95: When I Grow Up I Will Be a Professor

95: When I Grow Up I Will Be a Professor

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Find Your Happiness

When I Grow Up I Will Be a Professor

The other day a man asked me what I thought was the best time of life.
“Why,” I answered without a thought, “now.’

~David Grayson

“I just hate the job. And there’s never enough money. I finally got the hospital paid off. I just don’t know what to do.”

“That’s exactly what you said the last time we had lunch,” Gypsey said.

I realized that she was right.

After I was widowed, I had moved to Oklahoma, where I had lived for several years. It had been rough financially for many of those years, as I’d been laid off three times and had spent months job hunting. When I did get interviews, half of them said I was under-qualified while the other half said I was over-qualified. Meanwhile, I had collected unemployment when I could, and had gone through a good deal of my savings.

I was now working at a small newspaper after a particularly long period of unemployment. The editor was an unpleasant man and disliked by everyone, and the salary was dreadfully low. It was a dead-end job, but it was somewhat secure after months of no income, and I had stopped exploring other possibilities.

“I told you before and I’m telling you now: do something about it,” urged Gypsey. She was frustrated with me and she was right. We had known each other for years and when we both ended up working in Oklahoma City, we occasionally had lunch together.

She had gone back to school and graduated with a Master of Library and Information Studies. She secured a position at the Langston University library on the Oklahoma City campus and she was very happy.

“What can I do?” I whined. I hated it when I whined, and knew my friends must be sick and tired of hearing me complain.

“Go back to school. Get a library degree.” I must have looked as dubious as I felt, just as I had when she first suggested I go back to school a few months before. “Look, could you live on $30,000 a year?”

“Sure.”

“That’s probably what you would make in a library, especially an academic library. I know you love books. It would be ideal for you.”

“Who would hire me? Even if I started school tomorrow, I’d be sixty-two when I graduated. That’s retirement age for most people. No one is going to hire a sixty-two-year-old for an entry-level job. And what about the expense? Tuition, books, fees. I don’t have the money and I don’t want to go further into debt.”

“There are student jobs all over campus,” explained Gypsey. “They don’t pay much, but it’s something. But first, try to get a graduate assistantship. They pay better. You get some tuition waived, free student insurance, and a thousand a month.”

“Really?”

“Oh, yeah. Plus there’s the experience you get over and above what you learn in the classroom. Volunteer for projects and other work, too. That looks good on your résumé. Get all the experience you can.”

“You make it sound possible.”

“It is, Cary. You need to take control of your life and stop drifting from job to job and always needing money. It can be done.”

“But at my age...”

“Dammit! Forget about your age. You don’t put your age on a résumé.”

I knew that, but with all the jobs I’d had, it was clear I was no spring chicken.

She got up to leave. “Do what you want to do. Just don’t complain about where you are when you can make things better.” She leaned over and kissed my cheek. “Call me. I’ll give you a letter of recommendation.”

I nodded and she left. That weekend, I seriously considered what she had said about taking control of my life. I couldn’t be much worse off, even with a student loan. If I were lucky enough to get a graduate assistantship, that would make everything much easier. After studying the list of classes on the website, I considered the possibility of continuing to work at the newspaper since most of the classes in the library school were at night and on weekends. No, I decided, I would make a clean break from the paper. I needed to get out of there. Plus I would need to concentrate on studying.

The next week I called Gypsey and got more information. Much of it was online — phone numbers, e-mail addresses, names of various people — but she had bits of inside information that were helpful.

Monday I called the School of Library & Information Studies and they mailed me an application. I immediately filled it out and turned it in, afraid that if I hesitated I would lose my nerve. The very next week, I met with my faculty adviser and the week after, I was interviewed for a graduate assistantship.

I voiced my concerns to one of the professors about finding a job at my age. He pointed out that a lot of librarians were also approaching my age.

“There will be a lot of retirements in the next few years,” he said. “Then, too, it’s the one field where age matters less than experience and ability.”

That gave me pause, and I considered what he’d said. Here I was, getting ready to start a new career when most people of my generation were planning on retiring. On further reflection, though, I couldn’t imagine my life without having a job.

I started my first class in the middle of August. We met Friday nights and Saturdays all day, and the course was completed in four weeks. In September, when the fall semester started, I had a graduate assistantship in the library, but in January I started a second one in the congressional archives on campus. I had found what I wanted to be when I grew up: an archivist. Much of my library studies concentrated on computer-related information management. But I wanted to work with papers.

In my second year, my final class was a week in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where we visited the state library, tribal libraries, and pueblo libraries. It was the only time since starting graduate school that I had fought for something I wanted, as my adviser didn’t believe the class would be of much benefit in my job search.

When I finally started getting interviews, one was at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces. The southern part of the state is very different from the northern, but it has its desert beauty. The position was as the Political Papers Archivist and was tenure-track faculty. When I was interviewed, one of the archivists I had been working for told me, “I didn’t think there was a chance for you to get it and I was so worried about how disappointing that would be.”

I knew what she meant. I had just received my master’s degree and had less than two years’ experience, and that only as a graduate assistant. Also, the collection that was the core of the archive was that of a very important U.S. Senator who had served for six terms. There were more than 2,100 boxes of material.

One of the happiest moments of my life was when I got the phone call offering me the job. I’d had my doubts just as my colleague had. But by August of that year I was in Las Cruces, beginning my career as a congressional archivist and an assistant professor. I was sixty-two and as excited as a kid.

~Cary G. Osborne

More stories from our partners