Balancing my current work with my future work goals

A few days ago, I told my child’s teacher after I completely spaced the parent-teacher conference we had scheduled, “I used to have my shit together, and then I became a parent. But I guess 6 years in to this parenting run, I suppose I can no longer claim my new normal is temporary.” She didn’t know me in my pre-parenting days, when I really was on time to things, and even occasionally organized. A time when I could string thoughts coherently, er, string coherent thoughts togetherly.

While I don’t think I can get back to being on time or organized, I intend to regain my identity as a blogger. No, not some bullshit microblogger or #sponsored content provider or mouthpiece for a giant brand. After all, how is blogging for someone else any different from what I do now: writing web content for my employer?  My blogging goal was always to gain just enough independence that I could at the very least downsize from my full-time gig, carving out a bit more space for my creative work, whether that brought me income or not. (The answer is most definitively not, if you were wondering). When that didn’t happen – and life happened simultaneously – it became necessary for me to reallocate how I used my time.

I’ve had an autoimmune disease for 11 years. Or maybe I’ve had it for a lot longer, but I got diagnosed when I was 30. For awhile – like, say, in my adult years prior to having children, I could manage my depleting energy levels by taking a nap on the weekend or even catching a nap before dinner on weeknights. But over time, I guess as I get older, between working 40* hours a week and parenting, there’s very little time for me to ever feel “caught up” on my energy. And being tired all. of. the. goddamned. time. means that I have so little ability to clear the brain fog, nevermind the energy once the brain fog may have cleared to do anything.

* Now let’s talk about that 40 hours a week thing. I used to work 40 hours a week. Then I kept getting much more interesting work, and I was actually legitimately one of those gross people who claim to like their jobs (because I did). So losing sight of my personal goals didn’t blip much on my radar at that time a couple of years ago because I was engaged and fulfilled at work with intellectual and writery challenges. But during the past two years, my good work means that I’ve been promoted a time or two…and tasked with larger projects…that take up more mental energy…with less actual *time* during the workweek to tackle those projects. So full-time work became more, like, well, let’s just say more than 40 hours a week (and in academia, so without the pay to reflect that).

So working more left even less time to devote to my stuff. Yes, some of the bleed-over of work hours into *my* time is my own fault. But I’ll also point the majority of the blame right back on the higher ed industry, an industry that relies on churn-and-burn, hardly-paid adjuncts like My Better Half. It seems like a dicey endeavor to disengage when you are the sole source of income in your household for a family of 4. And/or have a complicated auto-immune disease that insurers know better as a pre-existing condition in this era in which it is unclear whether insurers will cover your care. To sum it up: I found myself with almost no energy, nor much mental clarity, but tethered to a job that had begun to eat up any of my free time.

I’m working on that last one, though. For the past few weeks, I’ve put strict boundaries on my work hours and will truly only commit to 8 hours a day, walking out the door at 8 hours and 1 minute. Which has begun to give me a little breathing room for places like my new work blog and here. (And, to be honest, the capacity to start looking for other, higher-paying work, as putting job applications together takes energy, mental clarity, and time. With more money could come more freedom…)

Where Have I Been?

I don’t know. I haven’t actually *been* anywhere. Didn’t go away since May for the summer. Or anywhere, really. I’ve just been working sitting at a desk in my cubicle. And getting sick. Repeat.

I’ve been on 6 antibiotics since the spring, but I’m still fighting a chronic awful sinus infection (and periodic bouts of strep throat) that make me feel lousy. Just not lousy enough to stay home, but lousy enough to not be able to keep up with all my normal routines. Between working full-time sitting in a cubicle 40 hours a week and being sick full-time and taking care of Baby, who is now a toddler by the way, I haven’t had time to do anything else, like post here or watch an entire season of Breaking Bad. (Which, thanks to the immediacy of our web culture, has already been ruined thanks to the presumption that if you own a DVR, you must not use it because it’s fair game to discuss it freely and openly within 24 hours of its original airing). So while you can talk to me about Breaking Bad, what you cannot do is stop by unannounced and ask to come in to my house. I will cockblock you at the door and get rid of you as quickly (and politely) as possible so you cannot peer past me to even so much as glimpse the absolute wreck within.*

*This is not to say that My Better Half™ has not been keeping up way more than his fair share of things at home. He has been, as always, a tremendous support in all the cooking, cleaning, diapering, feeding, and everything else that goes into being an all-around awesome partner. But still. He’s only one person.

