Pursuing Passion and Creating a Life in a World Gone Mad
Aug 06, 2011 by Lisa A Kramer
I have never really followed a traditional career path.
Don't get me wrong, I've had tons of jobs, and have been successful at each one. Give me a challenge and I live up to it and surpass that challenge. Most of my employers would hire me back in a second.
But I'm not really a 9-5 kind of gal. I can work 40 hour weeks, and I often work more than that, but I function best in jobs that offer variety and flexibility. When I do have full-time office jobs with regular hours, I tend to fill my other time with other kinds of work to fulfill this need for diversity. At the same time, I try to go above and beyond expectations at the job itself so that I get interesting tasks assigned to me and get diversity in my regular work.
In academia, I've never had a tenure track position. It has nothing to do with the quality of my work, as I've been nominated for teaching awards, given classes and opportunities based on my work, and very rarely receive negative evaluations. Yet, when it comes to interviewing for tenure track positions, even if I make the cut of the top three, I don't usually get the job. Why? I think it's because people can sense that somehow I function better in a more fluid type of position, where I follow projects with passion because I choose too, not because I have to. Of course, this usually means that I work as hard or harder than many of the faculty who are tenure track--for less pay, fewer benefits, and less recognition. I do it because I care about my work and the people I work with--and at least I usually don't have to attend quite so many meetings. That is a definite plus. I mean, meetings with a purpose I'm all for, but meeting to have meetings--not so much.
Why am I talking about this? As you know, we are planning a move to Massachusetts, which has its challenges. Finding housing seems to be the biggest one, so we are looking at the possibility of buying again. We have good credit. We have a down payment. Nathan has a job. But, as of yet, I don't and that could limit the possibilities of what we are able to buy.
So, I spent the morning updating my LinkedIn profile, creating an on-line portfolio, sending letters to a few people, working on expanding my network, and trying to establish a more professional presence as I search for work to help us with this move. [I've been working so long on this computer that I just had to scrounge for a replacement battery for my mouse ;)] Of course, working on this project forces me to think about what I really want out of employment. Do I want the traditional regular hour job that comes with a secure paycheck and benefits? Or, do I want the gypsy lifestyle of a freelance worker that comes with no security, a smaller paycheck, and no benefits-- but does allow for options, a flexible schedule, and projects that I choose?
The truth is I want both. But, I may not have a choice in the matter. Trying to take a little break from the work, I wandered over to Facebook only to stumble upon this thrilling news "‘Unemployed need not apply’" from PBS. Now I've never been unemployed (except for a few months after I graduated from my MFA program, and for a semester after having Sarah) or collected unemployment--because I've never been fired or downsized. I've always walked away from jobs because of moves or starting school or something legitimate. I've always left a job without burning bridges. But, ever since I graduated from my doctoral program, I haven't had a traditional contract either. I have worked full time for the most part, sometimes teaching more credit hours than tenure track faculty while directing shows and teaching outside classes. I have been given year-long contracts that can be renewed yearly. But I have not followed a traditional path of employment, so it looks like I'm a scattered gypsy that might be an insecure risk--even though anyone who has ever employed me would probably sing my praises.
Yet, today we live in world where people lose jobs while the rich get richer and get tax cuts. Then those same jobless people cannot get jobs because they have been unemployed, or because they have passed an invisible age line that seems to get younger and younger. In a ridiculous reflection of American society, which values youth and beauty over wisdom and learning, the system gets tougher as you get older. Life-wise, 40 may be the new 20, but job-wise 40 is closer to retirement and redundancy--somehow out of touch with the fast-paced changes of the world.
I am not out of touch. I learn and I grow and I challenge myself on a daily basis. But on paper, I am someone who has gaps or a non-traditional resume.
So what is one to do to help secure a life and a home for a family while also living a fulfilling life in a world that doesn't seem to want hard workers to work? Only time will tell in my situation, but the adventure is going to be an interesting one.