By Rebecca Rodgers

Between the Academy and a Profession

Do you remember the scene in Mrs. Doubtfire when Robin Williams changes the phone number on his wife’s newspaper ad so that he’s the only one who can call about the nanny position? Sometimes I think that’s what’s happened to my job applications. Most don’t respond. Those that do take weeks — and sometimes it’s only to offer me the courtesy of a rejection. Maybe the truth is that no one wants to hire me.

Deep down, I feel assured this can’t possibly be true, but I have come to the point of physically reacting against filling out applications. Any kind of form that asks me for my name, address, daytime phone number, and past work experience makes my stomach churn, my eyes tingle, and my shoulders clench.

I know I’m wasting my time. I know no one will respond.

Part of the problem is my own educational choices. An MFA in creative writing, while a terminal degree, is not the only thing that universities, colleges, and technical schools want to see for proof that I can effectively teach at their institutions. (In fact, if those three letters were all they wanted to see, I would be concerned about the school’s academic integrity!) I have applied to plenty of teaching jobs knowing full well that others far more qualified and experienced than I am will and should fill those positions.

But professorships are not the only positions I have applied to. As a writer, I’m not too picky about what I’m willing to do in order to earn a paycheck as long as it pays the bills and leaves me mental energy at the end of the day for writing. I have applied to jobs assisting, babysitting, baking, editing, filing, news writing, organizing, responding, teaching, tech writing, translating, and tutoring, just to name a few. I don’t know if my ultimate career path will lead me back to the academy or not, but I do know that right now, it seems I’m not even on a career path. More like a career dead-end. Or career time-out.

Now that you’ve received your master’s degree, go sit in the corner and think about what you’ve done.

This is not just me. A lot of us spend unspoken-of months and years in the purgatory between the academy and a profession. Those of us who graduate without a job or a clear professional field often spend this time wondering just what that profession could be. After all, we have plenty of space to wonder in the silence that meets our job applications.

In the midst of endless applications sent in unresponsive directions, I am tempted to quote our Lord and ask, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

I admit I have. But while I might cry out, “Why have you forsaken me?” I still direct my cry to him. For the past year and a half, I have been applying to full-time jobs and, for the past nine months, balancing the applications with two part-time tutoring jobs. I am waiting, constantly waiting, for my professional life to begin (or at least for work that doesn’t pay even less than I made as an editor right out of undergrad). Yet, in spite of the uncertainty — or perhaps because of it — I have not stopped trusting in God.

I think I have discovered the biggest difference between supplication and applications: God actually responds to my supplication.

I have spent whole days at a time consumed by tears, terrified of a blank and uncertain future, but what I should start doing is thanking God for the uncertainty itself.

After all, life is uncertain. Employees get laid off, jobs get relocated, and departments get restructured, and even when we think we know what the next day will bring, we can never be sure.

If I had been working a secure job all this time, would I have realized how tenuous that security was? I’m sure I would have trusted God, but it would have been with a faith that never questioned how the next electric bill would be paid or how I could tithe from a negative account balance. It would have been the faith of a child who knows her Father will meet her needs because she’s never actually had needs.

Oh, but I have needs. My Father has made them only too clear to me during this season of uncertainty. He has shown me that I cannot create food, I cannot create shelter, and I cannot create security. He has shown me that I am weak, selfish, and uninspired. And then, after he has shown me these truths, he has handed me food and shelter, given me strength, taught me generosity, and breathed a creative spirit into my soul.

I still wonder how I’ll pay rent this summer and if I’ll ever eat something besides pasta again. I wonder whether I’ll have a job next month and if my education was a waste. I wonder if I’ve somehow missed a glaring grammatical error on every single cover letter or if Robin Williams really has sabotaged my résumé.

But by God’s grace, I’ll never wonder if I’m only trusting him because I’m secure. He’s given me a greater gift than a regular paycheck and job security. He has given me an awareness of my spiritual security, and in the midst of earthly impossibilities, I can say, “My God, my God, you have truly blessed me!”

Just before publication, Rebecca was offered a full-time position as a technical writer, which she has gratefully accepted.

About the Author

Rebecca Rodgers has an MFA in Creative Writing from Chatham University. Along with essays about travels and spirituality, she enjoys writing flash fiction and magical realism. She is enjoying the beauty of her adopted home in Madison, Wisconsin.

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