Work has been kind of a struggle for me lately. Working at Vanderbilt has been a blessing, but over the past couple years I have watched my primary job responsibilities become my secondary job responsibilities. I was initially hired as a “term” position to help bridge the academic and residential sides of our flagship summer program, and later took a permanent post working almost exclusively with academics—recruiting, training, and equipping instructors to teach academically gifted youth. But now, through a series of accidents, I am mostly tech support.
It started in August of 2012. I saw a need for an online application system and was given the green light to look into it. My boss was not too optimistic. A few years ago she had been quoted $50,000 just to get started. But within a couple of months I had something up and running for almost nothing.
I also saw a problem with our social media presence. We had 12 Twitter followers. I helped bring us up to 450 before handing things over to someone else. That’s not counting Instagram, Facebook, and Tumblr.
Then the guy who ran the database resigned. Because he had shown me a few things before he quit, that responsibility was handed off to me.
Are you seeing a pattern here? Online applications. Social media. The database. Tech, tech, tech! By the way, I was also the guy who ended up fixing crashed Macs and troubleshooting LCD projector problems. By the time I realized I was being typecast, it was already too late.
There is another way of looking at the above. I am not a tech guru. I am a problem solver who is comfortable with technology. Getting a PhD in systematic theology makes you pretty good at analyzing systems, seeing what’s wrong, and doing good research to suss out a solution. My facility with arcane texts has helped me navigate the Vanderbilt bureaucracy on more than one occasion.
I should have sat down with my boss and said, “Here is what I see happening, and here is why that is a problem for me.” But I tend to want to be deferential toward authority. So I tried to be more “subtle” by looping myself into other people’s projects. And of course the more I started wandering outside my home turf, the more my supervisors wanted to hold me within my “assigned duties.” So I made things worse.
I get to do what I love the most during the summer. I work closely with instructors to equip them to help students fall in love with the life of the mind. I also spend a lot of time running interference, trying to keep residential operating procedures from unintentionally making things difficult for the instructors and TAs. My job can be weirdly isolating.
The more my job has gravitated towards “tech support,” the more isolating it has become. I used to work with a team to help plan and make decisions. I do less of that now. About 70% of my time from August to April is spent working with Vanderbilt IT, doing database maintenance, and showing people how to do things.
My supervisors know how I feel now. They have also told me that I will be doing what I am doing for the foreseeable future. That is okay. I do not hate work by any means. I like the people I work with. And there are times when I take great satisfaction in my job. But it is only a job. And I think over the past couple of years I have let it distract me from my vocation as a public theologian. The paycheck is a blessing. It still funds my theology habit.
For a time, I was seeking satisfaction in my 9-5. But the kind of thinking that I do at work, even at the best of times, comes nowhere close to the kind of thinking I get to do with a book in one hand and a Bible in the other. I do not foresee any opportunities for advancement at my job, but theology, on the other hand, is intellectual prayer. It is thinking about God. God is Wisdom. God is Infinite. And with God, the possibilities for advancement are endless.