Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Wagon Woes

There is a new blog in the works, but I’m hung up on – of all damn things – what to name it.  Suggestions?
Anyway, until then, here’s a long, long-overdue update:

I’m contemplating a career change.  For those unfamiliar with my CV, it’s been ten years since I emerged fresh-faced and hopeful from the full time undergraduate design program I’d entered four years prior.  I had already started freelancing and the summer after graduation had a sweet internship at Artvoice. I had hoped to fill an opening for a paid position when it became available, but someone else ended up with the gig.  It wasn’t the end of the world – I was heading to a full-time graduate program in the fall anyway – but it cemented my adoration for print and publication design. So I hitched my horse to that wagon and off I went.  
I freelanced through graduate school, in between shifts at the coffee shop. I continued picking up random jobs and teaching myself the ins and outs of contract work and self-employment at home (Spoiler Alert: it’s not all that great). After I finished my Master’s and let cool a half-cooked plan to expatriate to Thailand, I threw myself headlong into a search for a full-time job.  During my first year of grad school I had held a brief part-time job doing print collateral design and menu layout for a fledgling third-party food delivery service.  It was a brand-new concept at the time and I recognized the potential for the industry to grow, so I returned to work for them to handle their marketing in addition to managing their print stuff. But it was a franchise, which presented some limitations. Ultimately as a franchised operation with weak links all through the chain of command (myself included) and a general lack of technological and financial resources, it never took off.  I imagine someone from back in the early days of that company went on to play a part in the later boom of delivered dining.  
I left the delivery company after a couple of years to work for a small local community newspaper.  I spent most of my days building the paper and designing print collateral while dodging the drama inherent to working for a small family business. I loved the work.  I just didn’t like who I did it for.  I stayed on high alert for job openings elsewhere, but before I could find a new job I was forced out of the one I had when my office closed.  I couldn’t justify commuting to the other office at the rate they were paying me, and even if I’d wanted to, there was no position for me there. So I did what I do in these situations and I tightened my belt, bumped up my hours at Starbucks, put my feelers out for freelance work, and picked up as much extra contract work as I could.
Five months later I landed what I had hoped would be the end of the line – or at least a really long, comfortable stop – of my career.  For two years I enjoyed life as the Production Manager and Graphic Designer at The Public (which had been started by a small group of former employees at the paper where I did my internship). It was the perfect soup of a publication I believed in and respected, run by individuals I like and respected – and who showed me respect in return.  I had as much freedom as I wanted, the autonomy I desired, and the trust of my employer to do my job correctly.  Alas, as print publication continues to circle the drain, so does my career.
Imagine treading water in a whirlpool.  In April of this year, we pulled the (drain)plug on the print edition of the paper.  It’s still online, but with no print edition there was really no need for a Production Manager anymore.  And so I hopped back on the job search wagon.  But by that point it had become a rickety old thing with outdated functions and a tendency to get stuck.   I started to do some upgrades, but still six months later I’m just trying to keep the damn thing upright.
I’d gotten my graduate degree in hopes that it would give me a leg up in an industry where I was already at a disadvantage because of my age.  This is not a self-victimization; the truth is that the design field is flooded with young kids with far better frames of reference for what’s going on right now.  So it’s very tough to break in on an entry level when you’re competing with candidates literally half your age with the same or better credentials.  There is some serious talent out there.  And try as I might to remain youthfully relevant, I have reached that delicate stage in my life wherein I teeter on the peril of appearing like I’m trying too hard.  I can be interested in the same things younger people are interested in, but the fact of the matter is I'm not a younger person.  My view isn't the same from this spot on the hill.  Few people 20-30 years your junior care with any degree what someone their parents’ age has to say.  Not that their opinion matters to me so much, but it’s hard to convince a potential employer that you, as a middle-aged woman with established but not necessarily coveted skills, would be adaptable to their climate.  I’m not saying it can’t be done.  I’m saying I don’t have the confidence to put forth the extra effort required to do so.  Not anymore.  Or, not right now, anyway.
You see, as I’ve gotten older I’ve realized the importance of remaining comfortable in my own skin.  And if I’m not comfortable, it shows.  I could never play poker because I’m an involuntarily easy read most of the time.  I have so many unconscious external indicators that one only needs to look at the color of my complexion, the shape of my face, the size of my waistline, the state of my dwelling to know how something is affecting me.  These days it’s also the volume of my hair, which is falling out in alarmingly copious amounts.  I'm overwhelmed. 
I am also grossly overweight (mentionable, of course, because this is still "Sleeve it to Deedee"). I am lugging around a 50-pound regain that makes my clothes constrictive and my heart sad.  The stress of everything has sent me back to the minimal effort of tunics and leggings.  But more nefariously it has pushed me back into the comforting arms of food, which tells me it doesn't matter and with a firm embrace convinces me to take a nap with it on the sofa instead of going to the gym or yoga class. Then I wake up surrounded by the mess I never got around to cleaning up, feel like a fat failure, then rinse and repeat.  Does this sound like a healthy person to you?
When I am trying to convince someone they should give me a job and pay me lots of money to do it, it’s a hard sell when I’m not completely comfortable with myself or convinced I actually deserve it.  And I'm trying to break into an environment where I have very little tangibly measurable experience.  It's become apparent that my skills are outmoded, and now my motivation to learn new ones is waning as I struggle to manage and balance my life with my other passions and hobbies and obligations and responsibilities.
So I’m taking a break from my job search to think about what I want to do with my life.  I’ve resisted doing this for a long time because it’s kind of a punch in the gut to think about giving up on something I’d wanted for so long.  I was well into (and nearly out of) my 30s when I got my B.F.A.  I turned 40 the same month I finished graduate school.  But now I’m pushing 50 and I’m in this weathered wagon being pulled by a beaten half-dead horse, trying to navigate a muddy road that inevitably gets washed out in a whirlpool.   This is not pessimism; I’m being honest with myself.  I’m clearly unhappy driving this thing.  But why?  I love being a designer, but as is the case in many complicated relationships, sometimes love just isn’t enough.
I could sit back and say “wah wah wah, no one will hire me” as I get jostled along and try to stay the course. Or I could park this damn piece of shit and take a look underneath.  And when I look at myself, I see a person who needs some updates, some repairs, some care and cleaning.  So we’ll say my job search wagon is temporarily out of service while we perform necessary maintenance.  And in the meantime I’ll look at different wagons in case this one ends up in the junkyard.
And now I open it up to you, my dear readers and friends. Anyone have any ideas?  With the exception of call centers or running off to join the circus  (I can’t do anything with heavy phone work because of my hearing and circuses terrify me) I’m open to suggestions for potential career shifts.