Today, I was introduced to a Mary Oliver poem, “The Summer Day.” At the end, the speaker asks this wonderful question:
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
Since the 10th grade, I knew I wanted to be an English teacher. And that I’ve become. I followed the path, the formula – college, graduate school, adjunct position, full-time position, and continued steadily with my promotions. I made Associate Professor of English. Before I turn 40, I hope to be Professor (“full” professor, as they say, which makes me wonder if I’m only “half” professor now).
I have a colleague who calls herself “restless”. She is constantly dreaming up and very effectively putting into action all kinds of wonderful, educational, and innovative programs on our campus and around the country. I admire her. I have another colleague who is stepping down from Chair position to pursuit other things in her life, like spending more time with her beautiful children and working on her poetry – and she says returning to faculty position will allow her to return to the classroom and do what she really loves, which is teaching. I admire her too.
So, it may seem silly to ask grown ups like me or these colleagues of mine, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” But the truth is that hopefully we’re always growing “up,” not growing “sideways.” I want to keep wondering this question, knowing that the answer is open-ended, that the answer has not been written in stone. What will I do with my “one wild and precious life”?
And of course I already realize how narrow my answer to this question has been so far : I’ve only been thinking of my career – I’m culturally conditioned to do so, I suppose.
I’ve told only my closest friends this, but I will put it out there for all to see now: I still believe I can achieve greatness in this life time. I really do. I’ve always wanted to be extraordinary, and I still believe I will be extraordinary.