I was at a friend’s birthday dinner on Saturday night when I took part in a conversation that comes up pretty often in my circle these days. It went something like this:
“I’m tired of being broke,” said friend 1.
“So am I,” said friend 2.
“I wish they had told us back in college to pick fields that would actually pay and then use those jobs to finance our passions,” friend 1 continued, “If this keeps up, I may be looking to get a ‘real job’ and enter the corporate world next year.”
“I know the feeling,” I added, “These student loans are getting ridiculous and this funding situation isn’t looking any better.”
“Well, can’t you get a full-time job or something with flexible hours?” asked friend 1.
“Probably,” I replied, “But I’m still trying to give my businesses some time to take off. I like being self-employed. It’s just too bad that nobody in my current network actually wants to pay me for anything I do.”
“That’s because you hang around poor people all the time,” friend 1 said, “Don’t feel bad, I have the same problem.”
It was true. We all were born and raised in Philadelphia. In spite of being well-educated, none of us had managed to build large networks full of influential people.
“What happened to your funding situation again?” friend 2 asked.
After explaining myself, I got the usual “Oh, that’s messed up,” and then we somehow ended up getting on another pertinent topic like our lack of success within the dating arena. Still, the conversation made me wonder whether or not I should try to get a “real job” to finish paying for this PhD.
For the record, I have been sending out my resume for several months–even before I landed and ultimately lost the job I had on campus due to that professor’s bad attitude. The transition from Temple to Rutgers had not been seamless. Because of the poor timing of my transfer, I was accepted without funding and my department doesn’t seem to have any intention (or interest) in funding me for the future. I knew that my best shot at making it through the program without putting myself further in debt was to find a job with flexible hours. Unfortunately, the timing of my transfer also corresponded with an unusually poor job market.
In spite of the situation, I tried to be optimistic and look toward the future. I figured that my student loans wouldn’t be too much of an issue when I am finally able to reap the benefits of my PhD. Then I found out just how little money public policy professors actually make. (Keep in mind that I had been researching within the field of strategic management prior to my transfer. Strategic management professors generally start out making 6 figures because of their value to the corporate world. Public policy professors are another story.) Let’s just say that my student loans, which are still growing, are already too high for me to expect to live above the poverty line with a public policy professor’s typical starting salary. (At least I would have a better understanding of how public policies perpetuate poverty because that would become the story of my life.)
My ministry has been notably absent from this post, but it is also came up in the conversation.
“How are things going with your church?” friend 1 asked.
“Oh, things are still about the same,” I replied, “It’s still pretty much my family. We are moving forward in a lot of ways though.” Given the conversation, I knew what my friend was really trying to ascertain, so I attempted to nip things in the bud before they got awkward.
“You know how things are with church plants,” I continued, “We’re all volunteers.” Then things took a slightly unexpected turn.
“Can’t ministers usually make money by preaching out?” friend 2 asked.
“Yes,” I replied, “But that presupposes that people actually invite you to come out and preach. A lot of those invitations are based on personal networks and your ability to adhere to cultural expectations of clergy–especially in the African American context. Unfortunately, I have always stood out. You don’t want to hear how many times someone has used the term ‘unusual anointing’ in attempting to describe my approach to ministry.” People could always tell that God was working through me, but they couldn’t really make sense out of it so they often found spiritual ways to call me strange. Needless to say, ministry in its most traditional sense won’t be a paying job for me either.
At this point, I am still committed to finishing this PhD so I can work as an academic and have the flexibility to continue working in ministry while still running my side businesses. Nonetheless, I am starting to come to terms with the fact that in spite of my efforts to build a more relaxed type of life for myself, a “real job” may be in my future.