Tuesday Tales

This time it’s my own tale….and an assignment submitted for class commentary in my latest writing class (memoir).

My Life as a Quitter

Someone once told me I never finish what I start. I beg to differ. Although, I guess if you count that PhD in Linguistics, that Master of Music, that Master of Distance Education, not to mention the number of times I’ve switched jobs over the years, they might have had a point; my life does read a bit like a resumé in getting bored.

1976-1984: That time I wanted to be a veterinarian

In Grades 5 and 6 I dreamed of caring for animals. I looked after the science lab, feeding the various rodents kept there, even taking one or two of them home over the summers so that they would not be left at the mercy of the skeletal janitorial staff (or what I imagined to be skeletal – I never really knew what went on at our school when I wasn’t there). My days of tending lab animals ended the summer our Siamese cat Sy (a brilliantly imaginative name chosen by my 6-year-old brother) decided one of the gerbils made a great cat toy. He didn’t try to eat it, he just wanted to carry it and bat it around. I don’t remember what I told the school when I returned the empty cage in September. Knowing me I tried to slip the cage into the lab without witnesses, hoping that this was not the one time someone noticed me.

Regardless of an ignoble ending to my science lab tenure, I remained on task and started pre-Veterinary medicine after graduating from high school. I lasted one and a half years. It was the physics that did me in. If I had known the pre-Vet program required me to pass not one, but two physics classes (pre-Med students only needed to pass one physics class and what was with pre-Med being only one year compared to the two required for pre-Vet?) I would have given it a bow and taken a year off to travel around the world. Maybe. Luckily, I had just begun to play the bass and turned that pre-Vet med into a Music degree. The most unnatural turnaround in the history of university!

1987-1990: That time I wanted to be a Master of Music

After proving that someone wrong for the first time and finishing a Bachelor of Music degree, I went the only route I knew would be acceptable – forward into a Master of Music program as a bass player. This was also my first foray away from home and the city where I grew up. All the way from Regina, Saskatchewan to Ottawa, Ontario, and a bilingual university. Me, the girl who never took a French class in her life. But I wanted to study with the bass teacher there, although for the life of me I no longer know why as he turned out to a narcissistic jerk, I must have been sucked in by how assured he was of his own excellence. I think the best things that came out of that time was taking French classes and discovering a love for lattes.

I lasted two and a half years this time before the stress of being away from home broke me. I also finally realized that being a professional musician was going to be a lot of work, the kind of work I didn’t want to put in especially if it meant kowtowing to narcissistic jerks for the rest of my life. (Colour me surprised when I eventually realized they are everywhere.) One day I abruptly packed all my meagre belongings and moved back home. But never fear. I put my French learning to good use and went back to school once again, this time as a Linguistics major.

Intermission (1991-1997): That time I actually finished something

My schooling was stable for a while. I worked on a Bachelor of Arts in Linguistics, followed by a Master’s, and finished both – check (mom)! As I worked my way through Linguistics, I also worked my way through various jobs because, well, I had to pay tuition somehow having blown all my past school savings on a lot of quitting. I started out as a student assistant in the language lab of the institution where I was studying Linguistics. Seemed like the perfect job to apply for since Linguistics covered a lot of bases when it came to those language-related questions I had to answer in the lab. Eventually I moved into an official full-time Language Lab Technician position. This was my introduction to online learning or at least computer assisted language learning, an introduction which eventually led me to where I am today. In addition to using cassette tapes (remember those?) we coded in DOS and ran audio and fill-in-the-blanks kind of questions on computers for students to complete during their scheduled lab times. Design was minimal, but over time became more sophisticated as we entered the world of Windows, the Internet, and Learning Management Systems. The job was fun, and we had a lot of laughs in that small office, sharing a desk, but I knew it would go nowhere given that the only other position higher than mine in the lab belonged to my boss and friend who was not planning on leaving anytime soon. I can’t remember the specific project, but eventually I became involved with “real” online learning design, and when an instructional designer job came up within the distance learning area, I quickly jumped ship to the land of better salary and benefits and entered the early days of online education.

2000-2001: That time I wanted to be a Master of Distance Education

After this short intermission from quitting (and while I was bouncing around a bit as an instructional designer from the distance learning unit to the center for academic learning or some such nonsense at one institution, then on to a new city and through two more institutions), I still found more ways to quit educational programs. I think I’m one of those eternal students, lifelong learners, whatever the term you use, and I never feel comfortable unless I am taking classes in something. During my time as an instructional designer, I first thought I should learn about my field, so entered a Master of Distance Education program, and in a very meta way took the distance program by distance.

Unlike online programs today, this program was really nothing more than a glorified correspondence program. There were online readings, a discussion board of some kind, and a lot of self-directed work required. Ironically, while I work with faculty and students doing online education, I am probably one of the worst online students, constantly struggling to manage my time. Deadlines help, but I find it way too easy to put off the work until the last minute, even when I put “work on class” in my calendar.  In the end, I think I completed two classes before deciding this wasn’t for me even though it was so closely related to the work I was doing. No, instead I found my educational interests being sucked back to Linguistics.

2003-2010: That time I wanted to be a Doctor of Linguistics

Even while working as an instructional designer and canoodling with Distance Education, for a long time Linguistics remained my main squeeze – I was even teaching Linguistics classes on the side. I look back on those days and wonder how I ever had the energy for such a complex work life. At one point I was working two half time positions in two different units as an instructional designer, teaching three Linguistics classes a term, and playing bass in the local symphony orchestra. And I wanted to take classes too? Of course!  So, ditching the distance education-education, I answered the siren call of doctorate-land, and was accepted into a PhD program in Linguistics.

I will admit now that starting this program was a mistake. I was living in one city (Regina) and the program was in another (Winnipeg). I commuted for the first year or two and then moved to Winnipeg for 8 months to complete the residency requirement. This is the part of my story where I realized how out of touch many PhD programs are with the realities of students who, because of work and family commitments, can’t drop everything to pursue advanced education, requiring in-person residencies sometimes multiple years long. After I finished my residency, I was getting closer to that All But Dissertation designation when my husband and I moved to the west coast for his work. After two or three years of living with guilt and pretending the PhD program didn’t exist, I finally formally pulled the plug, and was flooded with relief. No more formal education for me! What was the point?

Coming soon: The final quit?

These days, I no longer teach Linguistics, nor do I play the bass, having set aside my music when I moved to Victoria 15 years ago. I am, however, still working in distance education as an instructional designer in an eLearning unit at a community college. And I continue to indulge in my first love of taking care of animals through our ever changing kitty family. So not a complete quitter!

I also still dabble in learning, taking photography and creative writing classes through Continuing Education programs at a variety of institutions, with no specific goal in mind other than just enjoying myself and learning some new ways to express my creativity. However, I do plan on quitting again the future. But this time not from a Bachelors degree, or a Masters, or a PhD, or even a certificate or diploma program. No, in a few years I will finally retire from this instructional design career I accidentally fell into 30 years ago. But, while I will be retired from both formal education and formal employment, I still hope I will continue to find things to keep me from getting bored, and if it means quitting some of those things, well I think I’ve shown I’m ok with that.

Posted on October 4, 2022, in Writing. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Well, you know, you just have to quit something to start something new. That’s how it works. 🙂

  2. I think you’ve done good by trying out lots of different things, and you did stay with them each a fairly long time. It’s great you want to continue learning even after you retire. 🙂

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