When I grow up..
I’ve just finished Colonel Chris Hadfield‘s book An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, which was a great read. I found the nuts and bolts of hearing what it’s like being an astronaut pretty fascinating, but woven throughout is this theme of knowing what you want out of life and working towards it as best you can. Wanting to be an astronaut when you’re a kid is.. well, it’s just one of those things. But even as a young Canadian with no in-country prospects of being an astronaut, he worked toward it and it happened.
When I look back at my childhood, I don’t recall any particular calling or profession standing out as what I wanted to be “when I grow up”. Nothing like “I will be a doctor, a lawyer, a movie star”, as far as I recall. I enjoyed languages and photography, but they were interests not something I thought I could work in as an adult. Perhaps the closest I came to having a career aspiration was perhaps maybe working with animals in some capacity (I loved nature documentaries and wildlife fascinated me then – as it does to this day). Despite my interest in school and my affinity for biology out of all the sciences, nothing came of it. I had no older siblings to look at for guidance as far as what to do when aiming for post-secondary studies and careers.
It’s no surprise I ended up taking half-hearted shots at courses that were accessible at a regional university near where I grew up (not even thinking a Bachelor of Arts was an option, because my guidance counselor never made it clear it wasn’t about art!). I got halfway through a degree in business/tourism before I realised I was miserable. Some of the study was interesting (it was there I first encountered Maslow’s hierarchy of needs), but as the possibility of working in a hotel or tourism destination for the rest of my life loomed, it was clear it wasn’t what I wanted. I wasn’t sure what I wanted, but hey. First things first – accept I don’t want to be there, and choose to move on.
I ditched the degree, bummed around for a bit and after discussing with my then partner and my mum, I started a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Queensland – aiming toward studying archaeology and anthropology, doing something I was interested in and seeing where it took me. Diving into that degree, rediscovering my life-long love of museums in the context of academic – well, I don’t regret at all taking it on, and the graduate diploma in Museum Studies I took after that, because it was so very interesting and I felt like it was something I could be happy working in for the rest of my days.
Here’s the tough part, though – when you come at post-secondary studies from the position of “doing what’s interesting”, you’re not looking at realistic career prospects. There are possibilities, but they were fairly thin on the ground when I graduated. The industry is not huge in Australia, the turnover of positions within the industry less so. If I could have just gotten one basic paid fulltime museum collection management job, I’d have been set; I was volunteering and getting experience, and even interviewing for some positions, but nothing eventuated. So I jettisoned to the United Kingdom – where there’s more heritage/museum jobs, yes.. but the same problem as back home is there on a larger scale (plus, being there on a temporary visa didn’t help things). Now I’m settled in Canada, I’m back to facing the same trouble as back home – not a huge industry/turnover of jobs. Do I take a risk go back to school and get my Masters to try and bolster my chances of getting in at some level, or do I look elsewhere for a mid-30s career?
When I didn’t even know what I wanted to be when I was growing up, and only kinda figured out what I’d really like to be doing in the early 2000s, how am I to career-counsel myself now? Is it feasible to look at my skills and interests and discover something that’s not being a museum collection manager that I might like to do, and work toward that now? I certainly don’t want to be an administrative assistant all my life – perhaps I should find an organization I have a chance at working my way up in, and get in at the administrative level there? Figuring out this stuff without a helpfully pre-ordained career wishlist and to-do list from school-age Nicole is pretty perplexing.
Why couldn’t I have just wanted to be an astronaut when I grew up? (Well, the asthma probably would’ve been an early hitch.)