A Change of Heart...
This is the blog post I have been waiting to write. It has to do with how I see myself as a museum professional, and how my career has progressed at a rate that has challenged me and what I think 'should' be happening. With a slight change of perspective, I now realize, hey, this is the new way and it's so not bad at all. In fact, there is a lot of power and excitement here.
I have been saying one sentence that will be retired after I write this blog post. I have said it a lot over the past few years, to many different types of people in different circumstances. I see now that it puts something out into the Universe that I had not intended. But in order for us to move forward, I must state like Elton John and Candle in the Wind one last time:
I am "x" years old and I have never had a full-time, permanent museum job with benefits such as paid vacation, dental coverage, or a retirement plan. When will that happen? Why hasn't it happened yet??
This 'song' has set the stage for one of slight disappointment, as if I am not satisfied with my experiences. It is like I have been longing to be married, and I just can't find that special someone... and wonder, what am I doing wrong???
I have been looking at my career like a relationship. I had my first love of collection management work when I spoke to a volunteer coordinator who introduced me to the behind the scenes work of cataloguing a donation from a World War II veteran. I was certain, so young, that I was on to what I wanted to do with my career: I want to tell stories through objects, ensuring that I care for museum collections both physically and intellectually. I have been all about this ever since that first kiss of work, and that feeling has driven me more than money or status or anything else out there.
In graduate school, I continued my relationships with organizations and proving my love for collection management work. I had my flings through internships, including one with a sexy, older, sophisticated art museum. I was a little out of my league but ! damn ! what an experience and I do not regret the adventure. I also returned and interned in my home town, trying to recapture that first love feeling. It was okay, but circumstances dictated I be away from that city and so... this let me open myself up to a series of short affairs with a number of institutions. None quite fit, and none could commit due to economic constraints and circumstance. It was a bit painful for me, especially when I almost got one part-time position that worked fine. And then I had to move again.
Why was I being so fickle?? Shouldn't this be easy if I know what I want?
Then I took the bull by the horns. Once I settled into yet another town, I set my sights on what I wanted. I literally knocked on the door of a National Historic Site and said "You need me to inventory your collection." Cautiously they thought this over, underbidding my offer, but they agreed to 'date' temporarily and I accepted their terms. Well, I did an awesome job for this institution, and a four month contract turned into another, then 8 months contract, and on until I had been there over four years. I felt so committed, like I was moved in! The inventory was complete, the volunteers were happy and we even had a 'child' of an award-winning heritage conservation project. The problem? It was never intended to be a permanent position... we were never to marry, with benefits....and the work ended, and the relationship fizzled. And I was left with feeling "what have I done wrong?" Which, in fact, was not the right statement for the experiences I had there - but what I felt at the time was more akin to heartbreak.
It is hard out here to keep fulfilling that feeling of love for museum work, and finding a place to serve. Economic times are tight, and I am of a generation that has been waiting for well, everyone, to retire. (I will be talking about succession planning in a future post.) There are few jobs in institutions out there that are available... and when someone leaves, either the job is mothballed or there is fierce competition. (I once was one of 300 people who applied for a 6 month, entry-level position - three HUNDRED!). But what is out there is project-based work. Quite a bit of it, actually.
I see now that I have been wanting, desperately, for an institution to 'pick me' for this dance of a career. I have been so focussed on this fact of not being chosen that I have not stopped to notice that I have had some pretty amazing opportunities and projects. In future posts I will be addressing my current metaphor of how I see my career.... but for now, let's just say that this change of heart, this evolution, has opened me up to endless possibilities - how great is that? - for, you know, I am a museum consultant.