Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.
~Jesus of Nazareth, Matthew 6:25-29
When people started to find out that I was leaving Springfield, IL for Fort Worth, TX, with nothing more than a verbal agreement about my new employment, someone told me I was committing career suicide. Actually, he told me he hoped I wasn't committing career suicide, but I knew what he meant. I had found out just one year prior how hard it can be to find an academic job. I applied for over 3o faculty positions as I was finishing my doc program, got three interviews and one job offer. Secretly, I wondered if I would ever be a college professor ever again. As it turns out, that should have been the least of my worries. Over the next two years, I would have to make some of the hardest decisions of my life, literally putting my faith to the test.
As it ended up, I had more job options in Fort Worth than I could logistically handle. I was working half-time as a technology specialist in a private school in Dallas, and I worked the other half of my time at the University of North Texas, teaching classes, doing research and basically trying to not let my scholarship go stale. I was spending a lot of time in my car -- way more than I ever had in my entire life -- but overall, it was a pretty good arrangement and I was learning a lot of new things. After weighing the pros and cons, Gina and I decided the commute to Dallas two days per week was too much. On days I was at the private school, I had to leave the house by 6:15 in order to be there when the work day began. At the end of the day, I would leave the school at 3:45 and barely make it to the preschool by 5:00 to pick up the boys. It made for a very long day, and the boys were in aftercare much longer than we wanted. I submitted my decision to resign from this position in hopes this change would ease some of the burden on my family.
Rather than accept my resignation, the school offered me a full time position. The salary and benefits were excellent, and the school was an amazing work environment. Everyone associated with this school -- the administration, the staff, the teachers, the students and parents -- was everything you could hope for as an educator. Gina and I spent an entire weekend talking through the options. We pulled up Google Maps to find out how far it would be to Good Shepherd and TCU from different areas around the metroplex. We could live in Dallas and Gina would commute a long distance, we could live in Fort Worth and I would commute a long distance, or we could live in the Mid-Cities and both commute, leaving Sam and Nate isolated from both of us for most of the day. We talked and prayed about it, and at the end of the weekend I told the school I would not be coming back the next year. Once again, I felt like I was committing career suicide. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I never even had to interview for this job. But Gina and I were committed to our priorities, which meant we put the boys and our family before career.
This move at Good Shepherd meant I would be working full time at UNT ... as a part time person. It's too complicated to explain here, but the folks at UNT were gracious enough to help me piece together several part-time positions that would add up to a full time salary. I was still commuting during the week, but it was much less and Sam and Nate's preschool was on the way. I had been teaching classes the year before at UNT, and now I found myself acting as the coordinator and lead teacher for a large required course in the teacher education program. I was also playing an instrumental role in a large grant-funded research project between UNT and the University of Virginia. I was even able to make a couple of trips to Charlottesville for meetings, observations, interviews, etc. Things were going great, but my position was funded by "soft money," which meant as soon as the grant period was over, the money was gone.
As I was working, I had also been applying to positions around the metroplex: community colleges, public schools, private schools, universities. I wasn't desperate, but I wanted to make sure I had something in place when my job ended in May 2012. I actually got several calls from a local school district to come teach elementary school, but Gina and I both felt this was not God's plan for me. I politely turned down each interview. I also got an interview for an administrative position at a large community college in Arlington. About two questions into the interview, I knew I was in over my head and tried to finish strong without hurling all over the table. It came as no surprise that I was not offered that job. About two weeks later, I interviewed for a different job in the same community college system, and this job seemed like a pretty good fit for me. They even told me before the interview started that I had nice teeth. Seriously. The interview went great, and before the day was over I was offered the job. So, there I was, on the brink of a new career. My boss at UNT knew I had been offered the position, and he announced to everyone on our team that I would be leaving. It seemed that career suicide had been averted.
The community college said there was some bureaucratic nonsense to address before they could officially offer me the job, but I should hear something in a week or two. Well, a week or two came and went, and I still had not heard anything. I followed up with the chair of the search committee, and she said the job had been put on hold because she, my future boss, had quit her job and they were freezing all of the positions she was in the process of filling. Standing in the parking lot of the public library down the street from our house (Gina and the boys were inside looking at books), I was completely speechless. I didn't even want to go into the library and tell Gina what just happened. I had essentially quit my job at UNT, and now I had no job at all.
