The Outskirts

For the past month or so, I’ve been fortunate to have a few contract jobs (or “gigs”, as I like to call them, because see how cool that makes me seem?!) come my way. They’ve been short-term, low-pay, but pretty fun. It’s a good way to keep my foot in the door, to stay in the loop, to hear things through the grapevine, insert other cliché here.

I left my previous full-time position for a variety of reasons, the biggest one being that I wanted to spend the last remaining months before my son started school at home, desperately trying to make up for five years of lost time. Those were six pretty fun months, and I do not regret that decision one single bit.

The second reason I left my previous full-time position is because dang. There were some politics there that I was just tired of dealing with. Every institution has its own idiosyncrasies and closet skeletons and dirty little secrets, but I was just tired of being a part of it. My family is most important to me, and when it becomes glaringly obvious that the health and well-being of our whole family is suffering because of me, things need to change.

Something tells me there’s another blog post brewing in there. I bet you just can’t wait.

So, in the meantime, school started and within about two days, I got bored. Granted, my mom and I booked a mani/pedi appointment about twelve minutes after the bus pulled away on that first morning, but it didn’t take long for me to feel like I needed to re-enter the world of productive society. Not that being a mom and volunteering at school and managing my household (a term at which my husband would probably snicker, seeing as how our household is not the sparkling, gleaming home I had promised it would be once I was home full-time) wasn’t important, but I liked working. Well, I take that back. I liked my work.

Thank goodness for the fabulous people I’d come to know through my coursework, and thank goodness for the folks with whom I’d developed strong working relationships. For ever and ever, God bless my mentor for passing out my name left and right. I owe her a lot.

So, between the occasional workshops I teach at a nearby nature center and the handful of contract spots I’ve landed, my schedule seems as full now as it ever did when I was working 40 hours. There are, I have found, lovely advantages to being a contractor. First of all, I don’t have to work 40 hours. My schedule is flexible, so most days I can pull bus stop duty at home with no conflicts. Folks seem to recognize and respect the need for me to put family first, and that has been such a relief.

Another advantage to working short-term jobs is that there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. Whether I’m on the job for 15 hours or 15 weeks, I always know that this, too, shall pass. Usually it’s bittersweet because I have come to enjoy the people and the visitors I’ve been spending time with, but if the job is not particularly exciting for me, then it’s something of a relief to fill out that last time sheet. But most often I’m a little sad when my time runs out.

Most of the work I have done has been, let’s face it, grunt work. Busy work. Work that is important, but not so critical that full-time staff is able to dedicate the hours to doing it. I’ve told people that I don’t mind doing that kind of work for them, or being the Creepy Clipboard Lady. Since most of what I have done has been related to exhibit evaluation, it’s a good thing that I like watching visitors and talking to them about their experiences. That kind of stuff takes up a lot of time, though, and I know (from being on the other side) that it’s the kind of time you normally just don’t have as a full-time employee.

Another benefit to working as a contractor is that I get to stay out of the politics of the place. My stints are short enough that I don’t get caught up in the on-going drama that seems to be unique to each museum. My role is innocuous enough (at least as far as I’m aware) that I don’t make waves. I conduct myself with the utmost professionalism and formality, lest I be considered that rogue contractor and they never invite me back again…first impressions, you know.

The people I work with most directly have, in every instance, been the loveliest of people and have never been anything but smiley and friendly and appreciative and helpful. They’ve always said hello and have welcomed me into their spaces.

This is also one of the biggest drawbacks to working as a contractor. I’ve been on the inside at other museums, so I know how things go: a place is never really all smiles and friends and appreciation. I only get to see the shiny outside of these institutions, and often I feel like I don’t really get to know individuals very well. Even though I may have a parking sticker on my rear windshield and I can breeze through locked doors with the mere flash of a badge, I’m still an outsider. Often it feels like being a guest in my own place of employment.

People can be the worst thing about working someplace. They can make bad decisions, talk way too loudly in the cubicle next door, not show up for meetings on time, miss deadlines, steal your Thanksgiving leftovers out of the staff fridge, not appreciate the work you do, and (if they’re important enough) pretend like you don’t exist. Sometimes they even lie straight to your face.

Fortunately, people are often the very best thing about working at a place. They (can) become your true friends, they know what’s going on in your personal life, they can help you get you caught up when you’ve fallen behind. You have inside jokes, secret languages, and everyone knows who keeps the jar of fun size candy bars in their unlocked overhead cabinet. You know who in the office is afraid of octopi and you take full advantage of that phobia. Every person brings their own unique talents and knowledge, and if you work with the right kind of people, you learn from each other.

When you’re a contractor and your tour of duty is short, you can (thankfully or regrettably) miss out on both kinds of people. People are what makes a museum what it is, whether those people are workers or visitors. And because I have been called an “emotional person”, sometimes a little bit of workplace drama is OK. So, while I’m so very thankful for the opportunities I have to experience bits and pieces of different museums, sometimes I wish I could really be on the inside looking in.

1 thought on “The Outskirts

  1. Love looking through your blog posts Em! Makes me miss you all and prompts me to evaluate my own museum experiences, which has gotten harder to do now out of school. It’s great to relate and share your museum experiences even 1000 miles away. Go girl!

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