Making Time: Balancing Different Career Interests
This is a story about how I discovered two careers I love and how they fit together (or rather, how I made them fit together).
When I arrived at Hamilton, I knew I wanted to major in history, but I didn’t have any idea what I wanted my career to be. Fortunately, I had two good things going for me: one,I was at Hamilton, where I was getting a great liberal arts education and my major didn’t have to relate to my career, and two,my on-campus job was at the Career Center.
The career advisors helped me explore careers and figure out what kind of work environment, job responsibilities, and industries I liked. I discovered museum work, and with the help of summer internship funding, worked at two museums the summer before my senior year. Those differing experiences helped me figure out what parts of the museum world most intrigued me. I really liked working directly with the objects and artworks, and I liked researching and organizing. Curatorial and collections management work seemed to be the right fit for me.
I looked at descriptions for different museum job listings at all kinds of places and all levels, to get a sense of what kind of jobs were out there . It also helped to see what kind of experience and qualifications were needed to get those jobs. The jobs I was most interested in consistently wanted a master’s degree. It convinced me I would need more schooling, but I was not ready for another round of school at that time. So, I started thinking about jobs, in the museum field and elsewhere, that I could do while I save up and recharge for graduate school.
I loved my job at the Career Center. I saw how important a supportive career development office is for the student body and became invested in the theory and practice of career advising. So, I started looking into higher education student services jobs. I ended up getting a job at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., in the Arts & Sciences Career Development Center. I did the event coordination and marketing for the career center, specifically serving liberal arts students. It was great. I was using my creative side to make marketing materials, my analytical side to organize and coordinate events, and working in a wonderful environment of career advisors and student workers. I didn’t let myself lose sight of my overall goal, though, and found a volunteer opportunity with a local museum, the 1890 House Museum in Cortland, NY, doing collections management work.
After two-and-a-half years at Cornell, I shifted my focus back to museums by enrolling in the M.A. in museum studies program at the Cooperstown Graduate Program, a part of SUNY Oneonta with a separate, museum-focused “campus” in Cooperstown, N.Y. I was a SUNY Oneonta student, but spent most of my time in Cooperstown and learned from SUNY professors and museum staff at two area museums. In my coursework, I was constantly working on real-life projects for museums; of course, I held internships, too. My two years of graduate school was basically two years of working full-time at museums. I thought I’d miss the career development field, but it turned out I didn’t have to!
I connected with a Cooperstown Graduate Program alumna, Melissa Marietta, who started out running internship programs in museums and transitioned to university career development. At the time, she was the Director of Career Development at Hartwick College, across the street from SUNY Oneonta. I met with her because I felt we were on complementary career paths. We met up just to chat about career development, but a month later, Melissa called me and asked if I’d like to fill in for a few months as a career advisor. That’s how I spent a semester working part-time at Hartwick College! That was a great experience as well – I advised many wonderful students and expanded my career development skills -- I had only done informal career advising before. At Cornell, I would triage students’ needs and give advice before referring them to an advisor. Now, I was truly advising, working one-on-one with students to support them in their career development journey. I was able to fuel my passion for career development and get a much-needed break from graduate school.
After graduation I moved to Los Angeles to take my current position at the Getty. My job is wonderful – I get to research, write about, and interact with amazing artworks all day. After getting settled in and working a few months, I turned my attention to finding activities in my new city. I wanted one of those activities to be volunteering and thought about putting my career development skills to good use. I simply Googled, “places that help people find jobs,” and this wonderful organization came up called Chrysalis. Chrysalis provides resources to people, particularly the homeless and formerly incarcerated, to assist them with finding employment. They have everything one would need that’s job-related: career advisors, job-prep classes, a resource room filled with toiletries and professional clothing, and more. I’ve been volunteering there for two years, providing 1-on-1 services to clients like resume writing and practice interviewing. Now my careers have switched: I’m working at a museum and volunteering in career development!
When I tell people my career story, I usually end it by saying, “If the whole museum thing doesn’t work out, I’d happily go back to career development,” and they laugh. It’s true, though! I love both these fields and would be happiest if I fed both of my passions throughout my career. I still have a goodbye note from my first boss at Cornell, Christa Downey, saying she knows I’ll make a good curator, but hopes I’d come back to the career development field someday. I’m not ruling that out! The point is, it is totally doable to have different interests and make them all work throughout your life. My career path sounds sinuous, but who has a linear career path anyway? It’s also completely okay to have a hobby or activity be your passion and not make that into your career. Flipping around between careers or having a volunteer passion turn into a career is also normal. Lots of things are possible! As long as you fit doing things you love into your life, you’re successful.