While I haven’t been anywhere, my mind has been wandering. I’ve been thinking more and more about finding another job until I can figure out a way to work for myself. But the thought, which used to be a polite little occasional rap on the door, has become a deafening roar. It’s like there’s a mob armed with pitchforks ready to break down the door and storm the castle. I can accept that I have to work full-time to provide for Baby (and support My Better Half™ while he finishes grad school). But if I have to be in a cubicle 40 hours a week, I’d much rather be doing something that keeps me busy, at a minimum (though it would be nice if it also kept me interested). I got offered this job when I was laid off and knocked up. I accepted the job because it seemed like a good fit – it made use of my existing skills, it was at a university where I figured I’d be around bright people, and it seemed like a place where I could learn a few things. It’s hard to learn anything when, after a year and a half, I’ve had 2 short-term projects. And I am around bright people – my boss remains the best boss I’ve ever had…but she’s no longer my boss, and she’s leaving soon. And I’ve realized that what I love about being in a university setting is the students, and I don’t work with them at all. As far as I can tell, my job seems largely to consist of showing up 40 hours a week to be available in the event that someone needs something that only takes me a couple minutes to do. So I read blogs. And this morning, I read this post by (Not) Maud, in which she writes that she used to keep herself busy at work by reading blogs because she had nothing else to do. This part really sums up what I think is at the heart of my dissatisfaction with work:

“I’m not the only overeducated underused employee that ever existed, so I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person who ever did this. I’m not the only person with a degree in English to find herself sitting behind the receptionist’s desk or waiting for someone else to schedule a meeting so that she could update a handbook that nobody would read anyway. On a global-economy scale, that’s a lot of unharnessed energy.”

Damn straight. I have a ton of unharnessed energy, and I am more than ready to harness it and put it to work for myself. Not only will that be much more satisfying to me, but I also would be able to spend more time on the things that matter to me – Baby, My Better Half™, and napping, for starters. Bonus: If I worked for myself, I think I would be better equipped to carve out the time I need to get a few weeks rest because this nickel & diming my time off to rest isn’t helping me get over months of being sick. I’ve made a plan and I’m going to keep myself accountable to it.

What is this ‘window’?

I used to spend my lunch hour going for walks. I no longer am afforded that luxury because, unless I want to stay 10 hours a day (and I don’t!), I gotta use all my break time for pumping. But today I had to run across campus for something, and it is a spectacularly beautiful day. It may be February elsewhere, but right now it’s a blissful 75 degrees and sunny here. That’s not what I’m here to talk about, though. I would’ve had to forge across campus even if it were cloudy and a brisk 65. In my errand, I walked past the office building across the street and what I saw stopped me dead in my tracks.

They have windows.

That OPEN.

It is absolutely criminal that any of us should have to be inside on a day like today anyway. Especially given that our faces will be melting under the death star very soon. But an office with windows that OPEN?! I have never even conceived of such an enviable fringe benefit before that moment. I mean, anyone can have a window in their office cube. I have even had a window in my office before. Sure, it looked out on a dingy poorly-lit hallway, but still. But a window that functions?

Mind. blown. Then I thought, um, hello? This is not novel. The only thing that made this moment noteworthy whatsoever is that I’m unfortunate enough to work in an environment controlled entirely by someone else. Redoubling my efforts to work on my own business plan.

All This Thinking is Counter-Productive

Yesterday’s work day was simultaneously one of the best and worst work days ever. Our network was completely down (and remains largely down today), giving me a very limited subset of tasks I could work on. Simple tasks that I blew through in just a few minutes. So I basically goofed off on the web all day.

