Thursday, January 1, 2009

Thoughts on a Brand New Year

To be honest, I don't recall what I was doing 10 years ago when 1998 became 1999. All I can say for certain is that everything about me was different 10 years ago than it is now. I had different career aspirations, I was living in a different place, and I had very different ideas of where I would be 10 years in the future. All in all, I would say things worked out for the best.

The ringing in of the new year is, I think, an appropriate time to take stock: not just of what you are going to do with the next 365 days, but of how all the previous days prepared you for those ahead. Ten years ago, I was attending Berklee College of Music (Boston) with aspirations of becoming a Nashville songwriter or an in-demand jazz drummer. Today, I am a high school special educator with PhD aspirations who hardly ever has the time to play music.

If this were a movie, such an "ending" would be sad. It would be a cautionary tale of someone who "gave up on their dreams" and "settled" for a 9-to-5, who gave up the life of creativity for the rat race of the everyday.

Of course, life is not as linear as big-screen productions and scripts. As all but the most fortunate (or unfortunate) among us can attest, people change for no other reason than that life is contingent. We can change because we want to, we can change because we are forced to, because we want to adapt, because we are bored, or because . . . life just happens to us for better, worse, or neutral.

Ten years ago, I was graduating from Berklee College of Music. I did well there, won a few esteemed songwriting awards, and was urged by several professors to move to Nashville. They thought I would do well there. I did not. Songwriting is 10% about your talent and 90% about your ability to sell yourself and "schmooze." I might have had the 10%, but the 90% was wholly lacking.

While in Nashville, I worked at a bookstore andoften perused the shelves. One day, I began wandering in the philosophy section, deciding to try my hand at reading Camus's Myth of Syssiphus. I lacked the philosophic wherewithall to understand it, but was hooked nonetheless. Here was someone trying to grapple with a "big question" and I wanted to know more.

I began reading more in philosophy, biology, law, and other subjects until I decided that, while I was young, I might go and get a graduate degree; I can always, I told myself, come back to songwriting. I went to the University of Richmond (Virginia) and got a degree in political science.

From there, I moved back to my hometown of Eldersburg, MD, and, while waiting to apply to PhD programs, decided that I would get a job substitute teaching (I wanted to be a college professor and substituting at least would put me into the classroom, which beat most other jobs I was qualified for). One school I subbed for hired me as an instructional assistant, and I decided to try my hand at special education. This was the precursor to my accepting a full special education teacher position at a high school in Baltimore Co.

This brings me to the present. While I have always had a taste for the intellectual side of things, I tried very desperately over the past few years that I could do without it; that reading and thinking could be avocations to be dabbled in sparingly. My fiancee was the first to point out to me that I had not bought my own lie, and was miserable because of it.

So, my new year's resolution is to get into a PhD program in Education, where I can combine my love for intellectualism with my love for education and educating. My goal for this year is to not feel guilty at doing what I love simply because I have fun doing it - to realize that something can be fun and worthwhile at the same time. My goal for this year is to be happier than I was the previous year while working equally as hard.

When I reflect on my last 10 years, I struggle to make sense of what happened. How did I go from being a struggling songwriter to a special educator with academic aspirations? A led to B, and B led to C, but when the dots are connected, it looks a lot more like a disorderly zig-zag than a straight (or even close to straight) line. I don't think, though, that I am the only one that could say this about their past decade. We change; sometimes a little bit over long periods, and other times, rapidly over short periods. Sometimes there is a readily identifiable reason and sometimes the reason, if it is found at all, only appears in retrospect.

So here is to change. Let's never stop changing.

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