I’ve decided to give career counseling a go. I’ve been utterly dissatisfied with my museum work lately, and wonder what else I can do for work. I worry that I’m over-niched and underqualified. I got a graduate degree specifically for museum work, and I’ve found almost no satisfaction from my work in collections management, which is what I always thought I wanted to do since undergrad. And those years that I’ve dedicated to museum collections management work have also been an opportunity cost – what other more general, marketable skills and expertise could I have been developing that aren’t as specialized as database admin for museum collections management databases? The things that I think I might be interested in doing I feel I don’t qualify for because I lack experience. Experience I could have been gaining all along if I had taken another path. And yet the experience I do have isn’t adding up to personal, financial, or career satisfaction for me. I think that the things that I enjoy doing (like writing) I don’t know how to transform into something that provides me with an income. And I don’t know how to reshape the career path I’m in. Not to mention I’m pretty certain I’m not interested in figuring it out. I worry that I’ve made poor decisions in taking my last two jobs, but I also know that since I’m limited to the Phoenix area, if I had instead taken available jobs at Starbucks, I would resent that My Better Half got to pursue his career path through graduate school while I toiled away at jobs that required nothing more than a high school diploma. And yet sometimes I think I’d be happier doing that kind of work anyway. (And I’d probably have a 401(k), too).
Sometimes I think it’s too late to correct course and pursue something else, but then I think I’m too young not to try something different. I think I went to graduate school because it was “the next logical step” and failed to explore the options available to me, so I’m taking this as my chance to do that.
There. I said it. No upward mobility, no possibilities for growth and advancement. No additional training or support for professional development. Basically, I’m my employers’ bitch. It’s 40 hours of “Dance, Monkey, Dance!” At first, it was really nice. I had left my museum job because I had been overextended, and stretched too thin. While it’s nice to not be held singlehandedly responsible for several dozen projects at once, it would be nice to get the chance to take responsibility for at least one or two.
At least it’s only 40 hours a week, unlike my last gig. And I can set my own schedule. But since it’s become clear that my bosses have no interests in my development, and see me only as their hired clerical assistant, I guess I’ll be revisiting other options for work. My museum experience has been illuminating. I feel like there are (basically) two paths museum professionals take. The first is to pursue work in a small institution where you can quickly become responsible for museum projects and endeavors like exhibitions or educational programming. But the problem with that path is that these young go-getters like me frequently don’t get the mentoring and support that they need to develop. In my small museum job, I was on a staff of four, then three, then two. To whom could I turn for professional guidance and advice, especially since I had so little time to emerge from the trenches of day-to-day tasks? Where was I to find time to network? The other path is to take an entry-level position at a larger institution and work your way up over time. The trouble with that path is that young go-getters quickly bore and feel tasked with rote, repetitive data entry tasks that do not match the level of skill (and graduate degrees) they have attained.
So in leaving behind museums for a private art gallery, I thought I’d be making a transition to doing something else while I downsized my responsibilities and got my work hours back around 40 per week. I felt completely swamped and overwhelmed in my last position. But here I feel overqualified for the tasks with which my bosses task me, which is essentially serving as an on-call data entry assistant. I know there must be a way to find the appropriate balance somewhere out there in the museum world, but not when you’re geographically tied to a specific place (and Phoenix is not known for its vibrant museum community, people).
In addition to my recent job plights, I have found the museum field frustrating on so many other levels. They’re all underfunded and overextended. They often seem to attract pretentious A-holes to their boards, whose conservative values and visions often clash with the innumerable incredibly talented, thinking-outside-the-box creative types who work there. Museums frequently offer few benefits. I’m in my 30s and have never had a museum job that offered a retirement plan. And in my previous job and my current one, I’m left to obtain my own health insurance (and since I don’t qualify for private health insurance, I’m basically screwed). So all of this makes me wonder what else can I do with my degree besides museum work? I think it’s time I find out, because I strongly suspect that the field to which I have dedicated 8 years of my life so far is not for me. Hello, career counseling!