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.

How Bad Did I Look Before?

I’ve been free of the museum job and the Boss for two months now, and met my friends for a drink after work this evening. The first thing my BFF said was “You look GREAT! The lines on your face have gone WAY down!”

So it’s not just me. I felt like that my museum job took years off my life, and other people saw it too. Can I sue for pain, suffering, and the cost of Restylane?

It’s Official

Sign that my dissertation is about a year overdue. My idiot boss used the term “cultural landscape” today. My dissertation topic used to be on the forefront, cutting edge. Now it’s so common, so much a part of our conversations, so intuitively understood that my topic is increasingly boring,  passé.  I guess I’m officially old school. Maybe this is just what happens when it takes you forever to write a dissertation. The topic passes you by.

Underdevelopment

All I do at work anymore is fundraise. The annual fundraiser is in three weeks, and my coworker (singular) and I have been working our asses off to make it go smoothly. I cannot believe how poorly planned the event is. With the Boss on her maternity leave, it’s up to me and the administrative assistant to make it happen. The board committee shows up for weekly meetings during which they play on their Blackberrys under the table while half-heartedly listening to whether we should have the same dessert as last year or a new one. The meeting breaks, an hour and a half later, with no decision made. The only decision is that we should all email our choice by 2 pm tomorrow.

Instead of all the work I came here to do — collections management, archival digitization, exhibit development — I spend all of my time putting together packages for the upcoming Silent Auction, take reservations for the event, book bands and photographers, and work as a bartender at all of the other smaller special events. This upcoming fundraiser is mission critical. It raises all of our operating expense fund for the entire upcoming year. All of our operating expenses.

My boss has all but said that the next year depends entirely upon the money raised at this event. But never having done this before, there’s no training, no help, nobody who did this last year to walk me through this. Until the museum can create a stable financial base, all of my efforts are going to be oriented to the season’s fundraiser. In the spring, it’s the major annual fundraiser. In the fall, it’s gearing up for a booksigning and lecture. In the winter, it’s a holiday themed dinner. And in the new year, it’s another booksigning and lecture. The museum has zero endowment, and barely scrapes together enough to pay its staff.  I have no idea why the museum decided to spend their hard-earned money on me, who has very little experience in special events and fundraising, when they could have spent their funds more wisely on a development director to raise money.

Phone Tree

If you call a major museum and ask for the curator, you probably get handed off to some assistant to the assistant curator, or the registrar, or an office manager. If you call my museum and ask for the curator, you get me.

99 percent of these calls shouldn’t even make it to me, but our front desk volunteers are ancient and can’t follow instructions, nevermind filter my calls. So they just send them straight through to me. I get dozens of the following questions weekly, if not daily. You get to choose the proper response from the choices provided under each question.

1.  I have an old newspaper / rock / dinosaur bone. I’m at the front desk. Can you come tell me what it is?

a) No. We are unable to provide identification and authentication services (not to mention we don’t collect newspapers or dinosaur bones or rocks).

b) Screw you. I’m not an on-call curator.

c) Oh Goody! A Newspaper / rock / dinosaur bone! I’ll be right up!

 

2. I have a Declaration of Independence, and I want to sell it to you. How much is it worth and how much will you give me?

a) At this time, our museum does not have any funds available for the purchase of artifacts. More importantly, it is against museum policy to provide any authentication, monetary valuation, or appraisals for any items. I am happy to provide you with a list of professional appraisers.

b) Ha-ha SUCKER! I hate to tell you this, but the chances of your document being authentic are slim to none. Can’t wait to see the look on your face when the documents dealer tells you as much! How much did you pay for it?

 

3. I have a very urgent research question and hope you can help me right away. [15 minute story about the person’s great grandmother] Can you help me with my geneaological research?

a) Our archives and library are open by appointment only, according to museum policy. You are welcome to make an appointment with me to come in and use our archives and library for your research. My earliest opening is…

b) Who cares?! Your stupid genealogy is neither my problem nor in my interests.

c) I know you’ve got no one to talk to besides your 17 cats, but I’ve got better things to do. Could you hurry the hell up here?!

Where’s My Maternity Leave?

Okay, last straw. I have been doing all of the work that falls under my job title PLUS that of the Education Director, along with all of the work that would be done by the phantom archivist, collections manager, registrar, exhibit developer, IT department, and on and on. But today the hammer came down.

My boss is about to embark on her maternity leave. There’s going to be no hiring or temp help during her leave. So during her leave I’m expected to take over her duties as well. In theory, should be easy since she doesn’t really do anything. But in reality, it means managing the upcoming annual fundraiser, even though I’ve never been here to even see it before. I’m supposed to coordinate all of the event’s components and make it happen. This is a huge event — it raises all of our operating funds for the entire upcoming fiscal year. And I’m supposed to just pile that on. On top of managing the move of all collections. On top of running all tours and educational programs. On top of staffing the front desk myself. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! There’s only two of us now — myself and my coworker (who works as an administrative assistant), and we’re both working ridiculously long hours, sleepwalking through our jobs, and exploited by our employer with nowhere to turn. I hate that I’ve already decided to bail and look elsewhere for work, because it would further screw over my remaining coworker, but realistically, it’s going to take me awhile to find other work anyway, and I’m sticking to my decision to leave.

