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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.

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Sometimes I have a sneaking suspicion that by following my heart I might be getting less than I deserve, in terms of salary, opportunity, and respect.  I guess that’s a common affliction of LIS professionals.  But whenever I’ve tried to talk myself into seeking more highly compensated tenure-seeking positions, I feel like I’m locking myself into a small box with too little air, from which I may never emerge.  I feel like I will be compelled down a certain path, a prescribed direction, FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE.  I don’t really want to sign on to do anything FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE, but as long as I keep just moving along incrementally, making improvements and adjustments and trying out different paths, then I don’t feel like I’m signing a deed in blood.  This is a little melodramatic, but I know how people can get pigeonholed.  I’m sure this is already the case with my career, to a certain extent.  But I really want to think that my options will be open in the future, whether I want to work in visual resource management, art librarianship, or even museum collections management or curatorship (that’s part of the idea behind the MFA).  In my mind they’re all related, and my experiences over the past few years have been preparation for a variety of paths.  I see myself more as an information professional than a librarian.

With these thoughts swirling around, I recently put my name in the hat for two positions that are both very similar and very different.  Their similarity stems from the motivation I have in seeking them – i.e. my goal to get cracking on that MA.  They are both university positions, and I know very well how much easier it is to pursue a degree with the support of university employment (besides the perks of the benefits and time off).  Other than that, the differences are pretty big.  One is a generalized faculty position of the type of tenure-track librarianship I’ve been avoiding, but gosh, it sure does pay well.  It’s also a bit of a longshot that I will even get an interview for this one (I’ve seen how many applications these kinds of positions get).  The other is a visual resources library position that would require me to take a pay cut.  This feels counter-intuitive, but could possibly be balanced out by better benefits, flexibility with classes, tuition remission, cheaper cost of living, etc.  Obviously the biggest plus would be experience doing something I would like to do – image cataloging and reference in a really great visual resources library.  I think it would expand my possibilities in the future, whether I want to go the museum route or the more traditional library route.

Heart says: “Wow! That VR job sounds REALLY cool!”

Mind responds: “Why are they offering such a low salary and still advertising it as a professional position? Wouldn’t I be contributing to the trend of deprofessionalization?”

And around it goes.  Finally I listened to the heart and accepted a phone interview with job #2.  But I appeased the mind by promising to be rather more hard-nosed than usual in my approach, in terms of what they have to offer me.  I don’t see any real harm in venturing a ways down this path to see where it might lead me.

I went ahead and set up the meeting with the other library last week, which basically turned into a second interview. I guess the director wanted to be able to ask more in-depth questions without the constraints of calling it a formal interview. Doesn’t seem quite kosher, but then I’m used to the uber-bureaucratic structure of large university search committee hiring. The conversation went well, and she basically asked me to explain in great detail everything I’ve done in my past library jobs. It was pretty intense. Though I felt like I could have explained a few things better (I must admit I was not quite prepared for that level of interrogation), by the end she was pretty enthusiastic. She was talking about how she was going to rewrite the position description to best reflect my experience, and that she was so glad she called me back in to get a better feel for what I would bring to the job. She even talked in detail about the salary and benefits package and showed me what would be my office. The meeting ended with her saying she needed the weekend to think out the details, then would give me a call on Monday.

All weekend, my thought process was along the lines of “is this the right job for me right now?” as I was 95% confident of getting a job offer. Then Monday came and I was informed in a voice mail message from the director that she had reconsidered over the weekend and realized she doesn’t really have the time to train me right now, and couldn’t offer me the position. Then she apologized for wasting my time. ?!?!?!?!?!? What caused such a major 180? I suppose she was thinking about the large amount of collection development involved in the position, and really wanted someone with more experience in that area. But why didn’t she realize that before basically offering me the job? It’s just perplexing. All I can say is that I wasn’t getting the greatest vibes from her or the position, so it’s likely not the right fit anyway. Still…I feel totally misled, and yes, she totally wasted my time.

It’s hard to turn this into a learning opportunity, but that’s been my modus operandi with all my experiences to this point and has worked out pretty well, so I’m going to try. First of all, I got a better perspective on some possible interviewing weaknesses. The things I thought I spelled out pretty clearly in the first interview about my experience obviously were somewhat obtuse. I think sometimes I expect my resume to speak for itself when it’s really up to me to talk up my skills to a greater degree. Second, I should have been better prepared for the second interview. Even if I didn’t know for certain what to expect, I should always be well prepared to describe my past employment in detail, especially as it relates to the position at hand.

