I'm considering going to graduate school to change my day job. I never thought I'd do this - I thought if I undertook more education, it would be for the creative side of my life, or for my own enrichment. But right now I'm seriously exploring getting a Masters degree to become a part-time librarian.
The starting point, unsurprisingly, is my lousy work situation. I've been earning the bulk of my income as a document production specialist in corporate law firms for almost 20 years. In New York City, this worked beautifully, but in Toronto, it really hasn't gone well for me. I had a good job with one firm that ended up going out of business. I took another job that was badly misrepresented to me; I loathed it and quit. And my current job doesn't provide me with enough hours, so I'm under constant pressure to earn additional income through other means.
I've been looking for a job nearly continuously for two years. The few promising leads I had - firms that were considering adding a weekend shift, for example - are gone with the recession wind. There's just nothing, and no prospects.
When we first moved to Canada, Allan found his job very easily, and it was exactly what we had in mind - giving us the impression that these types of jobs were there for the finding. Only now do I realize how exceptional that was. Indeed, Allan may have the only job like his in Toronto. Yet another example in a long line of examples of how perfectly everything flowed for us after we moved here.
I had a lot of writing work when we first moved here, and didn't have to look for a day-job for a while. When I did, I also found one right away. Then the firm went out of business, and on from there.
* * * *
My underemployment sets up a chain reaction that spoils the rest of my life. My writing becomes a source of income instead of a creative and intellectual outlet. Financial need dictates what stories I pitch, which I hate. I have no time or space to develop my own writing projects, so all my ideas just sit on a list, unexplored.
We have enough money to pay our bills (barely) but no money left for what's really important to me: travel. For me that doesn't mean visiting my mom in New Jersey or going to Boston for a baseball game. Those are holidays, and they're fun, but they don't slake my craving to see the world. I live with a very potent sense of time rushing by, of my life rushing by, and I'm not doing the things I want to do, because I can't afford them. Yes, I'm grateful to be employed and be able to pay my bills. But I want more out of life.
If I chose, I could find a full-time document production job fairly easily. Then we'd be able to take one really good trip each year. But working full-time, I couldn't write, or else I couldn't do serious activism, certainly not both. And Allan and I would never see each other: our schedules would be completely opposite. That hardly seems like the way to go.
The whole time I've been unemployed or underemployed, I've always kept my eyes open for anything else I might do, any other field I might go into. It's been very sobering to see how difficult - impossible? - it is to change fields without more education. I have a university degree and a ton of all different kinds of work experience. Once upon a time, I would have been highly marketable, but credential inflation has changed that. My credentials are inadequate for most fields now.
And besides, what would I do? What field could I enter that would pay well enough that I could work only part-time, and still have mental space and physical time to write?
* * * *
So that's the negative push from behind. None of us changes our lives without it. You don't make a big life change if you're happy and comfortable with the status quo. But you don't want to just run from something. You need something positive to move towards.
I inadvertently discovered that an activist friend, someone I know through the Campaign and IS, has written a novel. I didn't know he was a writer - but I do know that he is a librarian. Driving home from a meeting one night, a light bulb went off. Is being a librarian is a good job for a writer?
I recalled wanting to be a librarian as a child. Yes, that's what a book geek I am: while other kids dreamed of being baseball players or firemen, I dreamed of being a librarian. I adored libraries and books, and I loved "looking things up," which is what we used to do before the internet existed. I thought being around books all day, and being able to look up anything you wanted, any time, would be an amazing job.
Now, as an adult, add being extremely organized, and having a natural inclination towards helping people find good information.
I can easily visualize myself being a librarian in a public library system. This is very important. I have to be able to imagine a path in order to take it, and there are very few new careers I can imagine myself doing. Being a librarian is one of them.
So I began to investigate, first by speaking to my friend, then reading up online. I've learned that the job does indeed seem to be a good fit for a writer, especially because Toronto and Mississauga librarians are unionized. Working part-time, I'd have a steady schedule, and a job that was interesting, but one you mostly don't take home with you. I'd earn more working part-time as a librarian than I could working full-time in my current field. And if I chose to work full-time for a while, I could earn enough to pay off student loans - and to travel.
Yesterday I met with an assistant dean at the University of Toronto's Faculty of Information, "the iSchool". I'm a little freaked out, but I think I'm going for it.
More about the freak out in part two.