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Necessary Drudgery

Here's a song about the difficulties faced by a rock star, one of the most common "dream jobs." 


In the past week or so, I have given out six tests, with four of them requiring students to write two essays each. It is only during these grading binges that a slight part of me wishes that I had either chosen a different career or was a firm believer in multiple-choice exams. After reading more than three hundred essays in a short period of time, and then punching in the scores on the Excel spreadsheet, the job can feel a bit like drudgery.

Now don’t get me wrong. I like just about every aspect of teaching. But like everyone else, I imagine, I grew up with more romantic notions regarding my future career. Truth be told, my dream job is still to be a player in the NBA. I started shooting baskets from practically the day that I could walk, and after countless hours of shooting on my driveway over the course of many years, I was pretty damn good.  I was also very good at inventing scenarios while shooting in which I was the dominant player in an imaginary basketball league. The only problem was that there was not a big market for five foot seven inch white guys in the NBA. So my dream of being a famous basketball player or athlete of any kind was dead by high school.

Of course, when I stop and think about it, there are probably moments when Kobe Bryant or Lebron James has doubts about his career choice. Sure, they get to play a game that they love for a living, are paid obscene amounts of money, and experience amazing moments of glory in front of a live, worldwide audience. Their job, however, is not all fun and games. To maintain their skills, they have to spend countless hours practicing repetitive drills and working out. But the hard work of improving their skills is only one difficulty that they face. They also have to spend countless hours traveling on buses and airplanes, answering questions from annoying reporters, and being away from friends and family. And if you become famous enough, it is difficult to go out in public like a normal person without being mobbed by admirers. In some ways, modern day celebrities are trapped by their fame.

There may be a dream job out there that is nothing but big money, international fame, interesting activities, and/or adventure. But I can’t think of any offhand. Virtually every famous writer, actor, athlete, doctor, CEO, spy, fireman, or any person living someone’s “dream job” had to put up with many hours of drudgery to get to where they wanted to be. Then, even after reaching their goal, they must continue doing some things that they would prefer to avoid. Failure generally results from more than a lack of talent. It comes from an unwillingness to put up with some necessary drudgery. 

So during those moments when I cannot imagine reading even one more essay about Andrew Jackson, I try to remember a few things. First, doing any job well requires the performance of a certain amount of mundane activities. Second, I try to remember why I give essay questions. If I want to teach something that is more than a memorization class, I need to ask the types of questions that do not work in a multiple-choice format. And finally, I think of all the things that I like about my job: the chance to perform, share what I have learned, be creative, have flexible hours, and get the sense of satisfaction that can only come from reading a really good essay response.

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