Recommitting to a New Career

Today was my first day back to work after having a baby. It sucked. It was so unbelievably difficult to leave my little infant at daycare, and reaffirmed to me that I need to figure out a way to work for myself. Since we moved here in 2006, I worked in museums (well, and one private art gallery) for four years, making the best of the local museum scene (which ain’t much, by the way) before fully abandoning museum work slash getting laid off last fall. Once I was laid off, I had to scramble to find a paycheck, so I took the first full-time benefits-eligible job I could find because I needed to pay our mortgage and eat and stuff. Y’know, the extravagant things in life. But having never had a baby before, I had no idea what to expect about just how hard it would be to put her in daycare and head back into the office. I’m not saying I would want to be a full-time stay-at-home mom, but I certainly wasn’t ready to return to work so quickly, and leaving a helpless little 8 week old at daycare was the most heart-wrenching thing I’ve ever had to do.

It just reaffirms the stuff I learned a couple years ago with career counseling. I need to figure out a way to work for myself, set my own schedule, define my own projects, and work from home. More than ever.

In Which I Officially Become a Writer

So, it’s real. The vision I created through career counseling to become a writer is happening. I just accepted a job as a writer! It’s actually writing museum exhibits, which isn’t exactly the kind of writing I want to be doing and I really wanted out of museum work, BUT it’s a launching pad. And it’s temporary – 18 months – so hopefully I’ll have developed enough of a portfolio in the next 18 months to say buh-bye to museum work altogether and set my sails for writer-land.

Career Counseling Is Changing My Life

So I’m approaching the completion of my career counseling, and it has been an amazing experience. Just like the assessments I did for a job interview about a year ago, I’ve been surprised at how accurately and insightfully the assessments have pinpointed my skills and work style. Mostly, I’ve learned a lot about myself. Let’s review, shall we:

  • I am a highly creative person, who needs to be doing work that is based in creativity. The work has to have variety, be challenging, team-oriented with the ability to direct my own tasks and be flexible.
    • Basically, confirming what I already knew. I should be a writer. But how a writer makes money working for herself, I still haven’t figured out.
  • I have been unhappy & dissatisfied with work thus far because I have been socialized (as many of us are) that a single, “traditional” career is best. That does not fit my personality style nor my talents, and I need to be able to construct work that has many different components, whether that means part-time at two jobs or project-based consulting or whatever. Staying in the same work environment and rising through the ranks doesn’t work for me.
    • This has been a big DUH finding for me. I was brought up with the expectation that you go to college, then you go to graduate or professional school and you embark upon that career. Ta-DAH! Success! But that didn’t give me the opportunity to “play” with my interests and skills and led me to de-value the tasks and kinds of work that I enjoy because they weren’t “demanding” or “high-skilled” enough. Example: my favorite job of all time was when I worked in a bagel shop. I loved everything about it, and was happy as a lark. But because of my socialization, I didn’t question the assumption that of course this is just a part-time gig and why would anyone work in a bagel shop when they have other, more “professional” options available to them? Even if you take the financial argument that realistically, one probably cannot easily work in a low-wage food-service job long-term, let’s compare it to how my bank account has done gangbusters in the nonprofit sector. Ahem.
  • My MBTI Type is INFP. As an INFP, I have to do work I believe in (for projects or casues I care about), I need to work without a great deal of supervision (micromanagement stifles my creative flow), use my creativity to address problems, work among others, have the freedom and time to work on projects with plenty of reflection and quiet time to focus in depth, in a supportive work environment, and have the opportunity to continue to grow personally and professionally.
    • Breaking it down: Unlike what you may think, the I does not mean shy and reserved. The I means that I am focused on theories, ideas, thoughts, concepts. I reqiure the time to reflect and contemplate before I act and become renewed by solo time while social interaction takes energy & drains my focus. The N means I see the forest more than the trees, that I am able to generalize and interpret from facts to larger patterns and that I value insights and analogies. The F means I am empathetic, I seek to find what is most important and prioritize values, and lean towards acceptance and sympathy. The P means that I focus on options and possibilities, I enjoy starting (but not finishing!) projects (ahem), especially because I continually take in and consider new information (to the detriment of getting projects done!).