I feel guilty about that in the sense that I know I’m not getting paid to just goof off. But I also feel guilty about it in some other, more profound way. That I don’t give a sh*t that that’s how I spent my day.

After months of un- and under-employment in 2010 and 2011, I finally landed this job. And I was, and continue to be, grateful for that. Even more grateful for the fact that I was more than 6 months pregnant when I started here. And that my workplace is so accommodating and understanding of the new rhythm of my life. Like needing some time to adjust to the schedule of getting to work with pants on. I have a lot to be thankful for: I have an amazing boss. I make a decent living. I have benefits. But I don’t love my job. I don’t love the line of work I’m in. It just doesn’t excite me or inspire me. If it’s too much to ask to do work that you’re really designed to do, that you are enthusiastic about, that provides the work environment and work style you desire, and at which you are driven to excel, then honestly? I’d rather just be home with my baby.

Having nothing to do but idle time to pass away in my cubicle yesterday was not a good thing because it sent me down a path of re-examining my career and life path yet again. I sat there in my cubicle thinking. And while thinking may be dangerous, it’s all I could do. Well, I mean, besides watch youtube videos of dogs.  Or babies. Or dogs and babies.

The result of all that thinking was a deafening cry inside my head: I want to be productive. I want to work hard. But I want to work for myself. If nothing else, if I worked for myself, woke up one morning, and the network was completely down? I wouldn’t sit there and stare at a blank screen all day like an automaton. I’d go out and live life. Read, nap, go for a hike, take a scenic drive. The possibilities are endless. Bonus: a little break would have reinvigorated me for when it was time to work again.

Coincidentally, I happened to read a blog post last night by someone who talked about losing his job suddenly and needing new work ASAP, who wrote “All I need is to be working with smart passionate people, flexible hours and the ability to work from anywhere. A cubicle is my death. I’ll take it if it’s all I can find, but I’d prefer to work from home and fly anywhere for meetings/face to face time.” Well said, my friend. I work in a cubicle, though that, in and of itself is not the problem. The last museum I worked for, I worked in a cubicle and worked with some of the most talented, funny, amazing coworkers friends ever. If we could have run away to found our own creative firm offering our services as a web designer, writer, graphics/visual artist, and editor, I totally would have. Except that we would have needed insta-clients, and lots of them, because all of us have piles of bills to pay.

Some of it has to do with the stupidity of playing working by the rules. Whether it’s that I have to show up & sit here in a cube for 8 hours even though none of us can get to a single work file, or that I can’t install Flash because I don’t have Admin user privileges even though I produce Flash videos for my job, or that I can’t listen to music on my computer even though I work at a music museum, whatever the workplace is, it has inane, inexplicably dumb rules. I want to live life by my own terms and work by my own rules. Work when I’m ready to work, rather than staring at a blank screen trying to get motivated because I haven’t yet had my coffee and had to be at work at 8:30 even though I’ve been up with a baby since 3:30. Or that I didn’t get to bed with the baby til 3:30. Cuz everyone knows, if you work from 11-7, your quality of work is just total sh*t compared to the quality of work you produce on no sleep between 8:30-4:30! Write about topics that I’m interested in, rather than digesting & regurgitating the most boring information to a general audience. And produce deliverables that match my expectations of high quality rather than pass off “meh, it’s ok, but at least it’s on time” stuff because of someone else’s constraints.

That could be the biggest thing. There’s nothing more frustrating at work than having to compromise, or even abandon your vision. That’s been one of my frustrations with everywhere that I have worked since grad school: not being in control over the quality of the work products I deliver. In grad school, I was in total control over the quality of my research sources, the level of my analysis, and the craftsmanship of my writing. But working for someone else is a whole different story. It’s awful to have a product “represent” you that you don’t feel is the type or quality of work you do best. Because I have worked only for nonprofits, I’m always on a shoestring budget, but I don’t always know the external constraints. Like when your boss tells you you’ve got a $25,000 budget for an exhibit, and you spend $4,000 only to be hauled into her office and told that you’ve “gone over budget.” How? Because she was working on the assumption that $22,000 of that “budget” was for your own salary. (And you were working on the assumption that budget = money one can spend. Because that’s what the word means). Or how you get “voluntold” at work to produce a professional instructional video in 3 months but you get told by the videographers that they can’t work you into their schedule in that time frame, so the best they can do is hand off some B-roll footage and let you work your own magic. When you’re in control of your own product, you know what’s within your abilities and limits and don’t overextend that by taking on projects and agreeing to ideas that compromise your vision. And you’re clear on the rules of engagement.

