It’s getting into the “dead” time here at the church, so there’s not a lot to work on in terms of design. I’ve done some things for the youth, but other than that, I’m focusing on filling in some knowledge gaps on my part since I’m still relatively “new” to the industry. Besides that, I’m coming up on the end of the contract here, so I want to make sure all the parts and pieces are in place for when I turn this whole thing over. That’s a bittersweet feeling, really. I’m very much ready for the next endeavor, but there are a couple problems still:
1. I like the people here and the job itself.
2. I haven’t the foggiest idea where I’m headed next.
The first of those is a good problem to have in the scope of “problems one can have at work.” The second one is not as exciting. I’m looking hard, but I can’t seem to break the surface on anything I apply for. There’s an answer here, but I have yet to uncover it. All I can do is keep trying and adapting to feedback.
I recently had a conversation with a friend about what I want in my next step. The answer seems so simple. I just can’t quite fill in some of the details on “how?” Please feel free to share if you have advice or experience in overcoming the three things I think might be kicking me in the butt when I apply.
First, I want stability but have not had it in some time. I want to go somewhere I will be for a while. Contract work and semester-to-semester work is fun for keeping things fresh, but there comes a time when you realize it would be nice to stay put for a while. After almost 9 years of instability with graduate school, I can’t wait to dig in somewhere and commit. That’s hard to articulate on my resume, too. At first glance, here I am, a year here and a year there, a couple months at this and a couple more months at that, this city for a bit and that city for a bit. It’s not actually as crazy as it looks, though. I don’t know why I feel compelled to explain myself, but I really do. When I went back to school in 2007, I had no plans of going to grad school. Then right before graduation, the opportunity presented itself, and I decided to take the risk while I was living in the relative safety of Mobile with my brother, who was more than willing to let me hang around the apartment so long as I cooked and cleaned. It was a good setup.
I spent the next two years in the masters program absolutely locked in to my academics. I only worked part time as a teaching assistant so I could have the flexibility I needed to hit the conference circuit, work on intensive research projects, develop another marketable skill (teaching), and end the program with a 4.0. There were several students who worked full time and still made their academics work, but I watched them sacrifice some of the parts of the masters experience, parts I believed were vital to making the most of their time. Besides, after a couple weeks in the classroom, I was convinced I wanted to get a doctorate next. One is not competitive if one does not present at conferences and network.
When I graduated, I had that 4.0, and I had a good start in the regional conferences. I also brought home a couple awards for teaching and research, made some lifelong professional/academic relationships, and gained enough confidence from the department head that he was willing to throw my name in for a temporary job opening that would help fill the year gap between my two programs and give me full time teaching experience.
That’s how I ended up in Montgomery for a year. It was a one-year contract with the option to extend at the end of that year. Going in, everyone knew my plan was to get into a doctoral program, so there was little expectation it would be longer than a year. I was only holding a spot until they found a permanent person anyway (one with enough experience to become department head so my permanence was never even a consideration). I loved it there, and they seemed to love me. At the end of the year, I’d have stayed there and they’d have let me, but Florida State’s doc program was calling my name. I got accepted and didn’t want to take a chance of that not happening again so at the end of my one-year tenure in Montgomery, I moved to Tallahassee.
I went back to working as a teaching assistant during that program because it was next to impossible to complete the requirements while working a full time job. There were exactly 3 people who even tried it; one of them quit the program, another owned his business, and the third one got a special dispensation to leave her full time job until she’d finished the degree (she worked for the university). It was not an option for me. There’s a story about that program that might be good for another time, but for now, the short version is that I left there with just my dissertation to finish because of a combination of funding problems and philosophical underpinning. There’s nothing nefarious to tell; I just adapted to some unexpected growing pains.
Of course, this all meant the years between 2009 and 2015 saw me working full time for only one year. It actually goes back further than that, to when I left radio in 2007 to take a retail job that I thought would offer me the flexibility to go back and get that damned bachelors I’d walked away from years before. My retail jobs turned out to be as flexible as a steel beam, so I took a year off from the workforce completely to finish the bachelors before embarking on the graduate education I just described.
