When Did You Discover Your Dream Career?

The following question came up on College Misery:

When did you realize you wanted to teach for a career? Before you entered grad school or after your first TAship? Or, at another time?

It was obvious that I was going to be a) a teacher and b) a scholar of literature before I reached the age of ten. Everybody is a teacher and a voracious reader in my family, so all I wanted to do as a kid was to read and play school. When I was five, I would create notebooks for all of my dolls and write their homework in them. Some dolls were smart and did great but some made mistakes and got bad grades. I can’t really even remember a time when I didn’t have a red pen on me to mark students’ assignments.

At the age of nine, I read Aleksey Tolstoy’s play The Death of Ivan the Terrible and then Pushkin’s Boris Godunov. Both works deal with the same time period but in very different ways.

I was very shocked to discover that two works of literature approached the same events in such different ways. It was even more surprising to me that Pushkin, the most important Russian writer ever, was, in my opinion both then and now, vastly inferior to Aleksey Tolstoy (not to be confused with Leo Tolstoy), a fairly minor author. Of course, I immediately started to bug my father about this discovery.

“Daaaaaad,” I would whine. “But why does Pushkin say here on page 128. . .”

Eventually, my father got fed up and said to me, “Why don’t you just go ahead and write down everything you think about these two works of literature?”

So I did, and that was my very first work of literary criticism. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been preserved for posterity. πŸ™‚


10 thoughts on “When Did You Discover Your Dream Career?”

  1. I discovered that I wanted to be a teacher and a literary scholar later than you, when I was about 16. I started to like reading somewhere around age 14, but it became clear that all I wanted to do in my life was teaching, writing, and reading when I took an “advanced” class in English. We read Faulkner, Steinbeck, Richler, Scott Fitzgerald, and Dos Passos in that class, and I could not get enough of these books. I have never read as voraciously as when I was 16-18 years old, even today I cannot keep the reading pace I had back then. It was downright insane.

    I also have three related anecdotes.

    1) I was 16 and I had to study factorization for an exam, and there was a Chinese movie and then a Soviet movie on TV the night before the exam. Factorization had to wait – it was so mechanical and predictable – and I started writing down comments on both movies instead. In my teenage mind literature offered more possibility to think than mathematics. I know it is not completely true now… but too late!

    2) I was 15 and in we had to answer a survey on a computer to determine which careers would suit us best. The software came up with only one option for me: critic. I did not know what that word meant at that time, but I thought it sounds cool.

    3) Field trip in DC when I was 17. While my friends all went to the zoo I begged the teacher who was in charge of the trip to allow me to visit the museums instead. And so I did. And the nerd I was wrote a review of a temporary exhibition.

    This is a good exercise to remind me how lucky I am to do the job I have always wanted to do, even if the circumstances are not ideal. Thanks for giving me this opportunity!


    1. ” I was 15 and in we had to answer a survey on a computer to determine which careers would suit us best.”

      -I also did such a test at the same age. It gave me one option, too: A PRISON WARDEN. I was appalled then but now I have to agree that I could have made a really good prison warden. πŸ™‚


      1. HAHAHA! You would have been an awesome prison warden! And you could have been in charge of the prison library! Thanks for the good laugh!


  2. Research and writing, 10 or 11 but I’m from US so had to do literature because I’m good at languages. It’s how they track you, or did then. Ideal career, law, realized it around 35 when I realized the kinds of law I’d go into. Before that, had you said “law” to me, it wouldn’t have grabbed me.


  3. I was on fire to change the world so I wanted to be a senator, figured I’d go to law school first. Did an honors thesis to separate out my law school app from all the other wannabe yuppies in the 80s and in the process fell in love with research. I went back and forth between lit and history but finally decided that 1. lit profs are screwed if they have to teach comp, lit analysis ruined reading for me as a hobby and 2. history gave me broader scope.


  4. I was gonna be an engineer like my dad, because I was good at math and thought I wanted gobs of money. Then I got really into T.S. Eliot when I was 19 and decided that poetry was far more interesting than circuit diagrams. Strangely enough this is very close to how it happened for my graduate studies mentor. I get all guilty sometimes that I screwed up a chance to stick some kind of fuck-you on the small percentage of women in sci-tech fields, but hell, I think it’s fun & cool to get smashed and bust out with a sexy sexy Donne sonnet at parties. I am a terminal dork.


    1. “I think it’s fun & cool to get smashed and bust out with a sexy sexy Donne sonnet at parties”

      -Totally! πŸ™‚ I don’t use Donne for these purposes but I like to do that, too.


  5. For quite a long time, if you’d ask me if I wanted to be any kind of teacher, my response would be “are you crazy?” I wanted to be a scientist and do research, but not to teach. Then, in my third or fourth year of postdoc it dawned on me that the next logical step for me, in order to be my own boss research-wise, and also to have more security, would be to become a professor. I took preparation pretty seriously and volunteered as a TA while being a postdoc (while I was in graduate school, we had some formal TA-ing requirement, but there were less TA positions than graduate students and in fact I did not teach at that time). It went OK. And eventually I discovered that I like teaching. That would be at the age of 33-34, I guess. πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚


  6. Teaching isn’t my calling. It’s the subject-matter itself that is my real vocation. When I do teach well I am very grateful that I have managed to make things work out, but I am not a born teacher.


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