Third, and most importantly, I do need to trust my instincts. I don’t think this was ever the right job for me, whether I got an offer or not. The hours were bad (11-8), the location was bad, and the job itself was just too vaguely defined. Obviously the director does not know what she really wants, and that’s a huge warning sign. I just kept going with the “cross that bridge when I come to it” mentality, which now strikes me as a really unhealthy approach. As soon as I realize that a job is not going to be the right fit, I should withdraw from consideration. The thing about my job right now is that I LOOK FORWARD TO GOING TO WORK EVERY DAY (According to anecdotal data, that differentiates me from 80% of Americans). That is huge. I have worked enough jobs that were intensely boring, unchallenging, unstructured, or just a general bad environment (or all of the above) that I have great deal of respect for a job that is personally rewarding and doesn’t cause me anxiety on a daily basis.

I guess it was a learning experience after all…

I placed a follow-up call with the museum to check on the status of the search, and found out I was not the chosen candidate. That was quite a blow, but I am definitely choosing to focus on what I can take from this and keep it in perspective. That’s working pretty well for me. After all, I still have a job that I love and other possibilties in the queue. And as a good friend pointed out last week, what would I have to look forward to if all my dreams came true by the age of 30?

The director was kind enough to give me a bit of feedback on the decision, which provided some consolation as well as some frustration. I had all the qualifications and “would have been a great fit”, but was apparently up against another candidate with more “longevity” in the New Mexico library community. In part I think that refers to professional experience, but in part they went with the person they know. I can’t really compete against that. So it’s not personal…

I am glad I decided to set up the meeting with the other library for later in the week. I’m curious to find out their continued interest – maybe it’s just heads-up on an entirely different position. I think it’s a good sign in any case that I stuck out enough as a candidate to stay in their radar. That’s true with the other interview as well. To be told that I would have had the position if not for the other person is frustrating, but it also means that I was well-liked, qualified, and will be remembered (and hopefully recommended) for that in the future. In the slightly nepotistic environment of library hiring – particularly New Mexico libraries – such name and face recognition will be extremely important to me during the evolution of my career. I’ve only been here a year, and I’m obviously still seen as a newbie. The wisest plan of action seems to be to meet as many librarians as possible and create networking opportunities, so that one day I will be that person who does get the dream job through my qualifications and my name recognition. That’s just how the game is played.

Even though it’s been less than 2 weeks, I’m starting to become a little anxious about the Art Librarian job. I know I have to keep things in perspective and recognize that the job may not materialize, for a variety of reasons. Regardless of this rational view, I know it will be a blow if I don’t get it. I’ll definitely be asking myself what went wrong (which can be a positive exercise, I suppose).

In the meantime, I was quite surprised today to get a follow-up email about a job I interviewed for some time ago and had pretty much written off. I was actually a bit miffed that they had never even sent me a generic rejection letter. The email asked if I was still looking for a position and if I would like to come in for another “meeting” with the director to discuss my resume further. I’m not even sure what that means. Is it a second interview or what? A potential job offer? It was just worded so vaguely. I don’t really know how to respond. If I don’t get the museum job, this job would be a good opportunity. The timing is pretty bad, though. What if it’s a couple more weeks before I know the status of the museum job? I can’t tell the other library to just wait for me for a couple weeks. I also don’t want to mislead them about my level of interest at this point if I end up accepting another offer. It feels bizarrely like a sticky dating situation. Jeesh.

It’s hard to find much of interest being posted in the biblioblogosphere here in the dog days of summer (is it the dog days yet? It sure has been hot, but I’m not sure if that qualifies). Many of you have surely been immersed in the fun of ALA and Anaheim in July (yikes). I’m sure I’ll hear more about that in the coming weeks.

My excuse? Well, I have been visiting family in Minnesota for the past week. I chose to take a complete hiatus from work and professional writing for the course of the week, considering that I see my family approximately twice a year and like to keep things in their proper perspective. So I came back rested and refreshed and rarin’ to go back to work. In theory, at least.

