Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Best Laid Plans

For years I have cherished the hope of coming back to Provo, of Avram getting a job at BYU and moving to Utah, buying a house, and staying there for the rest of my life. Never mind that Pa Ingalls and I have the same itchy feet, and I start having (literal, night-time) dreams of moving after a year or so of living in the same place.  I work this out by hoping that Avram would also make it on the study abroad circuit, and every few years I would be refreshed by a year spent exploring another country, and coming home would feel fresh and new again.  Regardless, the thought of being able to settle down, buy a house, have a full-time job with things like insurance and benefits that is also a satisfying career; these things have sustained me through the last nine years of marriage, especially at times when our journey towards financial and working stability has felt like the mythical Odyssey home to Penelope, minus magical carefree hedonistic years spent with a minor goddess (but with the addition of lots of consequences of fun yet responsible marital years, ie children).

As an intermittent hobby I have combed through Zillow for the latest house listings in my favorite areas, namely those around downtown, and the tree streets neighborhood up by the Y mountain. I know perfectly well that Avram getting a job at BYU has depended on a lot of factors, namely his qualifications, their having an opening, and then the perfect stars aligning and the hiring committee picking him.  Yet in comparison to any other school in America, which may or may not have an opening for many years at a time, and then for Avram to be on the market at the right time, and then for his application to stand out among many other applications, when they have never met him; in comparison, BYU has felt like a good opportunity.  The religion department is large, which means that there are more jobs that come available, and some years there are even more than one job available.  Avram has now taught for them a couple of times, so he is not an unknown quantity, but rather they have a real relationship - which could go either way, of course, but I believe (even through my natural bias as his wife) that Avram's greatest strength in the trifecta of academia - teaching, research, and being a good citizen, ie administration and working with others - is in teaching, so BYU seeing him up close teaching can only be helpful.  Their hiring of him for two summer terms has never implied, and we have never taken it that way, that he will be given preferred status for any future opening. but at least it means that they know who he is, and that he can teach well.

Now we only have a year left, and suddenly the far off distant future is right next to us.  As far as Avram's qualification, we know that he needs an outside (ie, not LDS) publication to be considered.  Currently he has an article under review, that we do not know for certain will be published, but we and his advisor feel confident about, and even if it is not published with the journal currently looking at it, believe it will be published somewhere. And yet, after all of this, it turns out that the Ancient Scripture side of the religion department will probably not have a job opening next year.  All the best laid plains I have been making all these years were always dependent on that one, small and yet vital aspect.  And now, I feel a little like we are free falling.

Of course, he will apply anywhere else that has an opening in his field - we have three other jobs that he knows he will be applying to thus far, and more will hopefully be posted.  We would be happy to go anywhere, truly.  There are even positives about some other places, like the thought of living in a small college town, or old houses with a lot of character, which I adore.  The climate of the midwest is great, with its rain and four seasons.  The west has a lot of family all over, and many mountains as well.  The east is where Avram's family is centered.  The south has a long growing season - great for gardening.  Part of the stress is that getting an academic job is rather time sensitive.  It is important to get a job immediately after graduation - the longer after you graduate without a job in the field, the more likely you will never get a job in the field.  So finding an academic job this coming year is not just nice, but vital.  Tenure track is the gold standard, but it would be alright to have an instructorship, and even adjuncting (teaching, but not full time) would be better than nothing. What is most scary is not having an academic job at all - with having spent eight years in graduate school, and in the end finding an entry level administrative or public servant job at best, or at worst fulfilling the butt of every joke about higher education by flipping burgers.

 But as with any area of life, I have spent so much time with a known, even just a potential known, future, that it is so hard to trust and accept different futures.  Especially because I truly believe that while God loves us, and wants us to be happy, he thinks happiness is found in following his plan and obeying his laws, and not found in a comfortable salary and satisfying career that one has trained for.  I know that trusting in him, and following him, and accepting what happens could mean not getting an academic job at all, but getting some other job that will support our family in an acceptable manner.  The modern conception of having to have a job that fulfills our financial, social and intellectual desires is just that - modern.  People throughout most of world history, and throughout most of the world today, do not have jobs that are fine-tune suited for every quirk, every ability they may possess, and I believe, I have to believe, that we can find satisfaction and fulfillment in our life while still spending most of the hours our life completing jobs that we do not love.  There is no shame in working to provide for life's basic needs, to help your family live so that they and you in turn may work on what's truly important - fostering family and friend relationships, following Him, finding joy just in living.

