“Do what you do.” That’s one of the most profound pieces of advice I took from Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project when I read it the first time. When you’re unsure what your passion is, you do what you do — find the things that you always turn to, and you will find what you are passionate about. I’ve been thinking about that a lot this week, as I struggle through the grief and sense of helplessness that feel in the face of this election. What do I do?
There’s so much to be done — and the task feels monumental. But in the end, I can only do what I do.
I’m an educator at heart. For most of my adulthood, I assumed that I would be a tenure-track professor, educating in the most formal sense of the word. When that path didn’t work out, I spent many years as a part-time instructor, working for poverty wages but doing work that fed my soul. As that environment became more and more exploitative and less and less rewarding, I transitioned into my current role, where I work with students on their writing but in a less “instructor-y” capacity than before.
Right now, I see so many people struggling to comprehend things that they have never considered — white privilege, institutional racism, intersectionality, the myth of the American meritocracy. And while I’ve been frustrated (and harsh) with people over their failure to educate themselves — and because grief often manifests as anger for me, for a host of reasons — over the last days I’ve become more and more certain that this is where my work lies. I have been blessed to pursue the highest levels of education in topics about which I am passionate. But that education is worthless if I cannot bring it to people when they need it, where they need it. And right now, people need what I can bring on the most grassroots of levels.
One of my pedagogical inspiration is Paolo Friere, whose Pedagogy of the Oppressed speaks to the way I feel about education and learning (because the two are not the same) on a deep level. We need to be on the grassroots, in the lecture hall of the streets, where people most need to be empowered. Our role is not to impart wisdom to an unquestioning populace, but to take what we know and offer it up for inspection, questioning, and consideration — and to engage in ongoing re-evaluation and reconceptualization of what we (think we) know.
I can do this. I will do this. Not only because it is an action I can take as an alternative to despair, but because not only do I have something to teach that others need to learn, but because there is much for me to learn from those who would come to learn from me.
We must learn, we must grow, we must question, we must change.
But most especially now.