Here’s the thing: I feel like I finally deserve to find work that works for me. Until this job, I spent my work life trying to make a career out of museum work, and it’s just not there to be made. Museum work is tireless, thankless, and undervalued. It demands a lot of your time, your efforts, your patience, and your resources, but does not deliver equivalent opportunities for personal and professional growth, upward mobility, and, most importantly, work-life balance. Sure, you can rise through the ranks. Either incrementally and over a long period of time, working your way up in a large institution where you must summon the patience to spend years doing menial work that inexplicably demands a Master’s degree waiting for a vacancy for which you have been groomed over time to materialize. Or you may rise through the ranks at a tiny institution well before you are equipped with the skils, abilities, leadership, and network to tackle the frequently insurmountable problems of a small and increasingly irrelevant institution. I gave both a shot, and neither path worked out for me.

Then, when I was laid off by the last museum, I spent my time scrambling, trying to find any job that fit my existing skill set, hoping things would work out for the best. And the side effects aren’t shabby: a steady job that uses the skills that I learned used in museums – research, writing, editing, teaching, and a little design  – a decent paycheck with benefits, and the best boss I’ve had since 2006.

But I want more. I don’t want to try to squeeze myself into a new career that doesn’t fit me exactly right. All that thinking time yesterday reaffirmed that I’ve got to figure out how to make my next work move be to work for myself.

Rollercoaster

I thought I’d take you along on the rollercoaster ride that I’ve been on lately. Between being laid off (booo!) and knocked up (woohoo!), it’s been a hell of a ride.

Would you rather get the highs or the lows first? Actually, as I type that out, I realize that part of the problem is that they’re pretty intertwined so they’re inseparable. Sound crazy? Well, it is…

  • A high: Why, yes, I am currently working part-time, but (here’s the low): only for 6 more weeks, then it’s back to unemployment (and by then I’ll be almost 7 months pregnant and who will hire me then?!).
  • A high: My part-time job affords me the opportunity to have a time set aside each and every week to look for and apply for work. A low: I haven’t found anything. At all.
  • A high: I did go on two interviews in the past couple of weeks. The jobs weren’t all that suitable given my skill set, but I was still happy to have a chance to practice my interview skills, if nothing else. A low: I got the “not the right fit” spiel for one of them, a “thank you for your interest, we wish you luck” form letter for the other.
    • It’s hard enough to find a job when you’re not pregnant. Nevermind a job that’s a good fit, especially in this craptastic economy. But when you’re pregnant, employers may not be able to discriminate against you because you’re pregnant, but they can find tons of *other* reasons why you’re “just not a good fit right now.” It’s like a time bomb – the sooner I find work the better – before I’m really showing, ideally.
    • The fact that I’m switching careers doesn’t help. Any little thing (up to and including the very little baby I’m carrying) can be used against me when I’m competing against folks who already have more directly applicable experience in [fill-in-the-blank].
  • The highest of highs: I am so excited to be having my first baby! Also thanks to my part-time job, I get paid to surf the web shopping for cribs, nursery décor, and strollers. The downside to that: I can’t afford any of it right now.

See what I mean? Is it the hormones, or the unemployment? Since I’m experiencing both, I don’t think I’ll ever know…

What’s Not to Like?

I’m sitting at my new job – this is my second week. And honestly? It’s pretty great! Not just because I’m employed (although that, in itself, is a relief) but the work, the work environment? I’m not sure I have been more content with work in a long, long time.