Employer of the Month

One of the problems with working as much as I have been is I’m getting run down and sick a lot more often. Today I called in sick with strep throat. I can barely talk and I feel like crap. But not nearly as bad as I felt when the Boss yelled at me for taking a sick day.

The crypt keepers volunteers meet once a month and have a speaker give a presentation before they hang out and bitch for the rest of the morning. Today I was scheduled to lead a brief talk. I was supposed to pull some things from the collection and do a show and tell for the volunteers. The collection is full of wickety wak and so when it came to picking items, I thought, I’ll just do some pottery. I know a lot about prehistoric southwestern pottery, we have a lot to choose from, and it’s easy to just pick a few and talk off-the-cuff about this stuff. I figured I’d do a 10 minute introduction to the types of pottery and describe what’s important about each type, and then just answer questions and let the volunteers examine the ceramics up close. The volunteer association is so casual. They always have a group activity or game to fall back on if the presentation isn’t long enough or, less likely, if they run out of stuff to bitch about.

So I didn’t think it was a big deal to call in sick. Even if I could have come in, I have strep throat and couldn’t talk, not to mention these elderly volunteers do not need any more opportunity to come down with something. So imagine my surprise when the Boss bitched me out about how inappropriate it was that I called in sick when I had obligations and how irresponsible it was of me not to save my presentation on the server so that someone else could give my presentation in my absence, and that I would be written up for this incident.

I’ve always taken pride in my work. My work is important to me. It matters that I do a good job, I see work as a reflection of myself, and I want to be good at my job. So it’s very upsetting to me that I’m not living up to my own standards these days. I feel overwhelmed and the work that I’ve been producing does not meet even my lowest level of acceptable quality. I don’t need your yelling at me to make me feel any worse than I already do.

It’s demoralizing to work for someone who doesn’t seem to value my input and to have my opinions dismissed so readily. It sucks to work for someone who seems not to understand what I have to offer. It’s frustrating beyond belief to be spread so thin that I can’t do high-quality work because I’m doing too many things. It’s made me question my abilities as a museum professional. Nay, as an employee, period.

I’ve become someone who does things half-assed just to get them done, rather than do them right, because there isn’t enough time to get things right.  I don’t feel appreciated. I don’t feel like my boss understands my work style, capabilities, strengths and weaknesses, and limitations. I get dinged just because the way I go about something isn’t the way she would. And it’s hard to communicate with someone who always has a look on her face and a body language that say “What the fuck do you want now?” Her feedback is closer to “this is all your fault and here’s why” than to “what we need to work on is…” I came here with such high hopes, the confidence that I had the abilities to make a meaningful difference. But I work for a bully who likes to make other people feel bad about themselves. Thanks, but I got that all under control on my own.

Here We Go Again

Yesterday was a rough day.

One of the fundamental things that I expect from a boss is that s/he will be a leader, a visionary who can guide the organization. But the other is that s/he will be someone to whom I can take my questions and concerns so that we can work towards solutions together. Yesterday I went to the Boss with a major problem — I have to present a program tomorrow to 250 kids and as of this moment, still have nothing to present. Today I’m stuck at the front desk taking admissions all day, so I thought I came prepared — I brought all of my notes and files up to the front desk to work from the computer there all day.

No dice. On an average day, that 386 is so slow it’s ridiculous. But today I can’t even get Word to load, and it can’t make a connection to the network, which is a problem because the files I need are on the server. I called the Boss (who is at home today, leaving me as the only staff person on site) and her response?

“We have to do a better job taking care of the equipment we have. We may not have the nicest computers or projectors or whatever, but we are responsible for taking care of what we have. I can’t help it if you are not taking care of the equipment you are provided. I’m not going to call some computer repair company to come in and tell us that we are not taking care of our stuff. You’ll have to make do with what you have.”

It’s through no fault of my own that the network cable is so frayed that the wires have split and are spilling out of the casing all over the place. And she expects me to man the front desk all day with no resources to do my job, but still holds me accountable at the end of every week for the work that I haven’t been able to accomplish. Guess I can subtract several hours from my sleep tonight so I can type up what I’m going to hand-write at the desk today.

Work. Sigh.

