So, my two previous blog posts bring me to my current state. What, honestly, am I going to do with my life?
This academic year, I’ve realized a few things about academia, which I think are pertinent to this question.
1. Professors are not paid students. It’s tempting to simply interpret going to graduate school as the “next” step in learning, but graduate school imparts specific training for certain kinds of work: primarily research, secondarily teaching. And if you finish, you don’t get a job sitting around and reading, which is my favorite thing to do as a student. Instead, you pick a subfield of a subfield of a field and come up with something original.
2. You can be well-read without being a professor. Yes, being a professor often means being well-read. I value being well-read, and just learning generally, more than most things in life. But this attribute is merely a side-result of the work. No one’s job is to be well-read. If I have spare time, I can still be a student, in the way that’s most valuable to me. I can still exercise my critical faculties and “engage” the great themes of the liberal arts without specifically illiciting that reaction from others, ie, my students. And, of course, I’m crazy if I think I can’t “learn things” in the practice of law.
3. What I’ve found most inspiring about the liberal arts and learning are those instances which touched my soul. It’s no coincidence that it was Church History that first moved me. I wasn’t engaging with those historical and theological texts from the neutral standpoint of a historian, but as a Catholic, deeply concerned about the Divine. The sorts of personal revelations which we glorify as the height of the liberal arts have happened in the context of my spiritual journey. And that’s not a good reason to go to grad school.
The example of my religious journey illustrates my most important, broader realization. Just because someone has grown spiritually in a point in their life, doesn’t mean they continually try to re-create that environment. The growth can simply be one step, carefully suited to the environment at the time. New challenges and sources of inspiration will present themselves. Perhaps I won’t ever experience a spiritual revelation like I did my freshman year, when I was confronted with the wonderful and powerful academic and intellectual culture of Christianity and Catholicism. In some sense, I can’t get that feeling again, because I’ve already got it.
Likewise, I may not need to spend my entire life immersed in the liberal arts. I’ve grown to appreciate them, to love learning, to critically engage thoughts. The fact that I have already made that progress means I can’t spend the rest of my life making it again. Neither may I use the liberal arts directly everyday. Unlike now, I may go several weeks as an adult without discussing Plato. But that’s OK, I can simply find willing interlocutors and start my own dialogue. Indeed, this kind of learning-independent-from-school has been the goal of the Newman Center book clubs. There may be less cultural importance attached to the liberal arts and being well-read and well-cultured, but that doesn’t mean I can’t pursue it.