Today’s AoM Journaling Challenge:
Take some time today to reflect on your career. Jot down a timeline of it, including all the ups and downs. What was your best experience? And the worst? What would you like your future to look like, in terms of your career? If you’re a young man and haven’t started in yet, focus on that future part. What do you want your work to look like?
This is not a post I was originally looking forward to writing. My career life so far has been long and meandering and so I didn’t want to be dull. I’ve decided to write the detailed version because I think in the long-run someone might look at my journey and be inspired. It was exploratory posts like this that really led to the creation of this blog.
Looking at my career, I finally feel comfortable with where I am. I would say that the part of my life I consider to be “career,” didn’t really begin until long after I graduated college.
When I got out of college I was lucky to get hired within a month of graduating by the school where I had done my student teaching. Even better, I was hired as a permanent substitute which meant getting paid $90 per day and knowing ahead of time, what subject I was slated to teach. Since I was fluent in Spanish and French and could get by in Latin, I was the substitute teaching dream of the language department. Unlike, the other substitutes, the teachers already all knew me and could trust me with any lesson plan since I was familiar with the school curriculum and culture. While teaching, I was still working some nights and weekends for an upscale shoe store in my local mall. During the summer I worked as an assistant residency director for a multicultural arts and technology program where I also taught creative writing and ballroom dance. I saved money and bided my time waiting to apply for jobs.
One and a half years later in 2009, I decided to go to grad school. I packed up my belongings and moved into a sizeable one-bedroom apartment. My parents and Christine (my girlfriend at the time, now my wife) accompanied me to help me unpack and then returned home. I was lucky enough to receive a graduate fellowship which paid for school and allowed me to earn a stipend. I worked as a grad assistant, doing research, creating data bases, and setting up regional academic conferences. I lived comfortably- having enough money for travel, going out with friends, and buying an engagement ring.
Once grad school was done, the first thing that I did was move from Pennsylvania back into my
parents’ home. I was once again, fortunate enough to have a job working as a Peer Mediation/Conflict Resolution instructor for a summer program I had worked for while in college. Additionally, that Fall I began work as a substitute teacher again, but as a daily substitute. My only source of steady income the autumn I returned, was from the adjunct professor job I was fortunate enough to get through networking with a colleague. I was able to teach international studies at my college alma mater, working with colleagues that were once my professors.
This would be one of the toughest parts of my career journey, especially financially. My cash flow was very volatile. I could sometimes go a whole month having only gotten paid for one or two days of subbing once the spring season hit. During this time, I was still looking for teaching jobs as I had pictured my career to be teaching. I was depressed by my circumstances and trying to get teaching jobs required what felt like jumping through flaming hoops. I had to lesson plan, present lessons to students I had only got a brief dossier on, only to be rejected with the primary positive being I had yet another lesson plan ready for the classroom of students I would never again get to teach. At the end of the school year, 2012 I applied for two separate history positions in the school system where I had invested years of my time substitute teaching. I was rejected from both and although I asked for feedback regarding where I may have gone wrong in the process, I never received a response back from administration. I knew I couldn’t go back the next year and receive the reassurances from my colleagues that I would find something in the field on the next try. By this point there had been 18 “next tries” for positions requiring multiple interviews. The career I had pursued since I had started college 10 years earlier felt like a wasted effort and a lost dream.
This cycle of jobs that had lasted for two years had ended. A one-year long position opened up for an academic center administrator running a multicultural and diversity center. The diversity center allowed me to use all of my major skills: teaching, mediation, research, organizational leadership, program planning, and conference creating. The pay was actually less than what I had received as a grad assistant and was part-time, but I was hopeful I would get hired full-time. Administration was looking to get funding to create a fill-time position based on the first 6 months of results from the work done in the center. Six months later, there was no funding on the horizon despite of the positive growth of the center. Christine and I had gotten married and moved in together and I couldn’t bear the financial instability. Although I loved the work and the impact I was able to create, I was burning out at age 29, working a total of 3 part-time jobs along with acting as a freelance lecturer and researcher so I could pay for gas to drive between those jobs.
The risk of the position not being funded was one I had known was inherent going in. It was simply the nature of the job. I sent out a single application for a community programs manager position at a non-profit and was declined. Instead, I was offered at administrative position working with arts organizations, artists, educators, and community events planners at a regional level. I was able to grow and learn. Each day brought new challenges and the work could shift from dull to frustratingly challenging in minutes and I loved it all.
A year and a half later I had the honor of being chosen for a national fellowship related to the work I had been doing. Two days before my 30th birthday as I was being handed my certificate of completion, I realized I had something I could call a career. I had a career that allowed me to use all of the skills I had gained through my highs and lows since I had moved back after grad school. I even got to use the skills from my teaching degree and it had value in this new path just like it had on my old one. I knew I wanted to stay in this field to learn and do as much as I could and teach others to continue that work.
I’m still there and I am happy, navigating the parts of my daily work and life that are hazy and using the moments of clarity to plot the next course of action for the day.