Excellence in Mediocrity
Recently the opportunity was put before me to have a presence in an on-campus teaching setting. I thought about it, I really did. I imagined getting to know students, the environment I'd try to foster, the potential to invest in young people. I even went so far as to consider whether I'd allow music in the lab and if I'd show up with cookies -- I'm truly embarrassed now for disclosing that last bit.
And then, before I had a chance to continue the conversation, my oldest came down with a stomach bug that took him out of school for two days. That ended the conversation for me as I realized that for as long as my kids are still too young to be home alone, (and I wouldn't leave kids alone of any age when they are sick except to run to the pharmacy), and as long as I don't have quick and easy access to childcare in these cases, having something scheduled with a high commitment level is off the table for now. Not only did he need me there, there were no less than eight loads of laundry as he sleeps with sheets, mattress protector and no less than four blankets, which all had to be washed two at a time along with a pile of casualties of the all-night spewing. So as week after that initial discussion, I politely declined with my reason, which was well-received.
I don't often blog about work. I never want any of my students to come across my blog and be given a reason to think I'm less committed to them than any of their full-time tenure-track professors. I teach four different distance courses, and I enjoy this. I especially enjoy getting to know the students that stick with me for a few semesters and have the guts to call me up to discuss homework problems and sometimes the other stuff going on in life. So what I have to say about this is basically, what I have is enough. I don't need to be "going places" to be valid. Being part time and attempting to serve them well is enough.
The times I get worked up over my lack of career ambition and progression is when I read academic and adjunct blogs, spend any time on Linkedin, or see posts of my academic friends' research pursuits in my Facebook feed. It's not that any of these make me envious, it's just they make me aware of my immovable position on the academic totem pole and wonder if something is wrong with me for not wanting to move upwards. Last spring this reflection triggered major anxiety, personal insecurity, and panic over my course materials. I was completely torn up inside over why I didn't want more.
We are taught to want more. More money, more house, more love, more vacations, more respect, more influence. The typical American day is spent in the pursuit of more; although in uncertain economic climates many of us are just trying to hold on to what we have. Being content and staying still, never seems to be an acceptable option. Sometimes the endlessness of the pursuit of success all around me melts my resolve to be good or do well at anything. I don't see the end game and see nothing but futility and emptiness in the journey. I can't muster up motivation.
The anxiety I experience isn't really about obtaining something physical. It isn't about titles or job descriptions. It is about identity. It is incredibly tempting to think identity has something to do with those things, but that is the furthest from the truth. As long as we continue to allow identity to be entangled in position, title and possession, we will make poor choices and constantly feel inadequate in our lack of those. We live lives chained to obligation and hopes for things of fleeting nature. We make excellence something to strive for or something that with enough effort will be bestowed upon us rather than something we to choose to be.
I believe that in mediocrity of position, we can still strive for excellence and be excellent in how we treat others. Colossians 3:17 states, "And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him." I believe that excellence as a follower of Jesus comes through setting our hearts on Him, in acting out His love towards others, and not thinking of ourselves, period. The motivation comes not through fear or competition, not from duty or hope of advancement, but from a desire to love as He has loved, and do that with a grateful heart.
When I am able to shut off my inner voices and reflect on how I am loved and how I am loving, it is okay to let those other things loosen their hold on my conscious mind. In the end, our legacy is love. Sure, it would be fantastic to leave behind some money to the kids, but their inheritance is the Kingdom of God, and I pray to Him that they see that and that their lives become about love. I pray that I wouldn't fear reaching the end having not made a name for myself. I hope to God that He will continue to loosen my grip on my own definition of worth and value so that I can live a life that actually reflects His love.