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  • Sue Schleifer

Working In The Field You Love When You Can't Get A Job In Your Field



Do you know someone who has trained or studied for years in a particular field or artistic area and then is not able to find work in their field?

I know someone quite well who fits this scenario. He happens to be my husband. Ten years ago we would never have imagined that today I would write what I hope will be an inspiring story about his journey.

Mark has a PhD in Ethnomusicology in addition to a few other degrees. Needless to say, he studied for many years to earn his degrees and envisioned himself as a professor at a college or university. I pictured us living in a pretty college town that would also allow me to pursue my career and my interests. As it turned out, Mark applied for jobs all over the country for more than six years. He had some interviews, and he even took a one-year position that turned into two at a university in the Midwest. However, he never landed the tenure track position that he hoped for. It was frustrating and discouraging for him and disruptive for both of our lives. From year to year, we never knew if we would be moving or if we should "settle down."

Each year he would say that he would stop applying for academic jobs but then there would be a job that looked like it was a good match. We would discuss it and he would apply for it. "Well, since I am applying for that job, maybe I should apply for a couple of more," he would reason. He would get his hopes up only to have them dashed when he didn't get the job. It was hard for him to give up on this vision that he had for his life's work. He loved research and writing, colleagues with whom to discuss ideas, reading and listening and making music.

So, during these years of applying for jobs and not getting them, he went back to work in a profession that he had worked in before graduate school. Once we "settled down" in one spot and decided to make a home, he went back to his writing. He would get up early most mornings and write for an hour or two before he went to work. In this way, he finished the book he had started many years before. It was published in October 2008. He also wrote and submitted papers for journals and to present at conferences in his field. He started singing again and pursued his interest in classical Indian music and in jazz. He served on the board of directors of a nonprofit world music organization. He formed a reading/writing group with other ethnomusicologists like himself without full-time jobs in their field.

In other words, he now lives a very rich life in his field. He muses that now he is probably doing more of the work he likes to do than he would be able to if he had a full-time teaching position at a college. And, he is making a decent living in work that interests him and keeps his mind sharp. He feels a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction from both his day job and his musical/research/writing work.


So what has my husband taught me? You don't need to give up on your interests and passions even if you can't make a living from them. Here are some ways to incorporate your interests into your life:

  • Devote set hours each week to write, sing, dance, paint, study math problems, read, play your instrument, throw a baseball, or otherwise pursue the field of your interests.

  • Find a few other people to study, practice, or exchange ideas with on a regular basis.

  • Submit an article for publication, join a musical ensemble, start a chess club, share your passion with children, teenagers, seniors or other adults by teaching a class or performing, or in some other way contribute your interests socially and publicly in a meaningful way.

  • Create a space in your home or apartment or office for your interest. Collect quotes, pictures, and objects to include in your space. These things may provide inspiration to you.

  • Read in your field. There is no reason you can't keep up with what is going on. Perhaps you will bring a new perspective to the field from your new vantage point. Go see other people's work and support them in their endeavors.

  • Change your perspective. See if by looking at your situation in a new way, you can live in the present and free up your mind for creativity. You can be bitter about not finding a job in your field, or you can say this is the situation, now what do I want to do?

  • How do you want to spend your time and energy? How do you want to be in the world?

If we allow ourselves to continue to pursue the things that interest us, we will bring joy and meaning to our own lives and to those around us, as my husband has brought to me.


© Sue Schleifer 2008