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Working In The Field You Love When You Can't Get A Job In Your Field

Do you know someone who has trained or studied for years in a particular field or artistic area and then is not able to find work in their field?

I know someone quite well who fits this scenario. He happens to be my husband. Ten years ago we would never have imagined that today I would write what I hope will be an inspiring story about his journey.

Mark has a PhD in ethnomusicology in addition to a few other degrees. Needless to say, he studied for many years to earn his degrees and envisioned himself as a professor at a college or university. I pictured us living in a pretty college town that would also allow me to pursue my career and my interests. As it turned out, Mark applied for jobs all over the country for more than six years. He had some interviews, and he even took a one-year position that turned into two at a university in the Midwest. However, he never landed the tenure track position that he hoped for. It was frustrating and discouraging for him and disruptive for both of our lives. From year to year, we never knew if we would be moving or if we should "settle down."

Each year he would say that he would stop applying for academic jobs but then there would be a job that looked like it was a good match. We would discuss it and he would apply for it. "Well, since I am applying for that job, maybe I should apply for a couple of more," he would reason. He would get his hopes up only to have them dashed when he didn't get the job. It was hard for him to give up on this vision that he had for his life's work. He loved research and writing, colleagues with whom to discuss ideas, reading and listening to and making music.

So, during these years of applying for jobs and not getting them, he went back to work in a profession that he had worked in before graduate school. Once we settled down in one spot and decided to make a home, he went back to his writing. He would get up early most mornings and write for an hour or two before he went to work. In this way, he finished the book he had started many years before. It will be published this fall. He also wrote and submitted papers for journals and to present at conferences in his field. He started singing again and pursued his interest in classical Indian music. He served on the board of directors of a nonprofit world music organization. He formed a reading/writing group with other ethnomusicologists like himself without full-time jobs in their field.

In other words, he now lives a very rich life in his field. He muses that now he has more freedom to do the kind of work he likes to do than he would be able to if he had a full-time teaching position at a college. And, he is making a decent living in work that interests him and keeps his mind sharp. He feels a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction from both his day job and his musical/research/writing work.

So what has my husband taught me? You don't need to give up on your interests and passions even if you can't make a living from them.

Many creative people, whether they are dancers, musicians, visual artists, photographers or writers dream of working in their studio all day and being paid for their creative work. Unfortunately, this is not a reality for most people. It is wonderful to dream, and yet it is important to be realistic too. This does not mean you need to give up on your creative life. Too many people believe that if they can’t pursue their creativity full time, then it is not worth doing. Or, if they do not get the recognition for their work that they desire, then it is not worth pursuing.

I believe there is a middle ground. Remember what brought you to your creative work originally. Perhaps you experienced a sense of excitement, peace or an ability to focus your attention clearly. Maybe you enjoyed a sense of community from joining with other musicians or dancers.

Take yourself back in your mind to when you first started pursuing your passion, perhaps it was when you were a child. Take time to write in a journal about these experiences. What about this work held your interest and made you feel alive? How did you get involved with it? How did it make you feel?

These memories may be the motivation for picking up your pen, your camera or violin again. If so, here are some ways to incorporate your interests and passions into your life:
  • Devote set hours each week to write, sing, dance, paint, study math problems, read, play your instrument, throw a baseball, or otherwise pursue the field of your interests.
  • Find a few other people to study, practice, or exchange ideas with on a regular basis.
  • Submit an article for publication, join a musical ensemble, start a chess club, share your passion with children, teenagers, seniors or other adults by teaching a class or performing, or in some other way contribute your interests socially and publicly in a meaningful way.
  • Create a space in your home or apartment or office for your interest. Collect quotes, pictures, and objects to include in your space. These things may provide inspiration to you.
  • Read in your field. There is no reason you can't keep up with what is going on. Perhaps you will bring a new perspective to the field from your new vantage point. Go see other people's work and support them in their endeavors.
  • Change your perspective. See if by looking at your situation in a new way, you can live in the present and free up your mind for creativity. You can be bitter about not finding a job in your field, or you can say this is the situation, now what do I want to do?
  • Celebrate! Share a poem with a friend, hold a concert in your home, invite friends and colleagues to see your latest painting or plan a book signing for your self-published work. Take time to enjoy an accomplishment and share your excitement with others.

If we allow ourselves to continue to pursue our interests and passions, we bring joy and meaning to our own lives and to those around us, as my husband has brought to me.

© Sue Schleifer, 2008

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