What’s the deal? Well for starters, this is just the confidence boost I needed. For years now I’ve been bouncing around from job to job, and, as a result, my museum career felt very wobbly or uneven since my employment has been so inconsistent. After years of that, and especially with my layoff last fall, I suffered from a crisis of confidence in my own abilities. A more competent person would still be working at one of the many museum jobs I’ve had. I must not be talented at my chosen field because otherwise, my employers would have found some way to keep me on longer than they did. Why did I get laid off when others didn’t? What did I do wrong? Why am I not good enough? It sucks when you work for employers who may not understand or make full use of your talents and abilities…but when you start to take THEIR opinions about yourself to heart? That’s just sad. I started to believed that the problem was not my employers, but me. When they didn’t see value enough in my work to keep me on board, I began to question my own work products, too.

For years I’ve been ignoring that my confidence in my abilities has been slipping away. I came out of grad school a confident gal. I knew I was smart, capable of doing so many different things, and ready to take on whatever task or project I was given. After the last 10 years, though, I don’t even recognize myself. I don’t have faith anymore that my talents and skills will see me through adversity, and I lack the tenacity to even try. I’ve been trying for so long now to make a go of a museum career and it hasn’t worked out – I’m unemployed despite years of trying to prove myself and my worth as an employee. And the problem became even worse – getting laid off has shown me that I came to equate my self worth with my value as an employee, believing that my employers’ assessment of me (as demonstrated by my sputtering around from one short-term grant-funded project to another instead of getting to work as a permanent employee) must be right.

But this work? Answering phones, greeting clients, and taking charge of general office tasks? That I know I can do. I have no doubts about it. This is the first time in years that I have not found myself second-guessing my abilities and glancing over my shoulder at every second of the workday, leaving exhausted and anxious at the end of every day and dreading the next. Instead, I find myself walking out of here with my head held high – knowing that I did a great job today – and not even giving a second thought to what challenges await me tomorrow. And I know that my employer fully recognizes that I’m doing a great job, too, but that’s not even at the front of my mind, and that’s the biggest change. I fully know that I’m doing a great job so I don’t find myself worrying at every turn what my employer thinks and if they are aware of my worth and contributions. A real shift from the mindset I’ve been in for years, where I’ve been seeing myself as my museum employers have seen me (Apparently expendable).

There’s another thing that’s totally fabulous about this gig, though. Freeing up all that head space that was occupied by constant worry and anxiety about job performance? All that space is now freed up so I can focus on other, MUCH MORE IMPORTANT things. Things like: I AM HAVING A BABY!!

I cannot express how excited I am getting about Baby. Until now, yes, I was excited. But there was a huge wet blanket over that, which was my ever present companion of “I’m never going to find a job. What am I going to do?” I may not have found a long-term solution to that, and I still can’t answer what I want to be when I grow up, but I’m starting to let my anxiety about that slip a bit. I’m just BARELY starting to show…and what this humble job is showing me is that maybe I’ve been going about about this job search all wrong. What if I let go of a possibly unrealistic pursuit of work that I find satisfying and instead focus on finding work that lets me rebuild my workplace mojo? That just might free up the space that I need right now to be able to fully experience the undeniable gratitude I feel for the blessings in my personal life as we prepare to welcome Baby.

Paper Dolls

It can be easy to get discouraged by the job market and sometimes I’m not very enthusiastic about the jobs I apply for. I wish that I had been given the luxury of thoughtfully planning a career transition while I still collected a paycheck, but unfortunately that’s not the case. I tried like hell for months to find other work before my unemployment happened, even before I knew for sure that I was getting laid off. While I was still working, I was applying only for things that were directly relevant to my background, but now that we’re without any paychecks at all…and I’m now 3 months pregnant, I’ve been applying for anything and everything that remotely relates to my qualifications, but just haven’t found anything very interesting.

Then there are the times like this when I stumbled on and apply for jobs I think I could be really interested in, jobs that really connect with my experience and skills and interests, and that I would have applied for even when things were not starting to get desperate. Two case studies.