Thankfully, I was already on the books to teach a class in the spring at UNT, and my boss was gracious to let me step right back into my old job. I was also able to pick up another class to teach, so my income was still intact, and I was able to continue working on my scholarly pursuits. My future, at least for the next 4-5 months, seemed to be stable. Until, that is, the new head of the department at the community college called me and asked if I still wanted the job I had originally been offered. I went to the campus to talk with her about it, and Gina and I discussed it over the weekend. (Not every weekend in our home consists of discussions about my career, by the way). Here I was, yet again, faced with the potential of earning a very good salary doing something I love, but it would essentially throw a wrench into our family priorities. I told them I could not take the job immediately because of my existing obligations to UNT. They asked if I could work 10-20 hours per week until the end of the semester in order to get a head start on the upcoming year. I said no, and just as quickly as it materialized, that job was off the table. Family 3, Career 0.
While all of this was happening, I had also applied for faculty positions at UNT and TCU. Either one of those jobs would have been amazing, but I knew the competition would be very stiff and there were no guarantees about either job. I was called about a phone interview at UNT first, and I promptly accepted. The problem with applying for a job at a place you already work is that you know too much. One might assume this would make the psychological mind games of job searching less prominent, but in fact it made it worse. People were constantly telling me things I shouldn't know, like "Your application looks good compared to everyone else's," or "Don't get your hopes up; this pool of candidates is really strong." People would drop hints about things I should say or emphasize in the interview. One day I would think this was my dream job and I would envision myself becoming the most awesomest college professor ever. Other days, I wanted to take my name out of the candidate pool and never go to Denton again. The phone interview actually went pretty well, and I was invited to be among three candidate to interview on campus. I found out later that I made the final cut from an original 65 candidates. Several of my friends from grad school also applied and didn't even get phone interviews. Besides constantly being grilled on why I don't have more publications (I never once mentioned my blog as a reason, but perhaps I should have), the two-day carnival went pretty well. I had yet to hear anything from TCU about that position, so I thought this might be my best chance of being a college professor again. At the end of the process, I was told I would hear something either way in 2-3 weeks.
Soon after the UNT interview, I heard from TCU, and they also wanted a phone interview with me. This was the call I had been hoping to get since we moved back to Texas. I knew this was also a long shot, but I was thrilled at the opportunity. I had a chance to meet the chair of the search committee at an academic conference that year, and I knew some other folks in the College of Education. I also knew this was the best chance we had of pursuing career goals AND keeping our family together. In case you don't know this already, Gina is on faculty at TCU, and the boys' new preschool is across the street from the university. This would have put us within a couple of blocks from each other during the day.
Well, the phone interview came and went, and after a few days I was contacted for a campus interview. The campus interview also went well, and within a week of my visit to TCU, I was offered the job. The best job out of all the jobs I had applied for. The only job that didn't require Gina and I to sacrifice our family priorities on the alter of career. The job I hoped and prayed for before I even finished my doctorate. The job I actually remember telling someone was the university God put on my heart when I was in my first year at UVa.
This morning at church, the pastor referenced this verse at the beginning of his talk:
Now, Joshua sent the people of Israel home. So each family went to take possession of the territory they had inherited.
Experiences like the one I just described remind me that when God inspired Samuel (or whoever) to write Judges, He wasn't just talking about people who lived 3,000 years ago, and territory isn't always land. As usual, God was talking to all of us about whatever circumstances we happen to be in. I wouldn't call this experience the worst I have ever had to live through. Throughout this whole ordeal, I have had a consistent salary and I have stayed quite busy. I have been able to do some great things and meet some amazing people. I have made connections that may well last for the rest of my career, or life. What these two years have forced me to do, however, is stick to my guns. I knew exactly what I was and wasn't willing to give up, and family sits at the top of things I will fight to preserve. I had to say No to some great opportunities, and I was actually prepared to tell UNT "No" if I was offered the job. We decided that job was also not in the best interest of our family. In many ways, this process was not about me finding a job at all. God had that one covered. This process actually turned out to be a chance for me to see if I was really willing to honor the commitment Gina and I made to God about our family and doing everything we can to pass on a spiritual legacy to our children. When everything pointed in one direction, would we choose our commitment over the potential of a great opportunity?
I always tell my students that learning takes place in the process, not in the results. The results are the goal, but the process is what changes us. Even if I hadn't gotten the job at TCU, this process has taught me so much. Be thankful for what you have. Be a good steward of that for which you're responsible. Don't compromise things that matter the most. God cares more about your heart than your title or status. Be patient. Stay faithful.