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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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