Life’s Choices

Life is what happens while you’re trying to figure out what to do with it. After completing my graduate work in Semitic languages at UCLA I took a teaching position at the small private institution where I had done my undergraduate work.

My first two years they only gave me a part time teaching schedule so that the school would not have to pay me benefits or much of a salary: three hundred a month versus fifteen hundred. Full time faculty taught twelve units. They had me teach eleven. Of course occasionally they had me teach more, as when they had me substitute for a month without pay for one particular professor’s class. He happened to be the president of the institution and asked me to do it for him as a personal favor. I figured it might benefit my career if I helped him out.

My third year there, the college finally broke down and gave me a full time position. How come? My third year there was the year that a new president began running the place. His philosophy was radically different from that of the previous president and all the other members of the particular department I taught in, the Bible department, had promptly left the school. So they needed someone to teach those classes; they also made me the acting head of the department.

Not that this seemed to mean anything. Within a month of the beginning of my first semester, they fired my secretary, leaving me without one for the remainder of the year. And then, later during the year, they decided to reorganize the entire department and managed to eliminate all the classes that I taught (upper division language, history and theology courses). So, my first full time teaching year as a college professor was also my last year. Not that it came as much of a surprise, given the early departure of my secretary, of course.

I was, to say the least, a bit annoyed by having been treated this way (especially when I found out that the “full time salary” they had given me was actually the salary they normally paid the janitors). I could not help wondering if I had been making the right choices in my life. Three years earlier, I had been offered a full time position at a different institution. But this college which had mistreated me had been my alma-matre. I knew everyone there. I had given them my word already. It seemed a perfect fit. And I had mistakenly assumed that they would treat me fairly. In my unemployed hindsight, it seemed obvious I had made a poor choice.

My wife and I wound up both being unemployed for about nine months. She’d been teaching elementary school at a private institution and had decided not to sign a new contract. It had been, to put it bluntly, a very bad place to work and had paid her even less than I had been making at my alma-matre.

We managed to survive, somehow, while we both hunted for new positions. While I hunted, I decided to try my hand at writing. The writing went well, but the hunting proved fruitless. But come autumn, my wife managed to land a position with a public school some forty miles away. The upshot of it all was that her new salary was now more than what our combined salaries had been at the two private schools at which we’d been teaching.

We moved, and I continued to write since our financial situation had become stable again. And a handful of years later, with the backing of the local church we had joined when we moved north, I decided to start a college. In the more than twenty years since I founded the new college, in addition to administrative duties, I have taught the same variety of courses that I had taught before, and I also managed to get a lot of writing done and ultimately, to get professionally published. In fact, the way I was “discovered” was by way of the school I’d started, Quartz Hill School of Theology. An editor in London saw my work there and asked me to write a book for them. It was published in 2008 by Reader’s Digest Books in the English speaking world, and was subsequently published in 13 languages. There have been 2 Dutch editions, and it was recently reissued in English (in 2012) by Chartwell Books.

Certainly this turn of events, from being unemployed, to the writing, to the establishment of a new theological institution, to become a professional writer was not in my head when I decided to take up a position teaching at my old undergraduate institution. And certainly many events along the way didn’t seem like good things. None of the choices I’ve made have ever made me much money (though had I intended to make a lot of money I don’t suppose I would have chosen to major in dead Semitic languages as a graduate student at UCLA). But perhaps, in the long run, the choices I’ve made were okay after all. We simply can never predict what our life might ultimately bring us, especially while we’re still living it.

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About R.P. Nettelhorst

I'm married with three daughters. I live in southern California and I'm the interim pastor at Quartz Hill Community Church. I have written several books. I spent a couple of summers while I was in college working on a kibbutz in Israel. In 2004, I was a volunteer with the Ansari X-Prize at the winning launches of SpaceShipOne. Member of Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion, and The Authors Guild
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