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.

Calling It Quits

On the heels of our Vegas getaway, I’ve decided to go ahead and call it quits at work. I’ll be pulling the plug today. It just makes more sense to go ahead and end this now, before I get asked to move a baby grand.

While it’s been nice to get a paycheck, I need to shift my time, attention, and energy away from the past and towards the future. My immediate job prospects, my future career path and my future role as a mother, for starters. It’s hard for me to think about my future self as a mother when I am so preoccupied with not being unemployed, so let’s look at the other two.

The future career path is so undetermined, so hard for me to wrap my mind around. A few years ago, I did career counseling. The pathway that my counselor recommended as a best fit for me was to get to a place where I could balance working part-time in something that is more, um, mindless, I guess, for lack of a better word – retail, baking – anything other than sitting at a computer – with writing part-time in order to harness my creativity and direct it towards something that is more personally fulfilling. (With the larger end goal of tipping the scales more towards writing as a long-term career.) That all really resonated with me. And still does – I’d still like to get there eventually as it sounds lovely. But right now, that seems really far off. I just need a paycheck. So on to my immediate job prospects…

While we were in Las Vegas, I spent a ton of time looking online for jobs, by which I mean napping and listening to podcasts. And also looking for work. (They’re really one and the same. Surfing the job listings would get me so discouraged at my prospects that I would shut the laptop and resume lying in the fetal position while listening to This American Life).

There are the jobs I would want but for which I am absolutely not qualified – proven blogger with readership numbers large enough to make it possible for me to work for myself, for example; the jobs I qualify for but don’t want – social media campaign coordinator, anyone? I’d rather shoot myself; and the work that I once enjoyed but which would entail a huge reduction in pay – retail, that would be you.

I decide I shouldn’t even bother applying for the jobs for which I’m absolutely not qualified. A total waste of my time and energy. The ones that I qualify for but don’t want? Well…they would bring in a paycheck, so I probably should at least keep them on the list. And the work I once enjoyed? First I’d have to convince someone that I really do have experience in retail…even if that was 11 years ago…and then I’d have to be able to absorb the decrease in income in order to possibly achieve an increase in satisfaction. I mean, who’s to say I’d still enjoy retail? Or that what I enjoyed about it was something other than the work itself – a more casual work environment, a variable schedule, not having to report to work before 10 a.m…That’s all stuff I’d have to consider…if I could just get an employer to consider me.

It’s so discouraging to apply via some nameless, faceless, generic online portal. Okay, I get it. This is just how jobs get filled these days, and without the web, how the hell else would you find work? And employers need an efficient way to screen out unqualified applicants. But it makes it really difficult for those of us who are trying to switch careers. No matter how many job openings I’ve looked at, I have yet to see a question prompt for: “I did something completely different for more than 10 years but the following applicable skills and experience are directly relevant to this opening (list and explain in detail here).” It’s hard to make my work experience fit in the boxes provided when I’m trying to think outside the box.

With all of that weighing on my mind, I was looking at job ad after job ad, and I just kept seeing language that indicated that positions were to be filled quickly (e.g., “Review of applications will begin immediately and will continue until the position is filled” as opposed to the more traditional “Initial close date is XYZ though applications will continue to be accepted and reviewed until position is filled”), so time is of the essence in closing in on my best near-term job prospects. I’m done standing around at my current dead-end (literally) job. I go home at the end of each day exhausted, only to have to scroll through websites looking for new job postings and pull together an application somewhere between dinner and bed – a very narrow window these days. I’ve decided to quit today so that I can devote 24/7 to finding a job pronto. When I leave today, I will neatly pack my museum work past into an archival, acid-free box, and label with a teeny tiny catalog label (reading “best intentions” or something along those lines), and get my ass home to find my new job. Bonus: my new commute from the bedroom to the living room is going to be epic.

Because Nothing Says “An Appropriate Vacation During Pregnancy” Like Vegas

With unemployment looming on the horizon, I could care less about taking time off from that unemployment placeholder that I call a “job” these days, and while I would like to save my vacation time so that I can get paid all those hours after my last day (thereby extending my income as long as possible), I also am completely out of give a sh*ts. And tired of concealing my nausea at work. So when My Better Half™ had a work trip in Las Vegas, I jumped at the chance to go along for the ride. (Not because I love Las Vegas. I actually hate it. But just getting out of town for a few days sounded like just the thing I needed).

Though I’m not part of the conference, I keep running into people I know who invariably ask “What’s new?” Well…a lot!. Let’s see: I’ve been laid off and haven’t found work yet so I’m unemployed in a matter of weeks, I’m giving up on museum work and don’t know WTF to do with my life, and, hmmm, what was that other thing? Oh, yeah, we’re having a baby!! Of course I can’t tell them any of that last part. It’s way too early. We haven’t even told our families. So I just make small talk with conference folks until I can make for the nearest exit at the first opportunity.

This line of questioning does make me think about how to break the news to friends. I guess ‘break the news’ doesn’t quite feel right. After all, this is something we’re very excited (and really a little nervous) about. But here’s the thing: I haven’t gone around broadcasting to our friends and family that we’ve not been trying not to get pregnant for quite awhile now. I’ll wait while you re-read that sentence. Ready? Ok. It’s been a private thing for us, and I figured we’d share any exciting news if/when we had the good fortune to get pregnant. It’s clear that most of our family & friends assume that the absence of a child in our house after 7 years of marriage means that we’ve elected not to have children, and I’m fine with them thinking whatever the hell they wanted to about that so I’ve done nothing to disavow them of that notion. We haven’t found the need to share that we wanted to wait to have kids (for a variety of reasons), and I guess I figured that if we did let anyone in on that reasoning, we’d constantly get a barrage of unsolicited advice and none-of-your-business questions.

An aside: One reason we waited was so we would have more income. In the 7 years we’ve been married, one or both of us has been in grad school at all times, earning very little, and there has been only two periods of time during which we had health insurance (nevermind any other benefits).  Little did we know that when we finally got to feeling more stable financially, it would take us a long time after that to get pregnant. So long, in fact, that we now find the whole stable bank account thing eroding out from under us. I want to slap whoever it was that said that irony is dead. (Update: if only we knew who the F that was.)

So now that we’re having a baby at long last, I’m at a loss about how to tell people, even though I’m certain they’ll all be just as thrilled as we are. That doesn’t make it any less clumsy to tell someone out of the blue, that hey, by the way…you know how we don’t have kids and you probably thought that was by design and how it would always be? That’s about to change!

Family & close friends aside, the whole transition to unemployment complicates things and makes such an announcement even more awkward. Hey, former coworkers? You know how you thought I was going to just be unemployed? Not so fast! I’m soon to be unemployed…while I’m expecting a baby! Hey, future employer? You know how you are weighing in your mind whether I will be the best fit for your organization? How about I throw in the mix that I’m not just someone coming from a different industry with lots of skills and work experience that’s difficult to translate directly to your industry…I’m also going to be a mom in about 6 months!

Just thinking about all that makes me feel that, for now, I’m okay with putting off figuring out how to tell people the news.