I also came back to an invitation to interview on Wednesday for my DREAM JOB. Right now I’m experiencing a not unpleasant frisson of excitement and nervous energy…I truly believe that this is the perfect job for me, and I just really hope that I am as close as it comes to the perfect fit for them. Now the key is to be prepared but stay calm and confident…

The die is cast as I await my dream job…I have done everything possible on my end to make this dream a reality, and now all I can do is wait. And bite my nails and twiddle my thumbs and wish on shooting stars. It’s a state job, so I may be doing these things for awhile…

In the meantime there are always book reviews to write…my most recent Moonshine review of the 2007 Robert Hass anthology can be found here.

Navigating the career path is always a challenge. Sometimes the greatest opportunities can look very similar to obstructions when they present dilemmas. Sometimes it can seem so much easier just to stay in the present situation, whether or not it presents new challenges and rewards. Timing is also never an exact science – when is the right time to make the move?

I’ve come to the decision lately that I’m very happy where I am living and don’t want to venture too far afield. Maybe this means I am not an ambitious professional ready to embrace any opportunity that might arise. I’m honestly ok with that. I’ve made a lot of sacrifices and slogged through a lot of mud to get where I am, and I’m finally started to feel settled here. For the first time in…my whole life? I am consistently happy and pleased with my accomplishments on a daily basis. That’s about as ambitious as I intend to get.

However…there are certain limitations to my job. I won’t elaborate, but there are good reasons for me to move on at this point. I’ve started looking for other positions in the area, and thus arises the tough choices. I interviewed on Friday for an interesting, dynamic, well-paid position in a well-funded library. I may very well receive a job offer. It may be wise for me to jump at this chance. The problem is, my DREAM JOB is out there, close enough to touch. In fact, it is being advertised next week. The director emailed me directly to say she hopes I apply. What do I do if I’m in the position of juggling a tangible job offer with a hypothetical interview for the Dream Job?

I was excited to find a new writing opportunity this week.  I will be writing book reviews for the new online arts magazine Moonshine – another one of those unpaid gigs that seem to be so ubiquitous.  If only money and librarianship were more compatible.  While not necessarily library-related, it’s a good chance to spread my literary wings a bit, polish the old resume, and read more art books.  Win win.

This is a thought I’ve had quite often lately as I consider my next career moves.  If you haven’t heard, it’s expensive to live in Santa Fe.  Another news flash: librarians don’t make much money.  Neither do registrars.  I’ve been considering options such as relocating to Albuquerque to save money on rent, which would mean an hour commute.  But they have comfy park-and-ride buses (and a thusfar elusive “Railrunner” train) between the two cities, so it wouldn’t be all bad.

I am keeping my fingers crossed that I will be in the running for the University of New Mexico Libraries’ Resident Program.  It’s a 1 to 2 year residency that gives new librarians a taste of just about every aspect of librarianship – from reference to cataloging to archives.  If nothing else, I would be extremely well-rounded.  I kind of want my next position to be more longterm (in the 5 year range) so I can finally feel settled and maybe do the whole house/dog commitment thing, but this would be a great opportunity. 

Now that I have accepted a job here in Santa Fe, suddenly I’m being inundated with interview invitations.  Sigh.  I really like my job and know it’s an experience I would never get to have otherwise (particularly allowing me to stay in Santa Fe and get to meet people and experience the whole art scene here, which is amazing).  It’s the right thing for me now, but it’s still hard to turn down some of the other opportunities that I applied for.  Most importantly it’s a very important lesson learned – don’t lose confidence, as the opportunities will eventually come with determination and patience.  The process will always take longer than expected.  I’d like to develop these observations into an expanded description of lessons learned by the job searching process, and hopefully an article to help other anxious soon-to-be-grads in similar situations! Taking the plunge is worth it. I haven’t had time to do much writing lately as I’m finishing my last class (Intellectual Freedom) and swamped with papers and presentations, but that’s the next thing on the agenda.  

It gives me a better perspective on how the game is played, and what works and what doesn’t in the application process, for the next time around.  

I had a great conversation with Eumie Imm Stroukoff at the Georgia O’Keeffe today about how these things have a tendency to work out for the best, if in fact you end up taking the least predictable route.  I really admire Eumie, and she and Jenni James have definitely become my mentors and art library role models.  These internship experiences have been such valuable experiences for me, and I really feel involved in the New Mexico library community because of them.