On paper, it looks bad. In reality, it makes perfect sense. I’ve only jumped around from job to job since I went back to school because I chose to prioritize my education. Simple as that. Nevertheless, I know how it appears to someone unfamiliar with the mechanisms behind my decisions. I do everything I can to spin it in a way that tells the story without appearing defensive. I’m openly taking suggestions.
Second, I want a city I can fall in love with. I’ve learned I’m at my best when I can take genuine pride in the place I live. In a perfect world, that city is Washington, DC, because I’ve never felt about a place the way I felt when I stepped out of that first Uber last year. I felt instantly at home, and I have never in my entire life had that peace in my soul. I could go on about all the things that reaffirmed my love at first sight, but I will spare you. What I will say, though, is that I might be able to have a similar love affair with somewhere else. I’ve never felt like I did in DC, but I have experienced an elevated sense of soul in other cities. I know I feel a good energy in Pittsburgh and Orlando, and I felt a vibrance in Tampa and Miami when I was there in the last couple years. San Antonio had it, too. So did Louisville. I’ve felt it in LA and San Diego. New Orleans even has it. It’s not exactly the same as Washington, but it would be better than the crushing feeling of defeat in a place that seems never to change.
Don’t get me wrong. I think somewhere like Pensacola is (a) beautiful to visit and (b) great for people who want a laidback, familiar place to call home. I just do not. I want somewhere that knows how to manage chaos, somewhere with people whose faces change by the minute, somewhere with something to offer even the most eclectic of tastes. I want to be where a single big event in a city is not the sole thing happening in it that weekend. In Pensacola, that’s the case. If there’s a music festival, literally everyone who might be social that weekend is at that music festival. You will see the same people all the time, and you will either like it or hate it. I hate it. I love the feeling of knowing you don’t know anyone but the people you came with. That could change during the night. Or not. Either outcome is okay. Again, don’t mistake my intentions. I like seeing a familiar face or two at the coffee shop or on my commute, but I like variety even more.
The challenge here is getting past the invisible wall of “relocation.” I know the choice is my own, so I have all the ducks in a row to make a move even as quickly as a week from hire (yikes!). I’m not at a place in life where I can pick up and move without a job on the front end, but I can certainly move in response to an offer. I’ve been experimenting with how to position this, how to break through the more easily accessible local candidates. I refuse to use the address of local friends up there because, well, because it’s dishonest. The best I can come up with is planning a trip up there every few months and hoping I can get an employer’s attention with that.
See, but that only takes care of DC. I can’t travel to Minneapolis one week, Pittsburgh the next, Providence another week, and Denver the fourth week of the month. As much as I’d like to, that’s not possible. So what does one do to get past the “local” thing? How have the rest of you found your out of town jobs?
I’m great at building relationships, but I’m terrible at “schmoozing.” Never in my meetings with people do I even begin to think, “This person may be able to do something for me some day.” Quite the opposite, really. I like to bank people I can one day help somehow. When I tell my students I’ll write recommendation letters for them if they did well, I really mean it. When I offer my availability for advice on academics or career ideas, I really mean it. I really do put myself out as a conduit for other people’s success if there’s anything they think I can do. On the other hand, I struggle with asking the same of others. This one is easy for me to work on, but it takes time. I need to think of other people the same way I want them to think of me. If I offer to help, I mean it. Why would someone else who offers to help NOT mean it as well? Instead of thinking my contacts are just being polite, I need to think about the difference in messaging when I’m just “being polite” versus when I really want a follow up from someone. There is a difference, and it likely takes roughly the same form when other people do it.
So here I am. I want to leave the area and want to stay wherever I go next. My experience is strong and extensive, but it doesn’t poke through for some reason. I’m not complaining, making excuses, or playing the victim. I genuinely want to improve the areas I know are weak so I can finally land that job that will allow me to share my enthusiasm for where I am and what I do.
So let me ask you. What’s the key? What have you tried that has worked?