I partly have to believe this, because in my own life I have found this to be true.  I love being a mother - I love my five children, and would love to have more if God blesses us with such.  But I do not particularly love many of the aspects of being a stay at home mother as my "job", and yet for myself and my life circumstances, I also feel like it is important for me to be at home right now in my family's stage of life (among other reasons being that we have many young children, and I do not have an important or grand career that by accomplishing it will help others or fulfill myself , and we are able to financially live without a second income.  This is not meant to conscribe others in their lives - we are each unique, and what is important or works for me with a career is not meant to describe you or your life situation).  I know that although I have struggled, and will probably always feel a little unnatural in my job, that it is what is right for me and my family at this time.  Additionally, I only have an undergraduate degree in Near Eastern Studies - I also do not have the training or skills for some other, more fulfilling job that incorporates my individual interests and talents.  And yet, I believe that I can work hard at my job, that I have feel fulfilled in life, and that doing something I don't always enjoy or feel like is the best personal fit for me can still lead to a fulfilling life overall.  This life isn't about me, about what the world, what my job, what God can give to me, or allow me to even achieve through hard work, that will give me glory, fame, money, or intellectual satisfaction.  It is about what I can contribute to others, about how I can serve.  And that can be accomplished through a high paying job, or by working at home with no paycheck at all.

To bring this back to Avram, I know that is also the case with academia - Avram can accomplish much in academics.  I believe that he has a lot to say in the intersection of Early Rabbinic Judaism, the Hebrew Bible, and if he gets a job at BYU, in the LDS interaction with both, as well as with unique Mormon topics such as the Book of Mormon.  And yet I also believe that after this next year, even if he never has an academic job, that his life up to that point will not have been wasted, that the Ph.d. and the eight years of graduate school will not be wasted.  Avram and I were talking recently, and both agreed that we feel like he has a voice to add to Mormon Scriptural Studies.  And soberingly, we both felt like that voice could either be heard through working at BYU, or alternately, not working in academics at all, and thus having the extra energy to devote to independent Mormon scholarship.

Truthfully, I feel like Avram will get a job in academia.  Years ago when we first returned as a couple to BYU, we both independently felt strongly while on campus that someday - not on any timeline mind you, we would return to BYU (of course, that could have been fulfilled by these two summers spent teaching here....). But those feelings have sometimes led me to a place of over confidence, because the alternative is too scary to contemplate - that in a year we may have a life we have never dreamed of, never planned for, even though it could be better than I have ever dreamed of as well.  I am a planner by nature - I plan everything from what I would do if Avram died when he is a few minutes later than expected from work to what we will spend our tax refund on months before it is even submitted.  I want to plan the future, but at a certain point a year from now our future is flat out un-plannable.  At the crux of the matter, time and time again I have had to surrender control to God, have had to recognize that I cannot force life to conform a certain way, despite all of my schemes, well laid and planned as they may be.

So here is my prayer, that I may be able to let it go, to let the future rest in its place, while finding joy in the place we are in now, uncertainty and all.  However, don't expect me never to visit Zillow again - after all, there are limits in what I am capable of, even in giving all to God.


  1. I totally understand this post! I'm also a planner, and I hate those periods of life that are un-plannable. And in an academic career, even one like mine that has been lucky enough to follow a (dying?) traditional path, there have actually been a very large number of those un-plannable periods, all the way up to tenure. And even now that I have tenure, or the equivalent, there are still huge gray areas of uncertainty in the future. I hate that! But I think in the last two or three months (only) I have reached the point where I have the courage, finally, to step into those gray areas and see what happens.

    Oh, and I am also a huge supporter of the idea of sending you back for a graduate degree. With your writing ability and life experience, how could it not be anything by amazing? You are exactly the type of person I want to recruit to my graduate program. So definitely keep that goal in mind! Not just for vanity, but because you have been given gifts that will add much goodness to all the lives that touch yours when those gifts are developed. (In my opinion. But it's an informed opinion.) And I hope to read more here in the near future!

  2. Thanks for your compliments, Artax - your belief in my ability to do a graduate degree (and a career beyond) has been a large strength to me over the years as I have considered and planned for graduate school. I am trying to be more intentional with life, and I have realized that I really loved blogging, when I did what loved with it (writing essays that interest me, not a mommy blog with pictures), and so I am trying to write again.

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