Sickness, Yes. Mornings? No.

It’s such a cliche, but morning sickness is around-the-clock for me. After I wake, I lie there motionless, hoping that if I just don’t move, maybe my stomach won’t sound the alarm yet. I try to eat something to calm my stomach before I have to leave for work, but nothing seems to help. Once I get to work, it takes half my energy to not throw up and the other half to try and act like everything’s normal, to get through my day without seeming too distracted by the morning sickness, the being pregnant, and/or the looming unemployment, take your pick. On top of the morning sickness, I’m beyond exhausted but supposed to report to work an hour earlier than I had to in any of the previous 18 months in my old department, and even though they say caffeine in moderation is okay during pregnancy, coffee and Diet Coke are up there with cigarette smoke on the nausea-inducing richter scale.

I haven’t told anyone at work that I’m pregnant. Why would I? I was laid off as a writer last Friday, and I’m on borrowed time working in the museum’s registration department on a project that’s wrapping up in just a few weeks. Around New Year’s I’m getting laid off (again). For real this time. I report my hours and any time off to my “old” supervisor from the exhibits department, but I never see her or any of my friends from that department, and I no longer have a workspace or a computer. I report to duty in the museum’s collections storage room, where I work with and for folks I don’t know at all. I work different hours, I do different tasks, and I wasn’t about to tell HR I’m pregnant when I’m losing my job (again) in just 6 weeks anyway. Suffice to say it’s more than a little awkward – I don’t want my new, very temporary unofficial supervisor and coworkers to know what my official supervisor and friends don’t yet know.

I also don’t want them to suspect that I’m some sort of slacker whiling away the hours napping in a bathroom stall, though I don’t feel like I owe any of these people any explanation. But the morning sickness is becoming increasingly difficult to conceal at work. Until now, I’d had small, occasional bouts of nausea but now it’s unrelenting. Wave after wave hits me, resulting in a complete inability to keep anything down. And I mean anything – water, Ginger Ale, 7-up, Gatorade, rice, saltines. Sometimes I worry that everyone’s noticing that I’m running to the bathroom every 20 minutes. Then I realize that after I’ve worked here more than 18 months, I’m now reduced to being no more than a guest worker on a very temporary visa, and I could give a sh*t if I get “fired.” I’m losing my job one way or another – what do I care?

Last Friday was scheduled to be my last day at the museum. And, not coincidentally, in museum work. After my boss told me a few months ago that my contract was not going to be renewed, I did a lot of soul searching. I’ve been working in trying to work in museums for more than 10 years. Every career move I have made was with the goal of securing a stable, long-term position in a museum, but no matter how hard I’ve tried to make this career path work for me, it just hasn’t. I stumbled on the notion of working in a museum as a college student, and thought it was my dream job. I thought it would be fun to study artifacts and research the past. I thought that my work would have greater meaning – that I would get to make contributions to a larger body of knowledge. And I thought it would be more creative and therefore, more engaging than your typical 9-5 office drone work.

Once I became enamored with this idea, I got my M.A. in 2001 so that I could work in museums. Mission. Accomplished. And what did it get me? In the 10 years since, I’ve had a grand total of just over 5 years of gainful employment in my field. If this were baseball, I’d be in the Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, that meant that for 5 of the past 10 years, I spent just as much time stubbornly chasing down a foolhardy vision of a career as I did resenting the short-term positions that I did successfully piece together in my chosen field. I’ve been working at making a career out of a dying career path, one that is over-credentialed and woefully underpaid, all for the sake of fulfilling some childish vision of a “dream job.”

In my experience, it’s called a dream job because it is some romanticized fantasy – a reverie. Now that I’m waking up, I find myself in a daze, having given over more than a decade to something that just wasn’t really there. I have worked in positions that had advertised the need for advanced credentials and specialized skills when the day-to-day responsibilities turned out to be manning the front desk cash register and answering the phone. I took short-term and contract positions with the hope that they would turn into more, but inevitably each would come to an end as funding ran out. All along the way I found myself thinking , “If only I [fill-in-the-blank]” [had a Ph.D., knew more about ancient pre-Columbian textiles, became an expert at HTML5 applications for web-based exhibitions…you get the idea], I would at long last achieve the dream job I’d always hoped for. I finally ended up with a great title ( exhibit writer) and overlooked the minor detail that it was a short-term contract position, foolishly thinking that this would be my career salvation, only to find that it, too, would chew me up and spit me out into unemployment.  I have given it my all. In the end, my 10 year pursuit has come at a high opportunity cost: the chance to have had a decade of better pay, retirement benefits (paid by someone other than me out of my meager take home pay), and professional growth and advancement in a career path that offered continuity instead of the punctuated equilibrium that has been my ‘career.’ I’m taking this layoff as a sign: that it is time to move on.

To what? I don’t know. I fear that I have over-niched myself to such a degree that I wonder if I can identify, nevermind market, any transferable skills to move on to something else. All that I’ve learned from the past 10 years was that museum work wasn’t what I wanted to do, but I haven’t gotten any closer to figuring out what I do want to do. In the meantime, as I said in the first sentence, I *was* scheduled to be laid off last Friday, but it turned out that another department at the museum was working on a collections management project and could give me some hours, meaning I could delay the arrival of the inevitable final paycheck for a few weeks. Despite me wanting to tell them to go F themselves (and being completely and utterly out of give a sh*ts), I sensed that this was one of the first of the many, many sacrifices I would make as a new parent: my pride. So I dutifully reported to my new department and this awful, repetitive, tedious soul-sucking inventory project this morning. A project that will have me on my feet 40 hours a week, by the way, and climbing up and down ladders. Because everyone knows that pregnant women have boundless energy reserves in that first trimester. Though I’m trying to stay focused on being grateful that I’m still earning an income, all that I can think is that it’s time to close this museum chapter. This project is not just reinforcing that this museum work is exactly what I don’t want to be doing anymore, it’s also not getting me any closer to answering “Well, what, then?” It’s also taking up more than 40 hours each week and taxing the very little energy that I do have, keeping me from trying to nap figure out what I can do.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *