers, my belief in a kind and compassionate God–these are not secrets. I still do not advertise my beliefs at work; I have no interest in proselytism and God just doesn’t come up that often. But I do not hide them, either.
My point is not that academics must pretend agnosticism. My point is that in my old life, I felt afraid that someone would learn something about me that would prove, once and for all, that I was not smart enough to be a professor of anything. Everyone would know that I didn’t belong. In my new life, I feel that everything I am and everything I believe makes me a better caregiver. I am not afraid that I am a fraud. That is why I have no more secrets. That is the biggest clue that I made the right choice when I changed careers.
But, I’m laughing right now, because I feel nervous about posting this. What will all of you think of me, now that I’ve put it in writing?
I believe in God. Passionately. With devotion and with all of my heart. It’s a big part of who I am. My relationship with God has helped me through the very darkest moments of my life, including my time as an inpatient in the psych ward. I am proud to have cultivated such a strong relationship with God. Now you know.