What is the difference between “making a living” and “making a life?” Is it possible to do both?
The Reality of Making a Living
Over the past few weeks I’ve faced the reality of what it means to try to make a living as an adjunct faculty person while trying to pursue the life I want–one where the work I do feels fulfilling, is creative, and somehow makes a difference. I’ve known for a long time how unfair the academic system is on many levels, but especially on how they treat adjunct faculty who (at least when it comes to teaching classes and interaction with students) do as much or more work than their tenured or tenure-track counterparts for a fraction of the pay. By more work, I mean, that often adjunct faculty fill in the gaps in lower level classes which have more students, while the regular faculty get the more specialized courses with fewer students. I have been lucky to get a few specialized courses, but in general I have anywhere from 20-30 students in my classes and I am the type person who thinks that projects and written work enhance the learning process. I also believe in meeting with students on a one-to-one basis when you assign long papers and expect quality work/writing. Anyway, I digress, a few weeks ago I read an article called “We Ask That You Do Not Call Us Professor” that lays out the stark reality of what it means to work as adjunct faculty. While the article refers specifically to the CUNY system, I believe that similar situations exist nearly everywhere, with different numbers involved.
If I worked full-time for my main source of adjunct income (as I do teach in a variety of places) my annual salary would be about 1/3 that of any new, incoming tenure-track faculty.
Add to that the fact that most places don’t let adjuncts take on a full course load (because that would require they offer benefits) and it means that just to make a pittance of a living we have to take on multiple jobs, which means gas money and time as you travel from place to place, along with the feeling that you belong nowhere.
“I am a wandering adjunct, without an office home.” I put that on my syllabi in some places, and explain that if we need to meet we will have to find a time and a place.
Add to that the fact that my main source of this adjunct income does not pay their adjuncts until about 1 1/2 months into the semester (I started mid-January and will not get paid until March 1) and you begin to wonder, “Why am I doing this?”
In other words, the jobs I take on to feel like I am helping my family, “making a living”, and contributing to the household actually add stress, time and hard work with very little financial reward, and sometime even less personal rewards for someone who likes to occasionally be acknowledged for a job well done.
I know that I can’t stop working completely. We simply can’t afford it in a world where everything is so expensive. But the reality of my existence makes me ask, is it worth it?
The Value of Making a Life
I find myself constantly focusing on those things I do that, at the moment, don’t make me any money. Some days, time flies when I find the rhythm of words, whether it’s writing a blog post or working on my next piece of fiction. I feel more alive at those moments.
There are also the moments where I set aside work and snuggle or laugh with my daughter. Or take a walk in a beautiful place with nothing but my camera and my thoughts. Those are the moments I value.
Or how about those moments when I reach a child that I’m working with, and understand him/her better. When they share a secret with me and I find a way to help them. True, this moments often happen when I am “making a living” at yet another under-payed (and perhaps over-micro-managed) position, but those are also the moments when the value of what I’m doing outshines the reality of “making a living.”
I reflect more and more on my day working with Roma children in Slovakia over a year ago, a day which I paid for out of my own pocket, but which offered me rewards much beyond any I’ve received from a mere pay check.
I think about those rare occasions when my husband, daughter, and myself get to spend together without one of us having to be somewhere doing something, whether its school, class, meetings or other aspects of “making a living.” Those moments are too few and far between, and yet those moments are so much more valuable than any others. Sometimes they only come when mother nature intercedes, by bringing us a blizzard that keeps us home.
That seems wrong. Our priorities are skewed. We need to find a way to put our life as a higher priority than our need to make a living.
In a Perfect World
In a perfect world, making a living and making a life would not be mutually exclusive. Since the purpose of this blog is to Re-Envision myself and my life, I would like to believe that it is possible to make a living doing things that fulfill your life. I would like to think there is a way to prioritize the quality of your life over the need to bring in money, and yet not struggle to do that. I would like to envision a career where I no longer jump through hoops in order to make a pittance, but face each project with joy as I embrace the rewards of a job well done (even if I don’t make a lot of money)
Is this perfect world possible? I’d like to think so.
Now I have to find a way to make it happen.