Making A Living Versus Making, A Life

old main

One of my beloved schools–Penn State

It’s late August and I really should be back at school . . .

That’s what my subconscious tells me. In my conscious brain, I know I’m not starting classes next week, that I am done with that and quite pleased to be, and, yet, old habits die hard.

“Being in school” is one of two themes that have dominated my life.

For 50 of my nearly 60 years, I went back to school every autumn.

From age 5 to age 33, I was a student. Grade school, junior high, high school, undergraduate school, grad school and more grad school. I made grad school last longer than most!

And then I started a career . . . at school. For 22 years I was a college professor and administrator. I taught things like public speaking and rhetorical criticism and critical thinking skills. I was associate dean for a few years.

To this day, I believe that there is no better way to make a living than being a college professor. You get to deal with ideas in a field that fascinates you. I never failed to get a thrill from the notion that, in my classroom, we were discussing the same ideas and principles that Aristotle discussed with his students 2500 years ago. Tingle!

As a college prof, you also get to work with young adults who force you to stay younger than you might otherwise feel. They teach you that the smartest, kindest person might live within the pierced and tattooed body, under the brightest dyed hair. They teach you that no matter how clear, articulate, and brilliant you think you are, you’re confusing someone.

They also teach you that no one, ever, reads the syllabus.

And, of course, being a teacher provides that other benefit, the one the rest of the world envies.

Summers Off.

And, yes, summers off are everything they’re cracked up to be, even though they get taken up, in part, with research and course prep.

Being a college teacher offered just the right blend of freedom and constraints, autonomy and interdependence for me.

Being in school for my life, making a living there, was one theme in my life that gave me the time and opportunity to indulge in the other theme of my life—making, creating, crafting, whatever we call it.

All along the way, while I was happily making a living in the so-called “life of the mind,” I was still yearning for the life of the hands.

Even in grad school, I can remember venting to my doctoral advisor about the frustrations of academic research—I just wanted to see what I’d done with my time, put my hands on a product I made.

And my research, even when published, never felt like a product.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get a kick out of seeing my book and articles cited by other authors and I do indulge in a vanity search on Google occasionally. But I can say, honestly and truly, that I am happier with, and more proud of, my quilts and candies and handwovens than I am my published research.

And that explains why, after all those years in school, I retired the moment I was eligible to. I can now turn my focus, almost entirely, to making things and having evidence of progress, if not a full product, in my hands every day.

Making a living was important and satisfying and fulfilling.

Now I choose making, a life.

64 thoughts on “Making A Living Versus Making, A Life

  1. Love this post!!!!! And “Welcome” into ‘my’ world……..a time of super filled days and wondering how I ever managed to fit in the necessary work schedule. A time when getting up in the morning is merely the transition where the dreams of the night before may be brought to the light of day/creative reality. A time when “summer vacation” is everyday! Welcome……and hugs!…..and, oh yes, don’t forget to take your vitamins…….you’ll need them for the “rigorous” life schedule that faces you!!!!!! LOL!!!!!

    • Actually, I’ve been in “your world” for almost 5 years–and, yes, it takes energy! I used to laugh at retired people who talked about how busy they were–and now I am one!

  2. A very interesting post Kerry! I love hearing how other people fare in their retired life. Three years ago I went for early retirement after a serious illness and yet another move. I made career as a nurse and child therapist but with us moving around I also worked as a substitude teacher and in the local libraries. There were a few other jobs as well ;0) I always had a good time in every job I had, wether I liked the work or not.
    Not having a paying job, was a great change for me. And it still is. I really love developing my artistic side, I love the freedom of ‘making the day as I please’ (= doing much when I can, and less when I cannot ;0)) But sometimes, a little voice pops up…wondering if I miss ‘the real world’ . Probably something as your ‘back to school feeling’ ;0) xo Johanna

  3. I relate very well. I abandoned my ambition of an academic career largely because there didn’t seem to be any end-point to research, no final product. Academic research was not the career for me, and in my field, a research-first intention was the only way to make a decent living. When I instead began as a practitioner (which frankly also is a job never done,) I knew it was a better fit for me.

    That said, being home is best of all. ALL my time is mine, allowing me opportunities I never had while working for pay. Congratulations on the start of school and the freedom you now have.

    • Being home is best of all, indeed! I actually loved the discovery aspect of academic research but, once I had learned what I set out to learn, I hated having to write it up and then have every editor and her brother tell me what was wrong with it. It’s a miracle anything ever gets to print in academe!

