Appreciate. What’s the one thing you have come to appreciate most in the past year? How do you express gratitude for it?
My initial response to this prompt, like several of the preceding ones, was a bit of eye-rolling. Must everything be about such utterly wholesome, new-agey feelings?
My resistance to thinking about this is worth thinking about, though. What is it about terms like “appreciation” and “gratitude” that make me want to cringe? Is there a kind of shame involved in letting my ordinarily — what are the adjectives I’m looking for here? tough? cool? intellectual? — self be seen expressing this kind of heartfelt emotion?
There have been times when I’ve written here about that kind of deeply felt personal stuff, and I’ve more often than not wound up feeling over-exposed by it. Yes, this has at moments been a quite personal blog, but the persona I’ve maintained here is largely professional, and so getting into the gooshy muck of that other part of my life just seems inappropriate somehow.
But this prompt is important, I think, and warrants letting that shield down a bit. I remember quite clearly several years ago, in the thick of a pretty unpleasant Christmas, when certain of my family members were driving me up a tree, sitting at Mass praying that I’d find some sense of gratitude in amongst the aggravation. And it helped, quite amazingly in fact, getting me to focus less on what was annoying me and more on the gifts — the metaphorical gifts — I’d been given.
Since then, I’ve tried to keep that sense of gratitude as close to the front of my thoughts as I can. And in the last year, what I’d say I’ve come to appreciate most of all, and to feel deeply grateful for, is the extraordinary good luck that I’ve had in my life, and particularly in my career. Yes, I’ve worked hard, but I honestly don’t feel like the opportunities I’ve been given are anything I deserve. “Deserve” is an awfully funny concept in an industry in which one spends ten years and tens of thousands of dollars training for a position, only to have a 25% chance of actually getting that position — and a radically lower chance of getting a position as amazing as the one that I lucked into.
The year I went on the market, I applied for 60+ jobs, out of which I got two MLA interviews, one fly-back, and this fantastic job. Yes, I did all the things I was supposed to do: I prepared, was engaged, gave a good talk and taught two good classes. But so much of the process was driven by luck — that the job that perfectly described my work happened to be available the year I was on the market, for starters, plus a few other odd coincidences along the way — that I cannot feel as though I “deserved” the job, any more than I would suggest that the other applicants didn’t deserve it.
And this is true across several aspects of my career, in which I’ve happened to find myself in the right place at the right time, saying something that someone wanted to hear. I’ve worked hard, and I’ve had some good things to say, but I’ve also been lucky. I’ve been given some extraordinary opportunities. And I’ve been supported, by amazing colleagues and collaborators.
And for all that, I am truly, unashamedly, grateful.