I applied for an editing job at a publisher that specializes in western American history. They are looking for an acquisitions editor – someone to read, evaluate, and make recommendations on manuscript submissions. I meet all the qualifications (someone with a background in western American history) and I couldn’t envision a more appropriate fit for my work experience, degrees, skill set, and most importantly, interests. I’ve been thinking for a long time – long before my layoff, actually – that publishing would be a great fit for me. I’ve done a ton of research and writing, editing, proofing, and layout, and at a full-service traditional publisher like the one that’s hiring, I could really see myself staying long-term as my role would likely evolve over time. Part of what has been so frustrating about museum work for me is that I’ve had to go from short-term to short-term gig, never settling for more than 18 months or so, as most (actually, all but one) of the jobs I’ve landed has been grant-funded project-specific work (e.g., catalog this collection, research and write this exhibit, develop these educational materials, etc.). In other words, you come on board to get the job done and when it’s done, the museum may not necessarily have money to keep you on full time. Or at all. (And where “may not necessarily” should be read as: does not.) I’d like a shot at a career that uses my existing skill set but working in a place that fosters my development and growth over time (instead of leaving it all up to me, as it has been for more than 10 years). I could totally see myself in this role in particular as something that’s key for me is never standing still – there would always be something new to read, some new author to meet, some new project to take on. In other words: I could totally get excited about this job.

Another job I came across is the baking recipes editor for a website. Qualifications: that you know something about baking but you don’t have to be a professional baker (check!), that you are detail-oriented and know grammar (check!), that you feel comfortable writing in a conversational blog style (check!), and that you know a little bit about photo editing and website coding (check!). Seriously – what could be more perfect?! And the description of the company sounds amazing. It’s a casual work environment, flexible hours, you can telecommute part of the time, they provide drinks & meals, and they have a…are you ready? On-site daycare. Hello! Even though I know a ton about baking and crafted a very clever cover letter and meet all the qualifications, I doubt I’ll make it past the gatekeeper, but I could totally see myself rolling to work against the morning commute, wearing jeans, and with my baby in tow to play with his/her little baby friends at daycare, where I would grab a free latte on my way down the hall to check in on baby. Benefits – fringe or real – have been largely absent in my museum work. I’ve worked in only one job that provided health insurance and/or retirement. Are you kidding me?! Why I was ever naive enough to be okay with that, I don’t know, but the older I get…and with a hospital delivery on its way…benefits like health insurance are nothing to scoff at. This one would combine my skills in writing with my creative outlet of baking with a dash of design and a pinch of coding thrown in for good measure.

It’s not just that these seem like great jobs – it’s that they could be just the spark to ignite a whole new career path, avoiding having to take the first job that comes along while I still float about the job market looking for a better long-term fit. When I find jobs like these two, I start envisioning the version of my self and my life if I got the job. Hopefully I’ll get to entertain those versions of my self in a little more detail if I can just get interviews…

Just as Hard as it Sounds

So when I took my job writing exhibits, I knew it was a short-term 18-month gig. But I figured 18 months as a “real” writer was worth it, and by the end of the 18 months, I’d surely be able to land find another writing gig. Boy, am I naive! Today was my last day at the job, and I’m now laid off. I’m sad to leave my friends behind, as I had many awesome coworkers. But I’m glad to be out of that wickety wak environment, and beyond ready to leave the museum world in my rear view. But how to transform myself into a writer, even with all this free time on my hands now, is just as hard as it sounds like it might be. It might shock you to hear, but writing here doesn’t pay, and I’m not sure how to find writing gigs that do. And to be honest, I like writing, so I’m not sure I want to mess up that relationship by getting in bed with it and making it my livelihood.

