Emily’s Situation: I work in the arts, specifically as a costume designer and am finding it hard to find help with job resources for new designers. It’s a small field with limited opportunities, so I’m finding it difficult to know what to do next. I have a BA and an MFA but still feel like I am not quite qualified for the few careers that are open to me. I’m wondering the best way to move forward confidently in a career path while understanding that I might not already have everything perfectly in place to find success. I am also interested in concrete ways to move forward to make steps toward change.
Emily’s Question: Should I try embarking down a new path that might be easier to find work in?
Sara’s Answer: When I spoke to Emily, there seemed to be a couple of issues at hand. The first was she thoroughly enjoyed her current job of teaching costume design. But it was temporary and there had been many times during the year where she felt underprepared. She could see the gaps between what she had learned in grad school and what she needed in the “real world”. These gaps were shaking her confidence.
The other factor was she worried about working in a specific professional area with limited job opportunities. Should she consider switching to a field that offered a better chance of getting a job? Or should she should go back to school to make herself more marketable for her next job?
Assess Your Current Situation with Clear Eyes
First, we talked about what she enjoyed most about her job. She loved helping people grow and connecting with people. She loved teaching, but claimed she was nervous she hadn’t been properly prepared through grad school and worried she didn’t know how to do things she thought she should know how to do. Connecting with and helping people grow are elements of jobs that can be found in multiple places, so now the question became – did she want to continue in her field, or switch to a new area?
She said she felt excited, but scared when thinking about staying in her field.
We talked about how it would feel to go back to school at this point, and she wasn’t really interested in that, so we decided to table the idea for now. She had graduated from her MFA program less than a year before and was hesitant about diving back into the academic studies world. Returning to school would also mean potentially putting on hold working in a new area. While it was true there were many areas she could help people grow, it wasn’t necessary to completely change fields, given she already had what she was looking for in this particular job. Yes, it had been hard – harder than she thought it would be – but did that really mean she had to give everything up and reinvent the wheel? She really liked working in a creative field, she loved her current role, and even though it had been trying at times, she had just successfully completed her first semester as a teacher. Considering there was so much she still enjoyed about the world she was in, she decided maybe now was not the time to go back to school and start over in a new field.
Make a Plan of Action
We then talked about what was shaking her confidence. Yes, there maybe were many things she hadn’t learned how to do in graduate school, and was figuring them out on the fly. But she was doing them. Maybe she could use a little more support. Maybe she would like to gain a little more education about what she was teaching and how to best teach it. Even though Emily was nervous about the things she didn’t know and was tempted to go back to school, she now had a list of topics and subjects to learn more about. A list of things that would (most likely) improve the quality of her life. It could be like her very own, very specific, designed-specifically-for-her grad school program.
Look to Your Past to Get Your Mindset Right
We also talked about times when she hadn’t known what to do, but had figured it out anyway. If the problem wasn’t really the actual, day-to-day work she was doing, what was the problem? Feeling underprepared? Feeling like she didn’t know enough? Had she ever experienced this feeling in another part of her life? What had she done about it? Once we identified some examples where she had proven success in these areas, she was able to see that while these situations weren’t necessarily ideal, she could handle them (and handle them well!).
She was also excited to connect to more people in her field. We discussed reaching out to people, in order to build a support network for when she faced new challenges. She was nervous about networking, an activity she hadn’t enjoyed in the past, so we worked on thinking about it slightly differently. Her job was just to reach out and create the opportunity to connect. Those that were interested in connecting were her people; those who weren’t interested, weren’t her people. It could just be as simple as that. She didn’t need to spend time building a network and nurturing relationships with people she didn’t have a lot in common with, or felt she couldn’t help.
There’s certainly a time and a place to head back to school, or start a new career path. But with Emily enjoying so many parts of her current job, and her specific desire to avoid going back to school, it didn’t seem to be the right time to start over. Sometimes it helps to get a second set of eyes on the situation, so you can pinpoint and work on maximizing the parts you like best, and then strategize ways to bring more of that into your professional life.
Was there ever a time you weren’t sure about staying in your career field, or starting a new one? What did you do?
“Sara got me to talk about me in a way that was very illuminating, like a sculptor brings the shape from a stone. Now, I feel so much more focused, and also more relaxed with where I am.” – Just Get Me Pointed in the Right Direction Client