  4. Your turn of phrase–making a life vs. making a living–is one I want to remember. So often since I left my job, I’m asked if I like retirement. First, I didn’t “retire”–I left a job when the going was good. Second, yes, I like how I spend my time–in my studio with my fiber. I’m making a life now. Thanks, Kerri!

    • I like your point about not really retiring–I feel like I work quite a lot almost every day! But I don’t do because I really need the money, I just making things!

  5. There is a certain excitement to school, getting those new supplies, learning new things, school has so much in common with crafting 🙂

  6. Great post! I envy you being able to retire as soon as possible so that you can enjoy the things that really make your heart sing.

    You remind me that my one regret was not standing up to my father, and becoming a history teacher. I love my job, and I loved the university I chose in the end, but it was not my first choice of school or career. I think you are right, being a teacher teaches you continuously. I have a friend who has taught for over 30 years, ranging from 1st to 3rd grade. He posts the most amazing things his kids do and say. It is always fresh, always funny and thought provoking. It keeps his outlook young and interested.

    • Oh, I wish you’d been a history teacher, too! The world certainly needs good history teachers–such fascinating material and so often presented so badly. You’re doing a great job with continuing your “making ways” through thick and thin!

      • When I think of my favorite teachers, I realize that they were really good at making the topic exciting by teaching it in different ways. History is so much more than dates and battles, yet,t hat is what we are taught. But it can be done with so much more interactivity, projects, etc, and then you can tailor it to the interests of the student, so they really learn it. My little brother has some mild learning disabilities, and he always struggled with anything that you had to learn from reading “the chapter”. One time when I happened to be home for a visit I read his chapter for him, then we talked about it, and what it meant. He aced his quiz the next day. First time ever. He just needed to learn a different way. Anyway, if I were to live life over, kids would be acting out battles and building models and making speeches and writing plays. Or just reading books, if that is what they liked doing. 🙂

  7. You were certainly blessed to have made a living doing something you enjoyed. And continue to be blessed living a life you love!

  8. You and me both (though I took the voluntary layoff route). Don’t regret the decision for a single second. Making and seeing the results is SOOO gratifying.

    • I generally don’t regret my decision at all! But there’s something about hearing about the first few days of classes that gets to me . . . my niece is starting at UVM next week and I wish I could go with her!

    • I felt the frustrating aspects more keenly when I was associate dean. As a tenured faculty member I could just cluelessly teach my courses–I liked that part best!

  9. Well said Kerry! I am just coming up to the end of my first year in retirement. I no longer know how I ever had the time to run a classroom, a school, train other teachers and raise two kids and do all those attendant things to having a ‘career’. Despite not managing to fit in all the things I thought I might – mainly due to adopting a puppy along with retirement – I have never been happier or more content. So many intangible rewards have come from those years as a teacher, but none match the joy I get when I create with paint or beads and share those creations with my friends! Life is good!! 🙂

    • We see this eye-to-eye, Pauline! I’m glad I spent the years in the classroom and met all those cool students but I’m glad someone else is dealing with them now! Siddy will calm down and so will my new Gigi and we’ll both be able to focus more on making pretty things!

  10. YES!, Kerry, let’s hear it for a satisfying career and a satisfying retirement. Your post and the comments belie the theories of Governments/economists and some researchers that retirement age (eligibility for pension) should be raised ever higher and that working longer enhances well being. NO NO NO! Where are the jobs going to come from to keep us working into our 70s? Also, I have been a career housewife/mother ~ I want to retire before I am worn to a shred. Many in manual labour feel the same. Would it not be better for economies/governments/health systems to encourage people to retire well and make the most of living. Dish towel productivity would soar. 😉 We would never need to import a dish towel again.

    • I’ve never understood the laws and regulations about retiring or not. For some of us, we want to go early and pursue other interests while we can. For others, their work is their life–their reason for being–and yet some get forced out! Let people decide for themselves!

  11. Oh how I adore this post. I never had such an important job as being a teacher, but the idea of living life instead of making a living was always in the background. I’m glad you’ve found joy in this part of your life. What you create is beautiful. You really should be proud!

    • Thanks, Yanic! You’re right, of course–the job of teaching is SO important. And I thought college kids were the greatest. Glad I had the experience and also glad that, now, it’s someone else’s turn!

