I don’t quite “get” it. What one thing would I do for free for the rest of my life? I realize where this prompt is trying to lead me. I’m supposed to say something along these lines, “Well, I love cars and have always tinkered with them, so I would work on cars for free for the rest of my life.” Where I get fuzzy is the whole question of whether I would be doing this thing, whatever it is, for myself or for others. For example, would I be restoring a ’64 Corvette for myself, or giving all of my friends and neighbors free oils changes?
Now don’t get all indignant on me. “It shouldn’t matter,” I hear you say. But really, it does. When we’re talking about the things we would do for free, I think we need to make this distinction. We do things for ourselves for free all the time. I enjoy quilting. I don’t get paid to make quilts for myself, whether to give them as gifts or contribute them to charity, or even keep them to snuggle with on the couch. I have made quilts for clients, though, and for those I was compensated. Do I feel badly about that? No, I do not. There is a great deal of time, effort, and expense that goes into making a quilt. I enjoy it and am glad to do it, but I would not make quilts for others for free for the rest of my life, at least not unless it was on my terms.
As I said earlier, I make charity quilts. I do them at my pace, with nobody telling me how to do it. I don’t have an inspection at the end and I don’t have to make sure that I keep a customer satisfied. Do I plan on continuing this activity? Certainly, as long as I continue to gain satisfaction from the process. If that changes, I will give myself permission to stop doing it.
Sometimes giving of ourselves too freely devalues what we have to offer. There are many things I do for free that I will continue to do for free, but I feel like the spirit of the question has more to do with what I would do for free for the benefit of others. This distinction doesn’t come from a place of greed. It’s an important distinction, because the car enthusiast, while they love working on cars, has the right to be compensated for their time, experience, and craftsmanship.
That being said, I believe I will always teach for free in some capacity. Yes, I’m a professional teacher. I do get compensated for teaching (as I should, and no, I’m not overcompensated, just in case you were wondering). Natural Born Teachers (NBT’s, read more about them here) start teaching early in life, and really don’t ever stop teaching, even after retirement. In fact just yesterday, one of my retired colleagues, an NBT, came to school to work with kids, for free, on an art lesson. She came, she taught, she left. No lesson plans to turn in, no meetings, no irate parents, no observations or evaluations, no assessments, no discipline challenges, no report card grades, no sweat. To any full time teacher, that arrangement sounds like heaven. We teach because we love teaching, but it’s a hard job.
My colleague is still teaching. She comes to school on her terms, teaches what she loves, and then calls it a day. She is looking forward to hopefully becoming a grandmother, someday in the not too distant future. She will be that grandmother who reads endless stories with her grandchildren. She will lead them on nature walks and they will examine ant trails. She will sit them at the kitchen table and mix paints with them. She will bake cookies with them and talk about how the various measurements relate to one another. I will do all those things too, someday. Once a teacher, always a teacher.