It explains a lot. I felt like crap about my work and work performance at the history museum becaues my personality type was discounted and not valued as a “legitimate” work style. I’m unhappy at my current job at this private art gallery because I do repretitive tasks that do not tap into my creativity and do not allow me to be balance out my quiet time with social projects and collaboration.

My Strong Interest Inventory indicates that I am best in lines of work that are artistic, social, and investigative. Museums could be a good fit for a work environment for me, but I’ve come out of this recognizing and reaffirming that writing is what I’d like to be doing.  How to get from here to there? I still don’t know. But I’ll start by marketing myself via a portfolio career that highlights my many talents & skills with the intention of creating my own work, either as a consultant or a writer, or balancing part-time work with poverty writing on my own. AKA poverty. At this point, I don’t care how poor we will be, though. I think it’s more important to do what makes you happy than what makes you rich slightly less impoverished.

Career Counseling. AKA General Life Therapy

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.

My New Job Sucks

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!

Work Assessment

So in looking for new work, I’d applied to a position at another nonprofit that seemed to have its act together. I wasn’t sure if the position was right for me, but as I got to know the company, I felt like it was a really good fit. Read: they pay well and offer benefits.

But the hoops to go through in applying for the job were borderline ridiculous. In addition to the usual cover letter and resume, phone and in-person interviews, I had to take an enormous battery of personality assessments. I had been told that regardless of whether I was offered the position, I’d be given the results. After I’d gotten word that I wouldn’t be offered the position, I hadn’t heard from the HR folks, so I finally called to inquire and had a phone consultation with them today to go over the results. The first thing the HR woman asked (excitedly) was, “So! Did you get the job?!”

Um, no.

“No? Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.”

(Um, why the hell didn’t you know that already? Weird!)

“Do you know WHY you weren’t offered the position?”

No. I simply received a letter that stated that another candidate had been offered and had accepted the position.

“Well, we’ll see what we can find out on our end and give you a little more feedback on that at another time. In the meantime, just try to understand not to take this personally and ….”

I tuned out. It’s hard not to take this sort of thing personally.

Anyway, on to the results. I was shocked at how accurately the results reflected my work style and personality. I was measured in four cognitive ability areas: vocabulary, numerical and visual analysis, verbal reasoning, and critical thinking. For these four tests, I rated “far above average” in these areas. But that wasn’t the interesting part. The assessments also measured my work personality in several areas.

As far as my leadership style, I am comfortable at being in charge but it’s not something that I have to have at work to be fulfilled. (Check). I am open and willing to challenge the status quo and challenge authority, not a blind follower. (Yup.) I am willing to voice unpopular opinions, but I am also concerned about what other people think of me and my work. (So far, three for three.)

On a scale of introversion to etraversion, I am in the middle. Which means I need to be around people and be given the opportunity to work on teams, but I also require alone time to think, contemplate, and do the tasks that contribute to the overall project. Sounds right.

I am not only comfortable working among people who are different from me, I actually prefer that because I am inspired and fueled by the diversity of approaches and ideas brought to the table. I have strong empathetic skills. I am good at listening to and understanding others, I am concerned about others’ feelings, and I am approachable. I am dependable and see that follow-through is important, but I’m not overly concerned with details to make me a perfectionist. I am highly focused on achievement and strive to exceed my goals. I prefer to be self-directed and independent, but I like a lot of variety in my work — I get easily bored with the same thing or repetitive tasks. I am naturally curious, I am skilled at understanding myself, my thoughts and feelings, and reading non-verbal cues. The tests even revealed that I’m quite sensitive, that it is difficult for me (though not impossible) to address sticky or sensitive issues and I take constructive feedback way too personally.

While I may not have landed the job, I think all of this info is a really key takeaway as I look for other work, particularly since I’m considering bailing on the museum, and even nonprofit, sector altogether. The problem is I don’t know how to find work that best suits me…