  12. I like to think that in all my paying jobs I had the chance to stretch my thinking and be creative. That has continued into retirement, with the exception that I can now lounge around in my PJs until tea time, if I choose. Oh, and I can look at the snow falling without worrying about the road conditions. Thanks for the reminder that there really isn’t a sharp break between working and retirement for many people. You just get to drop the annoying bits.

    • That’s such a good point about not having to worry about the snow! I lived and worked in Buffalo, NY, and never knew if I (or my students) would make it to class!

  13. I loved reading how joyful your career has been and that you continue to find joy in different ways. I had my boys later in life (at 37 and 40) so though I’m approaching 56, I still have teens at home. It will be interesting for me three years from now when they are both in college. You’ve given me lots of food for thought.

    • My sister had her only child at 40 and that child just left for college. My sister is divorced and on her own–BIG transition for her! Best to start planning now . . .

      • That is a huge transition. I wish her the best with it. There is a book that I’ve never read but the title always stays with me: Necessary Losses. So much of parenting is like that. Sometimes you can’t wait till they are out of a certain stage (defiant twos, surly pre-teens, etc). but then you miss all the good parts of that stage too. What I’ve realized is that each stage was a gift and part of the journey that brings them to adulthood. Then you experience the next “necessary loss”. They leave home and can do quite well without you, thank you very much.

        I worked in theater as a costumer, later in a business setting as an administrator, then quit and stayed home with my boys full time. It was isolating at first, not at all helped by post partum depression, but we found our rhythm together and the years flew by. I started my organizing business part time 8 years ago, working my hours around their schedules. It’s been a joyful experience making a business of my own, doing something I love, and helping others in the process.

        Gosh this thread has given all of us so much to think about.

  14. It sounds to me as if your gain is teaching’s loss. But the best teachers always have a rich life outside their day job, I find. I love reading about your learning, development and achievements in your different craft activities. Don’t give up on the blog, please!

      • Good. That’s interesting. I also don’t quite know what to do about mine. I love the relationships I have built with people like you whom I’d never otherwise have ‘met’, but I don’t know if I really have anything left to say in the context of the blog. Yet I don’t have a book in me, and I like writing. What to do, eh?

        • What I tell myself is to just keep writing when I feel like I have something to say. I post less frequently than I used to, in part because my life is cyclical and I’ve said so much of what I needed to say about autumn or candy making or whatever I’m doing at a particular time of year. Sometimes I stress myself out–“eek! I haven’t done a blog post in a week!”–but then I give myself a firm talking to. I want to stay in contact with blog friends like you so I keep posting the things people seem to respond to. You have your walks and the history of your area and your photos–all of those are so appealing and blog-worthy. And you mentioned the idea about place names–I’d love to read some posts about those names! Just keep writing . . .

          • Thanks so much for that, Kerry. You’re right. There are ideas I could develop, and neither of us is doing this because it pays the bills, or The Big Bad Boss is at our backs forcing us to write a post we don’t want to write. So if I want to write, I will, and if not …. tant pis. I’m looking forward to your next post, though!

  15. I finally had a moment to pop over and visit you! I loved this post and the way you write. I’m going to explore further as more time opens up.

    I didn’t have a “career” or an education but I do understand the feeling of making a life. Making a quilt is like working a puzzle. Keeps the mind sharp and the neurons firing.

    Any time I complete a project, I feel like I’ve given a bit of myself to the world. Something tangible. I think we do that with our rambling writing as well. I have given away so many of the things I’ve made but saved all the things my mother made.

    Not going to a job everyday is a wonderful thing since I just don’t have the time for one. Isn’t it grand? Too busy to work!! Thanks for popping over and introducing yourself.

    • Thanks so much for your great comment! I used to laugh at retired people who talked about how busy they were–only now do I understand! I completely agree about the way we leave something for the world to enjoy/ponder/use when we write and make things. And, yes, these projects we do do keep our brains supple–the geometry I learned in school all came rushing back when I started making quilts!

  16. Such a full post. You know, being able to retire and have plenty of running room is a wonderful thing. All those adventures are ahead of you! And might I say, being able to retire when you want instead of when the job wants you too is also a wonderful thing.

    I too have been less engaged in blogging. I think that’s okay.

    • I feel like a lot of my favorite bloggers are going through changes in their relationship to their blogs–fewer posts, etc. Maybe we all started about the same time and are at the same place in some sort of cycle? I just hope you don’t quit altogether–I ‘d hate to lose the friendship!

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