I had a gift for all things musical; my instrument was my voice though I was also proficient in piano, flute and guitar. By the time I left college, I was headed for a major city to teach music, sing in a symphony chorus, and occasionally solo for weddings. By then though I knew I wasn’t destined for New York’s opera scene, waiting tables until I could get my name on the roster of a major company; I aimed lower and got a “real job”, one that paid the bills. Besides, I knew I had neither the nerves nor the diva personality to make it on the stage. Teaching brought lots of good memories, performances I was proud of, enrichment to young lives, and I did pay my bills.
After five years of teaching general music to 600 children each week, directing musicals, giving choral concerts, and dealing with parents, I was burned out. Looking around for other professions, I realized, much to my chagrin, that I had virtually no business knowledge, experience or training. My meager music budget was hardly worth mentioning. Not that I had any desire to work in finance. But the pay and advancement potential seemed awfully low in education with seemingly little transferable skills. I know today that that’s not true. But hearing testimonies from other teachers who confessed helpless-sounding things in the teacher’s lounge like, “If I didn’t teach I don’t know what I’d do,” I decided it was time to move on before I got so stuck I couldn’t dig myself out.
After a year of informational interviewing and interning in nonprofit arts organizations — dabbling in fundraising and settling in marketing and public relations — I landed a position at a botanical garden as an assistant to the PR Manager. It was a wonderful change of pace. I learned an entirely new profession, without having to return to school! Of course I lost any seniority or momentum from my previous job but it was worth it for the skills I gained. And I was working with adults which I realized was more to my liking than working with children. Writing press materials, interacting with media personnel, assisting with interview tours for special guests, attending gala fundraising events and making sure the beautiful people were photographed for society publications…was stimulating. There was even glamour in this job. The trade-off was significantly lower pay and year-round work. I’d forgotten how much I appreciated those summers off but with a paycheck coming in.
I would have stayed longer but there were complications, infertility being a big one. Long story short: I needed to chill out and have freedom to submit to those unpleasant and sometimes humiliating tests and treatments at varying hours of the day without having to make excuses to leave work early or come in late.
Three children and 17 years later, I’ve got more volunteer hours logged in organizations than I could count. Pay: zero. My skills keep increasing but the revenue keeps going down. I can say I’ve been the editor of a major nonprofit organization’s internal and public relations magazine, managed a small staff, written and edited many articles, and managed PR for my kids’ schools. All for free.
Recently, I did start some PR consulting on the side as well as freelance writing. Anyone who knows consulting and freelance work understands that work and earnings are erratic and not for the personality who needs income predictability.
Sometimes I wonder why all my strengths are in industries that typically are not the most lucrative ones? Back in high school I didn’t think I could really do, or at minimum be happy in, anything that didn’t allow me to explore my creativity. Now I know there are many things I can do. Take law, for instance. I do tend to be argumentative – with my husband and children at least. Hhhmm…how would that translate to the courtroom? My attorney friends can out earn me doing part-time consulting work out of their homes than I can in several years of full-time work. It looks so easy on television. Why didn’t I go to law school when I had the chance?
For now, I guess I’ll have to argue my cases pro bono and cobble together a creative post-baby career.