And that's not to say that one single phenomenon must be responsible for a huge surge in a person's development; it can surely be more subtle or take a long period of time. But I do think that someone can look back on an event- or even realize the change while it's still happening- and understand they've become wiser and stronger in response to that event occurring.
For me, it's this semester.
About a month ago, I got a job at NJIT teaching precalculus, and it was my first official job as any kind of classroom teacher (barring student teaching, which doesn't have a hiring- or salaried- aspect, and ignoring my old position as a teaching assistant). I've been tutoring mathematics for roughly ten years now (since high school), and I'd always been careful to describe my job as a "tutor" rather than a teacher. Because that's what I was, and being a tutor doesn't earn you the credit of being a teacher.
But as I've started this professorship, I realized that it wasn't just my job description that was changing (I still tutor on the side anyway). I was changing too. I am changing.
At the most basic level, I no longer call myself a PhD student who tutors math; I call myself a college professor who's also working on his PhD and tutoring math on the side. The very fact that you now describe yourself as something else, something more, surely means that there's been an event in your life that has modified you greatly. I can now identify as the occupation I've wanted for years; everything else comes second.
Obtaining this job has forced me to not only step up to the task of teaching college students four times per week, but also to take the rest of my weekly grind more seriously, and view it from a different perspective. Like the relationships I have with my colleagues at Rutgers. Many of my colleagues in my doctoral program are teachers; they were always the "real" adults who are twice my age and have a spouse and kids. I had just felt like the kid who never stopped going to school, who would probably be a professional student if that were possible. Even though I've been respected by my colleagues, I finally feel like I deserve that respect, that I can better relate to their jobs (despite them being twenty years my senior). Not perfectly relate, but better relate.
I'm finally able to start organizing my thoughts on my research as well. I can finally explain my interest as something along the lines of: "My doctoral research is related to educational practice. I'd like to analyze how students approach mathematical problem solving tasks, so that math educators can be better equipped to promote and build off these strategies." Or something like that. I want to discover strategies used by math students to solve complicated problems, so that teachers can have them in their arsenal and already know how to approach math problems in ways that students are more receptive to. Probably at the high school level, using a mostly qualitative study (presumably grounded theory). I want math education to get better, and the United States could certainly use all the help it can get.
I've always been good at organizing schedules (it's simply an optimization problem), but this semester has really forced me to step up my game. I need to make sure not to sacrifice quality for quantity. I'm teaching at NJIT four days per week. I'm at Rutgers for two days. I'm working at two tutoring centers. I currently have thirteen private tutoring clients that I see per week. I'm working on several research projects right now, including visiting a charter school, observing those teachers, and working with them to create solid, engaging lessons. Plus actually creating my lectures and grading assessments, as well as any assignments my PhD classes require. (And then there's the fact that I need to go to UPenn every once in a while to visit my girlfriend in vet school.) Most days I'm essentially working 9 AM - 9 PM, but it's doing the things I love. I'm often spread really thin, but things get easier over time, once you get the hang of it. And it's easy to keep going when you finally see the lightbulb go on above a struggling student's head, or when the mother of a student I tutor makes me dinner because I'm halfway through my marathon of private and public clients, and I haven't had a break for lunch.
I'd rather have too much opportunity than not enough. Each job I do, every part of my day, now has a purpose. Teaching at NJIT gives me a foot in the door for future college professorships, not to mention great experience and something I can put on my resume. By the time I'm done at Rutgers, I'll have a PhD and will have grown even more as an educator and researcher. (I will have spent about ten years there- combining my bachelor's, master's, and doctoral years.) As for tutoring, it's allowing me countless networking opportunities, and the pay is pretty good too. I hardly have to worry about procrastinating, because I don't even have time for wasting time.
Although I must admit, even with my head on straighter than ever before, I'm still nostalgic for the times when I could just fool around for hours on the N64, watch White-Ra's special tactics, and have less responsibility. I'm currently teasing myself by wondering whether I should change my EG team icon back to SKT- the team I used to favor above all others- because of coaches and players like iloveoov, Boxer, Parting, and Rain. (If iNcontroL leaves EG for some odd reason, I'm definitely changing back.) I'm also wondering when the next time I'll be able to spend time on SC2 is (winter vacation, between semesters?), and whether or not I'll even buy TL+ again (I have three days to figure this one out before it expires).
But right now, real life is kicking in again: my kids have an exam- my exam- next week, and it's time to start reviewing with them. Time to go teach. It's where I want to be.
P.S.- Some of my favorite videos:
We got a badass over here.