Butcher, Baker, Candlestick Maker

My museum career string of dead-end jobs is over. It will take me a while to be okay with closing that chapter. After all, I thought it was my dream job for more than 10 years. But I’m ready to do something different. If only I knew what that was. Last time I posted here I was thinking not about possible career paths but about immediate job prospects. A necessary consideration given that I’m typing this in pajamas thanks to my current unemployment. But I also think a lot about my future career – what I want to be when I grow up do next. There are a lot of things I think that I’d like to do. Things I can do. Writing and editing, for instance. Photography and photo editing. Baking. Web design. But what I can get hired to do? That’s another story.

I’ve taken an inventory of my existing skill set: googling, instant messaging, and procrastination. Okay, so I guess my work in museums did develop skills and abilities beyond those, when I think about it. As long as I think really hard, anyway. Research, writing, public speaking, planning, database administration, project management…But identifying those skills is one thing. Figuring out how to get employers to take note of my museum experience is another thing entirely.

Take writing, for instance. Writing (and the accompanying research skill set that enables me pull together the content to write about) has been, by far, the major component of my work for…I don’t even know how long. For the past 6 years continuously, but even my first job out of college was to write, edit, and layout all the museum newsletters, brochures, and marketing materials. My last job title was, well, Writer. But the only time I see jobs in publishing or writing, they are looking for someone with a degree in English or Journalism. I’ve written website copy, brochures, newsletters, social media campaigns, grant applications, press releases…and, oh yeah!, museum exhibits. Over the years, I’ve written tons of different kinds of materials for highly diverse audiences but it feels like I might as well toss those years of experience out the window when it comes to jobs that list degrees I don’t have even when I match all the other qualifications. Sure, I could provide a portfolio, I guess. But mine consists of tight little 100-150 word labels, which is a highly technical skill in and of itself but evidently does little to impress upon the general reader how much work goes into crafting them, nor the research that goes into their content. (You try transforming highly complex scholarly information into an approachable and engaging narrative written for general audiences using 125 or fewer words per label on deadline and let me know how it goes.)  I can’t provide my personal blog (read by my faithful audience that fluctuated between zero and two) as a portfolio of my talents. I’ve said “fuck” and “shitballs” on there, people!

My degrees are in history and anthropology. Useless, really. Okay, fine. I don’t really think my degrees are useless – I think they have served me well in landing short-term employment in jobs that pay poorly and provide no benefits. But they also helped me develop a ton of skills & abilities. Historians rely on a journalist’s skills – the ability to research using a wide variety of sources and critically examine the claims and biases of all sources – and the writing chops of an English major to tell the stories of the past. And I’m really good at all of those things. But since employers don’t see “English” or “Journalism” when they check my resume against their minimum qualifications, I don’t think my resume and cover letter make it past the recycling bin. Especially in this economy when even folks who match the minimum qualifications get weeded out because there’s always someone else with more directly relevant experience.

I feel like I need to stumble upon someone who could serve as my ambassador to potential employers. Someone who understands the skill set I bring to the table. When you work in nonprofits like museums, you wear a lot of hats, which has afforded me the opportunity to code and design websites and put my Adobe Creative Suite skills to use in developing and designing exhibits, catalogues, newsletters, and all other manner of whatnot. But try as I might, I can’t get anyone to notice that my work experience is directly relevant to any publishing or writing job because I lack the specified credentials. If I decided I wanted to go into web design, I could send a portfolio of the websites I’ve done, but since I don’t have a web design certificate or degree, I’d run into the same problem I would with publishing and writing jobs.

Figuring out which experience I even want to take with me to my next career is tough, too. Take database administration, for instance. I did a TON of database work in museums – collections management databases, development (read: fundraising) databases, membership databases – TMS, re:Discovery, Argus, PastPerfect, Access, Crystal Reports, and so many more – but I’m not interested in doing database work. I left collections management to go into exhibit development because I was sick of sitting at a computer staring at databases all day. And, even if I wanted to do database administration, “real” DBAs would take issue with hiring someone whose background/degrees/job titles weren’t in computing.

