The students will soon return from summer, and I find myself reflecting on how education can help create opportunities not only for jobs but for dreams.
My dog Barclay has a friend named Steve who helped me put this insight into words. When we go on vacation, Steve takes care of Barclay. Steve lives on 14 acres of woodlands, in a cabin with his wife and dogs. It is the kind of place that has ferns by the mailbox and neat piles of wood stacked by the house, waiting for the first fires of autumn. Much of the property is enclosed by fencing, so the dogs can safely run and play. Steve and his wife breed golden retrievers and board and train dogs.
On one of my visits to pick up Barclay, I was talking with Steve about his dog business, reflecting on how wonderful it must be to develop a business related to one’s interests and talents, and I said, “Steve, you’re living the dream.” And, as if answering a riddle he had solved long ago, Steve said, “Yes; when you love what you do, you don’t have to work.”
I understood just what he meant, and I feel the same way about my work today. As a teacher, I try to help students understand how education provides not only academic, career and civic preparation but, we hope, opportunities to combine one’s talents and potential into meaningful work that culminates in the achievement of a dream.
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For many, it may be hard to envision such a job, where one feels inspired to go to work each day, and in earlier years, I have had my share of monotonous, uninspiring jobs, too. We have all likely had such jobs that were necessary to pay the bills. Those experiences hold important lessons too, but I did not realize until I was in college that there was another kind of job — or that education could truly expand my opportunities.
As a child, the adults I knew were clock punchers, and my parents lived for 5:00, for the weekend, for paid vacation days. At the end of the work day, they came home exhausted from the monotony and self-sacrifice, collapsing into recliners or bed. In those days, it seemed to me that work was something one “had to do” just to pay bills, and I was thankful that my parents had steady employment.
My parents came from small, rural communities and had limited educational opportunities. What schooling they did have revolved around planting and harvesting seasons. They missed countless days of school because they had to barn tobacco.
Compared to the drudgery and heat of that work, my parents must have felt fortunate to have secure jobs that included insurance and vacation. We had no idea that someone like Steve, someone who loved his work, even existed.
I did not know that career satisfaction was possible until after I graduated from college. As a teacher, for the first time, I felt a sense of excitement, fulfillment, wonder and even joy. Teaching allowed me to help other people, and it was interesting, engaging, stimulating; it sparked my imagination and energized me. I learned that when you’re doing something you enjoy, you feel invigorated and creative.
This is one of the most important lessons I try to teach my students: Ideally, education helps a person do more than make a living. It helps a person make a life. When you have a job that involves doing something you love doing, a job that allows you to use your talents and potentials, it’s like I told Steve: “You’re living the dream.”
Dr. Love is the dean of Lander University’s College of Arts and Humanities; contact her at email@example.com.