• Confessions of a Community College Dean

    In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.


Alternate Careers

What was your plan B?

January 7, 2020

Wise and worldly readers, if you didn’t go into the career you did -- and if you’re reading Inside Higher Ed, I’m guessing there’s a better-than-even chance that you’re in academia -- what was your alternate career plan?

I can’t really claim a full-blown theory here; it’s more just curiosity. Depending on the answers, I guess, it might lead to a theory later. But in the cold gray of January, when I’m waiting for the furnace repair technician for the third time already this season, I start to think about paths not taken.

For me, alternate careers fall into a few categories.

The “If I were a different person” category includes baseball player, rock star, astronaut, etc. The usual stuff that 8-year-olds foresee. The common denominator to these is that I can’t imagine being myself and doing any of them. I admired the Paul Westerberg of the mid-1980s, but I had no desire to be him. Novelist falls into this category, too; as much as I like to write, I’m much more comfortable with explaining or theorizing than with world-building. And dialogue is really hard.

Then there’s the “If it were a different time” category. That one’s easy: newspaper columnist. I can picture myself with the fedora, the trench coat and the notebook. I even get to act this one out from time to time when I cover a conference for Inside Higher Ed, albeit without the fedora and trench coat. In my formative years, I remember reading Ellen Goodman, Dave Barry and Anna Quindlen on the regular; readers who remember them may detect Goodman and Quindlen’s influence in my pieces about parenting, and the occasional nods to Barry when I clarify that “I am not making this up.” Sadly, newspapers aren’t the employers they used to be. I consider myself lucky to have found a side-gig version here.

“Jazz DJ” would also fall under the “different time” category. I did it for a few years in college and had a blast with it, but it’s not the most employable gig in the world. With Spotify and similar services doing a number on radio, and jazz stations on the endangered list, this has to join the fedora and trench coat in the ash bin of history. Truth be told, I was terrible at it, but it was still fun.

At one point, I thought I wanted to be a lawyer, but a summer spent hanging around lawyers convinced me otherwise. Yes, I know, #notalllawyers, but it wasn’t for me. “Supreme Court justice” still strikes me as cool, but the path there seems like a lot of trouble. If I could get the gig by being the 10th caller, I’d consider it. Some days, I think that method might be an improvement.

Wise and worldly readers, what was your plan B? Or, if times were just a wee bit different, what would you have liked to do?

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Matt Reed

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