My work experience feels so unbalanced. On the one hand, I found my M.A. to be simultaneously required for my work in museums and yet totally and completely unnecessary for the tasks that were assigned to me in my museum jobs. On the other hand, I don’t have the degrees needed for the work I’d like to be doing. And I’m still not clear on what that is, anyway. I guess if I could dream up any job that I wanted, it would be to work as a blogger (writing my own blog, not writing SEO crap for some realtor or for about.com). But as far as I know, the only ways to get paid as an individual blogger are to a) write stuff & b) make sure folks are reading it, and last I checked, well, let’s just say I’ve got a long way to go. Hmmm. Maybe I should take a crash course in SEO – ha!

Somehow I lucked into figuring out how one can have both a good amount of work experience directly relevant to jobs I’d like to do and exactly the wrong credentials for the same jobs. I’m not asking to go into a totally new career at a highly advanced level – I’d totally be willing to accept a lower-paying job in publishing or writing just so I could get started as long as there’s a possibility that I’d advance as I brought my skills and abilities to bear on whatever new career I choose.

As I think about all this, though, I also think that I don’t really have the luxury of carefully orchestrating a career transition. Thanks to sudden unemployment, right now what I need most is to find a steady paycheck before this baby gets here. After baby’s here, I’ll worry about what I’d really like to do with my career…It seems likely that more short-term work is in my near future while I try to sort out my long-term career goals.

What was I Thinking?

Overnight I’ve gone from being the exhibit writer to, um, well, I don’t have a title anymore. Moved from my cubicle to, well, um, I don’t have a workspace anymore. I just show up at the museum collections storage room door, knock, and, once admitted, stand around until the tasks for the day are doled out and divvied up. Then we scurry off to unpack boxes, take empty boxes to recycling, hand off objects to and from the photographer, do data entry, and shelve the unpacked objects. I don’t know what I was thinking, but when I was told about this collections inventory project, I pictured a whole lot of data entry. And there is that. But, since I never worked in this museum’s registration department, my login doesn’t give me the ability to enter or modify data into the database. Made sense when I was in the exhibits department. Now? Not so much. But they won’t change it because I’m just temporary. So while I envisioned that I’d be maybe sitting around in a cubicle, doing a ton of data entry with this inventory project, instead I find myself being asked to help unpack giant boxes, haul objects up and down ladders, and vacuum using the world’s clunkiest vacuum cleaner. Even when we’re all standing around waiting for the next task, I’m standing around. All of it requires a lot of energy and it’s making it hard for the newly pregnant me to stay awake past 6:00 4:30 p.m.

Though I’m trying to stay focused on being grateful that I’m still earning a paycheck, all that I can think of is that I left museum collections management to go into exhibit development. And now I find myself having taken a step backward at just the moment when I’d made an agreement with myself to take a big leap forward out of museum work altogether. Not to mention that since I’m pregnant, this is exactly the wrong time to be moving into a role that literally requires heavy lifting from time to time. (I mean, I haven’t been asked to help move a piano or anything, but if and when that happens, I’ll have to figure out how to decline.) But that’s not even the biggest of my worries. It’s that I am on borrowed time. I am hurtling inexorably toward motherhood and, even sooner than that, unemployment. (For real this time.) By all measures, I need a (more permanent, long-term, benefits-eligible) job as soon as possible. The longer I wait, the more I’ll be showing, and while I see the baby bump as a deal-sealer for any potential employer: ‘I’m a sure-fire bet because I got another mouth to feed!’, apparently what potential employers see is: ‘NO chance she’s gonna stick around and work here after the baby’s born.’ I need to (1) find a job I’m even remotely eligible to apply for, (2) craft a cover letter that demonstrates that my years of experience in museums is directly applicable to cookie baking, dog catching, or what have you, and (3) land an interview, all before I start showing. And any one of those takes time. Precious time I’m running out of while I stand around in my new post hoping nobody asks me to help move a baby grand today.

So while this new gig is keeping unemployment at bay, it’s also coming at a cost of not getting me any closer to answering “Well, what’s next, then?” (Not to mention taxing the very little energy that I have.) Time spent on the clock is time not spent trying to nap figure out what I can do with my life. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all.