career exploration.2

I came to my job—at a small non-profit, doing basically all the word work and some graphic design and what tech work I can muster—with a certain amount of idealism. Some realism, too; at 28 I was long past the idea that I’d save the world, but I came here wanting to feel I was part of positive movement—that my days weren’t turns of the hamster wheel, they were little scoots toward a more just world. But still, the idea of progress, of making life better for us all, went a long way toward making me satisfied to be here.

I still think my organization does good work. I know we do. But I’ve also seen so much repetition—not like knitting, but in the annual- to five-year cycle, unintended and fruitless. The same problems resurface in different shapes, and we solve them in the same incomplete ways over and over. We spend more and more hours on what we call “reporting” ; funders and intermediaries require week-eating reports. So much time to prove we’re doing good work and so much less time to do it. More and more programs have their brains eaten out by umbrella organizations and bureaucracies who control the money, so that we are more like robotic arms than our own whole living things. Everyone is so stretched to cope with all this, just to stay in place, that there is no energy to innovate, even though we say that’s what we do best.

And it’s not just in my organization. Friends in other places say the same; I see it at conferences of local non-profits. Especially fundraising conferences. The lack of passion. The ongoing dowdiness.

And, most eerily, I see so many people like me doing this job. White, female, overeducated, more or less liberal, more or less creative, more or less getting by. Where are the old white men? Where are the young black women? Where are the geeky young guys and the ladies who wear a TON of makeup and the NASCAR fans and the African immigrants my age? I think that my job needs someone much less like me in it. I think I need a job that surprises me more.

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4 thoughts on “career exploration.2

  1. Have you ever thought about trying to make a living from the writing? Your blog is one that I refuse to delete from my reader no matter how long it lies silent, because your writing always delights me.

    1. What a wonderful compliment. 🙂

      In some ways, I’m already making a living from writing – writing grant proposals, newsletters, annual reports, social media stuff, brochure copy … my job involves a lot of words. I’ve also had a surprising amount of income related to poetry in the last year — a grant, and a use fee from the random academic testing company who wants to use one of my poems (!!). But that’s always going to be small and unpredictable. It’s funny – as I write this I realize I’m living the dream in some ways (making a living from writing!) and yet, I’m restless, craving a big challenge or learning something really new.

      1. Do you ever read John Scalzi’s blog? A long time ago, he had a post about the business side of what he does, and he wrote about how he makes his money. I think that now his fiction writing provides most of his income, but in the earlier days it sounds like the majority of the income came from writing corporate things, and that he used that corporate consulting to buy time to pursue the writing he wanted to do. So maybe you could do something similar? Go after higher paying contract writing work (which would probably be mind-numbing technical writing or something like that), and use that to carve out some time to try to write your own things, but pick the things that you think have the biggest market potential so that maybe they’ll start bringing in enough money to let you do less of the mind-numbing consulting. Or something like that.

        Look at me, giving all sorts of career advice when I just recently had to go to a career counselor to figure out my own career conundrum! So you know- this advice is worth what you paid for it. (:

        But for what its worth, I’m planning to do something similar, but not with writing. I can admit this since this isn’t my blog and the chances of my boss stumbling across this comment are vanishingly small… I’m planning to try to go out on my own as a contractor to get enough income to keep us afloat while I pursue some business ideas I have. I paid a career counselor $160/hour to help me figure out that plan! And to talk me into believing in myself enough to try to implement it.

      2. Thanks for this long comment, Cloud (I won’t tell your boss!) I get the idea, I think, and that’s sort of the model I’ve been using (mind numbing grant writing work with a flexible schedule leaves time for poetry & parenting, my real art). Seeking higher paying writing work is a real possibility, and one I haven’t completely explored. On the other hand, I have such a hankering to do something really new. We’ll see. More thoughts about this to come.

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