The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff— they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.
Psalm 23 is so short and sweet and familiar that for many of us the words tumble off our lips without a thought. But it’s no wonder that so many have clung to it over the ages, repeated its promises in the darkest hours and been comforted by its imagery in the depths of despair. Its simplicity and eloquence are timeless and poignant.
And yet, there’s more to it than comfort and consolation. There are practical assurances that we will walk through dark valleys in this life despite our faith, that we will encounter enemies, and that these hardships are not mutually exclusive from goodness and mercy.
These past few weeks I’ve been a little overwhelmed by the busy-ness of my life: childcare and feedings crammed between preparing for classes, editing my dissertation, and applying to jobs. And since I’m so averse to busy-ness, somewhere along the way, it occurred to me that framing that stress and pressure not as busy-ness but as fullness allow me to better see and experience the wash of blessings, difficulties included, in my life.
There is so much comfort for me in sleepless nights and rushed days to trust and believe that this season is not simply busy, but wonderously full. Full of hard work and deep joy, full of hard decisions and deep love, and full of uncertainty, but filled with grace. I take heart and solace in the fullness of life and the promise that goodness and mercy are not fleeting, but that I shall forever dwell in the house of the Lord.
The other day I was sitting with a new colleague talking about the competitiveness and anxiety that fills the air this time of the year, especially for those of us who are “on the job market” in academia. I found myself urging him to adopt a mentality of abundance, rather than one of scarcity, and he was pleasantly shocked by the advice.
I’ve heard others talk about attitudes of abundance before, but I never knew quite what they meant by them and wondered if such mentalities weren’t just convenient excuses to escape from reality. But as this colleague and I talked more and more and I reflected on my experience these last seven years (!) pursuing a Ph.D., it occurred to me that the generous and treasured relationship I have with my own cohort of budding anthropologists is one of abundance.
Since early on we have endeavored to build one another up when other cohorts around us succumb to insidious competitiveness and one-up-man-ship. We have believed that we’re not really competing for the same jobs, because it’s all about fit–what would work for me necessarily wouldn’t work for many in my cohort and in vice versa. On the flip side, many academics ascribe to an economy of scarcity in which there aren’t enough jobs to go around and one must fight tooth and nail, whatever the cost, to wrest them from the hands of others, even if they’re valued friends and colleagues.
“But isn’t that reality?” my new friend asked me. “At some point don’t you have to admit that there actually are less jobs out there than there are people and accept that reality?”
But is that reality? Might the reality be that there if there are but a small number of “good” tenure-track jobs, those jobs probably aren’t a great fit for most people, because there are also a lot of wonderful babies to be had, which require time off, there’s wonderful family to enjoy in life and they’re not always next to the “good” jobs, there’s wonderful students in many, many, places, there’s other great career tracks that lead outside of academia, and suddenly there aren’t so many people clamoring for the same jobs and they don’t look so “good” anymore?
This type of abundance isn’t illogical or idealistic but very practical. When we sacrifice what we truly want or need to what the world tells us, we end up with scarcity, but when we pursue our career with a passion for serving others, the opportunities abound. What’s more, it is actually possible to rejoice when others succeed, rather than just in one’s own successes. It not only makes us better people to be able to enjoy the success of others, but it makes for a better world! Finally, I think that’s what’s often getting edited out of these grand discussions on academic job markets–that teaching is a service vocation, that when it comes down to it, it’s not even about us and what job we want, but what job we can use to reach the students who make our jobs necessary and possible.
My new friend stared blankly at me and commented that it was refreshing to find someone with this kind of attitude, but talking about this kind of abundance with him was also rejuvenating for me. It reminded me why I do what I do, that numbers and markets are not so straight forward and they don’t have to rule my life, and that everyday is a choice. Everyday we choose whether to live in a world of abundance or one of scarcity.