On Country Music and Career Warnings


If you know me in real life, you know I love country music. And I LOVE (all caps on purpose) Willie Nelson. So, of course I love the song he covers with Waylon Jennings, “Mammas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys.”

And while I love the song, the lyrics reference something that bothers me when people do it in real life: warning people against a certain profession.

It’s possible you’ve heard such warnings yourself. I know I have:

Don’t go into teaching—there’s no money in it!

Teaching’s not really about teaching anymore. I would avoid it if I were you.

There were other careers I was warned against, as well. But the ones I paid attention to, the ones that bothered me, were the ones warning me against teaching. Sometimes the warnings came from people who had zero experience teaching, so of course there warnings didn’t have any weight. But sometimes, the people warning me against teaching were veterans of the profession themselves. And those warnings gave me pause.

Obviously, not a lot of pause, because I ended up teaching! But I did give thought to what they warned about: the lack of money, the frustration with all of the tasks that didn’t have anything to do with teaching, the bureaucracy, and the restrictiveness of many of their positions. I wondered if those things would end up bothering me enough to not love teaching anymore.

And the truth is, a lot of those things DID end up bothering me. But what frustrated me was never the act teaching itself. It was the limitations on the subject matter I taught due to the position I held, and in the requirements of instructors that had nothing to do with teaching, and in teaching the same content, over and over, every semester. The act of facilitating discovery, engaging with thoughtful people, and guiding students towards a clear goal, that part was always fulfilling.

How I’ve handled the frustrations I’ve encountered was by making a context shift. Instead of leaving teaching behind entirely, what I’ve learned to do is change the context and the purpose of my teaching, but not the task of teaching itself.  I left academia to teach on my own terms, and then I’ve changed the terms, and changed the terms some more. I’m still passionate about language education and about doing my part to contribute to a more connected world through facilitating communication across cultures, but how that looks now is very different than when I was at the front of a university classroom.

Knowing that I have the power to change the context of my passion allows me to keep that passion alive in creative and challenging ways, and pushes me to be purposeful in the decisions I make.

So while I understand the frustrations that led people to warn me about their own profession, my own experience has taught me that there are multiple ways of dealing with those frustrations. You can stay where you are, and work to change your perspective and how you react to those frustrations, or you can make a complete contextual shift. Switch subjects, switch schools, switch roles, switch audience.

There are potential frustrations and roadblocks with any career you choose, but with a few adjustments in context, even a cowboy can stay true to his passion when his wandering ways get old.

If you’re a country music novice, please enjoy this very brief introduction to some common song categories, which I created for a friend back in 2004. There was a mix CD to go along with it, but since it’s now 2015, you can follow along with a Spotify playlist instead. 


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