I’ve been looking for a job in my field (art) for a little over two years now. Job-hunting during a recession isn’t really how I had envisioned my post-MFA years, but then I was a little idealistic (okay, a lot). My attitude six years ago somewhat reminds me of those Xtranormal animations that make fun of academic careers in the liberal arts (I finally understand all the weary looks!):
I like to think this hefty dose of reality (courtesy of the job market, the economy, and the nature of higher education) has improved me personally and artistically. It has certainly broadened my perspective.
This economy makes it especially hard for those in the fine arts to find work in their field. But on March 5th I saw a job ad that was so completely, absolutely perfect for me I couldn’t contain my excitement. I spent five days on my application, laboring over every sentence on every document the university requested. Everything had to be flawless. It was by far the best application I have ever assembled.
In early May the call came: I was invited to interview by phone with the search committee! This alone was a triumph. An interview! Finally an opportunity to show people what I can do! Not wanting to leave anything to chance, I prepped for the interview extensively. Over-prepared is more like it. But this obsessive research and rehearsal came in handy, because the next week I received the ultra-coveted invitation: an on-campus interview!
The interview went wonderfully. After nearly twelve hours of meetings and meals and tours, I was released back to my hotel feeling excited and cautiously optimistic. The feedback I received was incredibly positive, leading me to believe that indeed I had done well. Yes, I had made a few faux pas, but nothing serious. Of course, I would spend the next month analyzing those “mistakes” anyway, wondering how I could have done better. But in the end I knew I had done my best to convince the search committee that not only could I do the job, but I would do it with unparalleled passion and excitement.
I had already worked on visualizing the whole thing coming to fruition. I envisioned getting the phone interview, how it would go, getting the on-campus interview and how it would play out. Just to cover my bases I visualized both phone and email scenarios. Now, after the job interview had passed, I had to imagine receiving the job offer. That was where my hopes started to elevate even more. I could really see myself moving there, living there. I knew what salary I needed to justify the relocation. I imagined suitable homes and visualized packing and moving to my new town. And I dreamed of leaving my current job; packing up my desk, saying goodbye to everyone, handing in my building pass, walking out those doors of a place that would no longer feel so familiar. And though it is a job for which I am very grateful (any job is better than no job right now), it is also a place at which my skills are wasted – if not discouraged at times. A place where I stifle who I am so I can pay the bills. I really liked the idea of flipping that scenario on its head. At my prospective job, I could be everything I am and still pay the bills. Talk about win-win.
So, I waited. And waited. One week. Two weeks.
That’s when I became nervous. Had I told too many people about the interview? Did I jinx it? Did I fail to send something the committee needed but didn’t outright request? Was I too wishy-washy about some things, too certain about others? Was I too candid with my prospective boss? My excitement waned as the days passed. It began to seem unlikely I would get the job. Silence has a way of eating at my confidence. But I kept hoping. “You never know,” I told myself.
After three weeks I decided to check on the school’s progress. I emailed the department head and asked after the progress of the search. Four days later came her reply. She had just received an offer acceptance from a different candidate. I didn’t get the job. She wrote some very kind words about knowing I had a bright future ahead of me (which is very nice, as she didn’t need to say anything at all), but I was crushed nonetheless. Truly disappointed. Rejected. And back to square one on the job search. That discouraging, frustrating job search.
Some people say I shouldn’t have gotten my hopes up, but it was hard to do when everything seemed so perfect – serendipitous in fact. (And when so many people agreed that this job seemed the perfect match for my personality and skills. Consensus really killed objectivity on this one.)
Many folks say there was a reason I did not get the job (as in – God was looking out for you, or something better is in the future). The jury is out on that one. Meanwhile I am waiting for that wondrous thing called “hindsight” to kick in, but I have yet to get to a place where hindsight applies.
Others say, “This is how it works.” And they are right. It can take years (if ever) to get a position in the fine arts. But me? My thinking is a little different – and still very idealistic.
I’m convinced – based on many blessings in my life – that I can defy the odds.
I believe I can do what other people say cannot be done. (I have done it in the past. I can do it again.) And with that attitude comes a healthy dose of perfection paired with impatience. Not the best combination of traits for someone who feels like that one chance to prove herself lies somewhat in the hands of perfect strangers. Naturally, I needed some space from all this job business.
Lucky for me I had a vacation coming just a week or two after the big “no thanks.” Two weeks with family 1000 miles from my real life. Road trip indeed. Just what I needed.
Returning to work was difficult. Instead of handing in my badge, I was swiping it for another undetermined length of servitude. (Again, not ungrateful for the job I swear! Just hoping for a better one some day….) But a job’s a job, and I was lucky to have it.
Friends showed admirable amounts of concern and encouragement. It was heartening to know just how many people believe in my abilities to manage, organize, network and help others. It was important that I listened to them, not letting my disappointment drown out their encouragement. And of course, they wanted me to cheer up – because that is who I am: cheerful Jen.
So I put on my brave face. I noted the benefits of the whole thing: interview experience, new connections, the benefit of receiving that coveted interview rather than the cookie-cutter rejection letter. I pointed out the blessing in having a job to return to, a job I can do pretty well that also is flexible enough to let me be an artist (woohoo!). Health insurance, vacation time! Air conditioning! A decent pay that covers my day-to-day expenses (do I really ever need to pay off those student loans? Well, at this rate, it won’t happen before I’m seventy, but anyway…). A great apartment, a lovely landlord. An abundance of friends. My art work. My husband. My family (far away but loving!). My health. The lovely cool northeastern weather system. Proximity to NYC, Boston, the coast, Phili…. Yes, I have so much to be grateful for.
And I am.
But having the “right” attitude can be tiring when you feel disappointment. So how do you balance the conflicting emotions?
I’ll take a stab at it with my “Be Nice. solution at the end of the anecdote” moment. This is what I learned from the process.
When you get some unfortunate news (this could apply to other scenarios, not just mine):
Allow yourself to be bummed out. Cry, yell, journal angrily, play endless amounts of video games, live in your pj’s for days straight, become a vegan, dye your hair pink, develop a new interest in taxidermy, whatever. Do what you gotta do, but get the sad stuff OUT. Don’t bury it. Don’t burn bridges. Just feel your way through it.
Reserve the right to tell others you don’t want to talk about it. It’s your life and your bad mood is none of their business if you don’t want it to be (assuming you’re not being a jerk to them, in which case you’ll have more problems – so try not to be a meanie).
Give yourself a break from the job search for a few days, but then get back on it. People deserve the benefit of your contribution in the workplace, trust me.
Be receptive to others’ encouragement. Those words may not feel very great in the shadow of insecurity and disappointment, but they will be useful in the future. So tuck them in your memory bank for a better day, and whip them out when a pick-me-up is in order.
Once you get that crappy-sad feeling out of your system, find a goal to throw yourself into. Distraction is key. It will remind you of what makes you such a great “worker” in the first place. And eventually the distraction will become something else entirely, and you’ll find yourself once again tapped into your genuine energy.
I’ll leave you with something my mother said to me, which I think can apply to so many people who long for the day when their heartfelt vocation has become their work. She said, “That day is coming Jennifer. And when someone finally has the good sense to hire you, they’ll wonder how they ever got along without you!” I like that idea, don’t you?