Today is my last shift at The Duck Store (University of Oregon’s bookstore). It is a job I started in my first year out of college and hoped to continue on through seminary because even though it is only part-time, that little bit of income goes a long way. A job helps in answering the question of “Will I have enough?” Seminary is expensive and interest rates on loans are not dropping any time soon. Those 10-15 hours a week were really helpful. But there is another question I’ve been trying to ignore since starting at George Fox: Will I still be able to fully devote myself to my studies in order to flourish academically? Essentially, will I be able to do the work I came here to do and do it well?
Many seminarians are not in the same boat that I am. Many are dating or married, raising children, deeply involved with ministries unrelated to their seminary education, and/or working a full time job. Their purpose for attending seminary leans a little more toward the pastoral side. While that remains an option for me, it is not my current focus. I am not dating or married, raising children, deeply involved with any ministry (not even a part of a faith community, at the moment), and my purpose for attending seminary leans toward the academic side. Therefore, I find it essential to devote the overwhelming majority of my time and energy to my schoolwork. Yet, I know that financial resources are essential in order to even continue studying, so the job seems essential as well.
Another benefit to having a job is that is a regular, mandatory break from academic work. With my day-to-day so entrenched in classes, reading, writing, translating, etc., it has been refreshing to have a place to go where none of that matters. I can chat with my coworkers about sports or traveling to Europe or almost anything other than school. My job has almost been my Sabbath, in a way.
And yet it hasn’t been a Sabbath, a complete rest from obligations. It has only been a rest from academic obligations; any job has entire lists of obligations all their own. And while I’ve enjoyed the rest from academic work, I have felt exhausted by the obligations of a retail atmosphere (my job is also located in a mall). I’ve been reminded of the summer after my freshman year of college when I, for one month, worked four different jobs. I did so because I needed the money, but I would never do it again because it was so incredibly exhausting. Although the extremes aren’t the same here, it is still a similar feeling.
My best academic efforts have come when I wasn’t employed. I didn’t go out much and finances were always tight toward the end of each term (in between financial aid checks), but it produced a platform which gave me the best possibility at academic success. I may have lived off of Top Ramen and coffee, but I received the best grades possible.
Although working a part-time job while attending seminary is the wiser route, it may not work efficiently for everyone. I would recommend at least starting seminary while working a job and see if it’s something you are able to handle – again, though, it depends on your purpose for attending seminary in the first place. But what would you recommend? What has been your experience in balancing work and school? Was it best to treat each realm as a “Sabbath” of sorts to the other or, as was my case, did it make things worse? What’s your purpose for attending seminary (or school, if you’re not in seminary)?