Before the Thanksgiving holiday, we had a staff meeting about the fallout from Twitwit’s firing. No juicy details, but this is going to be major. Until the museum hires a new education director, I am to take over that position. All duties, responsibilities, and tasks of the education department. On top of my regular job.  Which is the job of about 6 people. I’m the curator, but I’m also the registrar, collections manager, the exhibit developer, the volunteer coordinator, and the archivist/librarian. And now I’m adding another hat into the pile — that of education director. So here’s a (partial) list of my job duties, all of which are to be completed within my 40 hours per week (yeah, right.)

  • document all donations and loans to the museum
  • research all of the museum’s artifacts and collections
  • develop relationship with potential donors to encourage donations to the museum’s collection by attending meetings, networking, and correspondence
  • meet with donors to collect donations to the museum’s collection
  • data entry and database management for museum’s collections
  • research, develop, write, and present a Collections Policy to the museum’s board for formal approval
  • obtain and manage insurance for collections in preparation for collections move
  • manage ongoing digitization of photographs project and make available online
  • help researchers find the books, archival collections, and photographs they need
  • process photo reproduction orders
  • organize, plan, and closely supervise the upcoming collections move
  • get quotes for and order the new storage furniture for storage of all collections, plan the configuration for the new storage room
  • get dimensions for all items in collection to order storage boxes for all items for upcoming collections move
  • photograph all collections to document appearance and condition before collections move
  • attend weekly meetings for updates on upcoming building construction project
  • train & supervise 5 volunteers
  • grant writing
  • historical research on the region in general, and research on our collections
  • exhibit development for the next major exhibit
  • staff the admissions desk up to 24 hours per week
  • research and production of three 5-minute videos featuring local history
  • reservations and billing for all educational programs
  • deliver all educational programs, on site and off site, for children and adults
  • develop, plan, and run all girl scout programs
  • manage, organize, and staff annual Silent Auction fundraiser

After the meeting, I decided that one of the things I needed to get on top of (and fast) was the upcoming Education programs. So I went to Twitwit’s office to mine her files to find records of upcoming tours, dates, and content for each of the programs the museum offered. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I found almost nothing. I found no “scripts” or documents that covered the content of our educational programs. I found no records of upcoming school tours. I found no receipts or correspondence to indicate any loose threads I could pick up on. It’s not that we don’t have educational programs or upcoming school tours; we do. It’s that she didn’t keep any records of anything whatsoever.

Thanks, Twitwit. I’ve come back from my holiday “break” only to find that on Friday, I have to present an educational trunk show to 3 consecutive classes of over 250 students. But you left me no record of a) where this school is, b) what age group these children are, c) if the school has paid for this program, d) which trunk show they requested, and 3)the CONTENT of any of the educational trunk shows. I opened a document on the server today titled “Trunk Show script” and all that was in it were the words “Good morning boys and girls.” That’s it. That’s all that was there.

So I go to the Boss to let her know of this problem and her response? Consult the manual. Oh! I hadn’t THOUGHT of that yet! What a tool I am! I should just open the manual and there on page 3-34 will be the instructions. Except THERE IS NOTHING IN THE MANUAL. I already checked. I am a resourceful problem-solving person. I used everything I had at my disposal to try and answer my question before I decided to bother you with this to try and problem solve this conundrum. In pointing this out to her, she offered no assistance whatsoever in devising a solution. She simply shooed me out of her office so she could get back to staring at her laptop doing nothing, I guess.

So now I am spending the next 48 hours pulling my own artifacts from collections storage, researching and writing my own content, and developing my own trunk show after having called the teacher myself and sheepishly having to ask the following questions two days before the show: 1) have you paid? 2) what age(s) are these groups? 3) which show did you book? 4) where is your school?

I do NOT appreciate looking like an idiot and looking unprofessional. That really pisses me off about this place. I do my best to get my own work done, even when it means taking it home with me and working til 11 pm most nights and working at my laptop all weekend from my couch, as it usually does. During the week, my time is so fractured between managing volunteers who don’t follow the rules, running educational programs for fourth graders, collecting entrance fees at the front desk, and trying to fix the computers that don’t work so that I can do work that it’s hard for me to get any of my own projects done. It’s hard enough for me to manage the upcoming collections move and the upcoming exhibit, both of which I am ostensibly capable of. But I never asked to be a museum education director, have never done anything like this before, received no training, and continue to receive no support. But since it’s my responsibility now, the presentations and tours are a reflection of the institution and of me, and I don’t appreciate looking like an unprepared, unqualified idiot.

Can I run away? Fake my own death? I’ve already routinely been working well over my 40 hours each week just to get on top of my existing duties. And now I’ve got to figure out how to clone myself just so I can get adequate time off on my days day off. All without any additional compensation. I already work benefits-free — there’s no health insurance, no retirement, no fringe benefits. In a larger, better funded institution, one person would be dedicated full-time to almost each of my tasks and duties. But here, I’ve got to learn to juggle all of these different things and still expected to stay on top of a collection of 25,000 objects I don’t know and can’t track. Sigh. I would say I need an intern or six, but training them would just be more work at this point.