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I’m pondering something Tyler Tervooren listed on his “5 Pillars of Awesome Risk Taking” over at the Advanced Riskology blog: “throw away Plan B.” The idea being that we all know deep in our infinitely wise and visceral hearts exactly what it is that makes us burn with energy and desire, and we should do whatever it takes to achieve that Plan A, because, as Tyler puts it, “If you know deep down what you want (and I think everyone does, but most are afraid to allow themselves to believe it) then you should avoid having a Plan B at all cost. If you already have one, you should do everything within your power to dismantle it. Plan B is a major distraction to Plan A.” He also distinguishes plans from dreams. In other words, the dream is the bedrock that does not change. Plan A is just the current course to achieving it.
I can see evidence of this in my own journey. The dream has not changed – doing research and working with cultural resource management. That’s the bedrock. The rest is the detritus of uncertainty, past and future speculation. What I take Plan A to mean in this context is the present. Seizing the moment and what it can do for the dream. And, importantly, the dream is not the same as the “dream job.” That can manifest in a variety of unexpected ways.
Obviously this is part of my wake-up call to stop getting ahead of myself. I hate waiting for decisions outside of my control. I hate the sensation of getting energized about an opportunity that fizzles out. That feeling of discomfort does not mean it’s a negative experience, however. I have experienced enough significant synchronicity in my life to realize that the proper unwinding of experience is not the way I envisioned it in my daydream.
As the waiting game continues on my fellowship applications (and my practical side is already resigned to the fact that they most likely went to Ph.D history students as they have in the past), I realized I’ve been coming back again and again to the same mantra. Rejection is always opportunity. Is this counterintuitive? It feels that way. Of course our ego tells us we want the perceived “dream job,” and the sooner the better. But if we always get what we think we want in the moment, who knows what opportunities are unrealized?
In my case, I still revisit the disappointment of coming so close to my “dream job” at the Museum of New Mexico 2 years ago. Then I dig a little deeper. Even if I had decided to pursue my MA at that point, would I have had the flexibility in that position to take classes? Probably not. And if I felt like I had reached my intended destination, I probably would not have followed the instinct to continue my education. In doing so, I discovered a passion and proclivity for art historical research that infuses me with meaning and flow. I don’t know if I would have figured that out in my “dream job.” And now, I’m not sure that would have been my dream job after all. I really want a job where I can apply that drive towards research and scholarship. That’s the real dream for me, the real life-long pursuit.
I’ve been in this purgatory before. I’ve made the definite decision to quit my job, pack up my meager belongings, move to a new city. In other words, jump into the roiling seas of uncertainty in the effort to be fully alive and engaged with my particular set of challenges.
In the interim, I’m grounding myself with the principles of Voluntary Simplicity. One of the positive side effects of the recession has been the increased interest in this kind of movement, which is at the heart of how I live my life. Living by choice on $18,000 (or much less) a year. Prioritizing experience over possessions. My personal blogroll has increased exponentially lately with personal finance/consciousness blogs on these sorts of topics (e.g. The Simple Living Network, The Professional Hobo, Get Rich Slowly, among many others). Many of these bloggers support themselves largely on the proceeds of their writing and related experiences.
There is a fine line between prioritizing experience over salary and going into debt, however. While I don’t want to miss out on my opportunities, I need enough foundation to keep myself grounded. That’s where I’m starting to get creative. Leapforce is currently a satisfactory stop-gap measure, very flexible, decent pay, work that I can convince myself is moderately useful. In the terms of the hugely influential V.S. book Your Money or Your Life, my life energy is set to be very well balanced in the coming year. I will be paid to do my favorite thing in the world – be a student and a researcher. I can pay the bills with flexible part time work and still have most of my time entirely to my own discretion. In many ways this is my ideal life. In other ways, the picture feels unfinished.
The thing is, I like to work. I like discipline and structure and the satisfaction of a useful job well done. I don’t ever really want to “retire,” just evolve through a series of challenges in (what is already) a unconventional career. I don’t really want to only work 10 hours a week, even if it does leave me almost unlimited time for exploration, hiking, creative endeavors, flea markets…all that good stuff that I daydream about in my current life and don’t have nearly enough time for. Maybe it’s just the definition of “work” that needs to be adjusted. Does it need to take place in an office? Does it need to be salaried? These are the things that give me security, though the recent waves of massive unemployment show that’s often false security.
Through this process, I think I’m circling around the convergence of my personal convictions with my career path. Where life and work click seemlessly, that’s my destination.
I wanted a name that would better represent my adventures, which have definitely branched out beyond library walls. That’s not to say that I am shifting my career focus – I am still active in ARLIS and the New Mexico Library Association and plan to keep working on library projects. However, in considering myself an “art information professional,” I’m also keeping my options open for other types of cultural resource management. Over the past year, as I’ve become more focused on publication, research, and presentations, curatorship is starting to really appeal to me. Working in the gallery, I have also come to realize how much I like dealing with objects as well as databases.
In a field such as art history, keeping open options is kind of the name of the game. I feel like I am better positioned than others with my experience and library background, but it’s still a niche market.
It’s been quite a ride since I started writing this blog back in May of 2007. I turned the corner on a new decade of my life. I resettled on the other side of the country. I became a librarian. Veni, vidi, vici (for the most part).
I am excited that I will finally be realizing my long-standing dream of pursuing my MA in art history at the University of New Mexico. Being a grad student again means a lot of things to me, but unfortunately one of them is that I will again find myself stretched a bit thin. I plan to focus on my intellectual pursuits, my book reviews, and finding new challenges in my work. Though my adventures will continue, I think the life of this blog has run its course.
So…I’m taking just a moment here to wax philosophical. I’d like to reiterate the fact that my career path has branched out in unexpected directions, and I know it will continue to do so in the future. These unexpected circumstances can either be hugely liberating and full of opportunity or rife with anxiety and second-guessing. It’s a choice to say that an alternative career path is just as successful and perhaps even more exhilerating than a traditional one. This is an exciting time to be an information resource professional in large part because of these non-traditional paths. It’s a trying time as well. The state of the economy means that jobs are being cut or left unfilled and cultural resource institutions are being asked to do more with less. Job hunting for new professionals can be extremely stressful and daunting in the best of circumstances. I really feel for my colleagues who are just beginning that search or facing the frustration of months of unsuccessful applications. Some do not have the luxury of choice and just have to settle for a paycheck. To those people I would only advise taking everything as an opportunity to add new skills and experiences. Who knows how these things will come together in the future? Even in trying times, I believe it is true that by doing what you love the money – i.e. the career – will follow. Stay creative, innovative, excited, and always feed your passions. In other words (the words of my favorite fortune cookie fortune), “Listen often to the quiet voice within.” It’s the only one that really matters.