Friday, March 30, 2012

My day job

Today I'm going to teach two math classes.  I'm going to spend some time on a conference call because of some committee I was elected to.  I'll have to get off the call early to drive to the airport; I'll be flying to another state to give a talk on some math I've been doing.  I'm taking along a big pile of papers to grade, and also a paper I'm supposed to review for a scholarly journal.  This trip means I had to cancel a meeting with two of my research students, also.  (One of these students has some results that I'm hoping we can work up enough to get published somewhere.)

This is a side of my life I don't write about a lot: my job.  I write about my kids; I write about not spending money; I write about making lists; I write about my husband.  It might be reasonable to guess, if that's all you know about me, that the job is the means to an end, and all those other things I write about are the end to which my job is the means.
A space in my life that I seldom write about:  my office.
The truth is, though, my job is me. Maybe it's even a bigger part of me than my kids, or than not spending money, or even maybe than my husband. (Probably it's not more 'me' than making lists, though).

I really love what I do. Mathematicians often say things like, “we get paid to do what we love”. Some even go so far as to say we’d do math even if we didn’t get paid for it. Sounds like an exaggeration, but if you go to big math meetings, you’ll see many so-called retirees there. Retirees from business don’t go to trade shows; they go to the golf course. But “retirees” from math do go to seminars and math conferences. To me, looking at these colleagues of mine says awfully good things about the way I’ve chosen to spend my life.

What we do isn't always who we are.  We often confuse these two things; people ask, “So, what do you do?” and we answer, “I am . . . .”   “I am a taxi driver, an accountant, a teacher, a doctor.”  My husband earns his money by writing and doing public relations, but at heart he is a bicyclist, a joke teller, and an acolyte of C.S. Lewis.  Mathematicians are fortunate because these two things--what we do, and who we are--very often closely coincide.  I do mathematics; I am a mathematician.

Being a penny-pinching Miser Mom doesn't mean that I hate my career.  I know many people turn to frugality to help rescue them from a job they want to be able to leave, a job they hope to retire early from.  That's not me.  I love my work.

The flip side is that having a well-paying job doesn't automatically obligate me to spending a bunch of money.  I've seen people write things like, "anybody making that much money shouldn't obsess over washing plastic bags" (or make their kids eat generic brands, or dress in yard sale clothes, or . . . well, you name it; I probably do it).  But I raise my kids the way I live my own values.  I'm an eco-nut.  I believe in helping others who are less fortunate.  So [ . . . watch me as I get up on my preachy horse here . . . ]  so wasting money doesn't have to happen just because I happen to have more money to waste.

[ . . . climbing back down . . . ] At any rate, it's time to go to work.  I've gotta job to do.  And I love it.

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