I’ve been compiling a list of FAQs that I receive from graduate students and PhDs so that I can share insights with you. I’ll occasionally post these FAQs and my responses in an effort to show that you’re not the only one asking real, practical questions about nonacademic careers and to help you think through your career journey.

This FAQ is from a client consultation I did via email with a prospective graduate student in filmmaking, who has a background in Anthropology and Digital Media. 

CLIENT FAQ: “I’m mostly looking for mentorship and guidance with some issues I’m struggling with in terms of my future professional pursuits. I know that I am not satisfied with the reality of pursuing filmmaking in isolation of my passion for community outreach and organizing, academia, writing and minority advocacy. However, I am stuck in discovering a way to integrate all of these skills into a fulfilling line of work.”  

My response:

There seem to be two main questions here: 1) how do I integrate my passion and my skill for fulfilling work? and 2) how do I make a living at integrating these things (the implication being that you can work on these all day for free or as a hobby, but you’d like to get paid to do them)?

Here are  a few things you might consider to help you make choices about which road to take in terms of the next job and what you need out of it in order to be fulfilled while getting to the dream job. Just keep in mind that your dream career job may not be far off, we just gotta get organized about knowing what it is and where to find it…

  •  What do YOU need right now? Consider the things that you need right now to be on the path to fulfilling your goals.  Time to write, connection with a minority advocacy community, to stay in NY, to deepen your filmmaking, certain equipment that will support your filmmaking, employment/a steady paycheck … These are just some prompts to help you think through the question to help you determine your personal priorities right now.  Once you’ve identified a core two or three priorities you know how to weigh opportunities and make decisions about what’s next.
  •  What do you need in a JOB, right now? Don’t think about later on down the road (keep it on the back burner for just a moment). Instead, what are your needs for your employment at this moment in your life? You may be looking to gain a particular skill, exercise one you already have, make connections, earn a steady paycheck to pay your bills or to get a piece of equipment you want, have time freedom, or any other countless aspirations. going through this list helps you take stock of your top priorities. These become the criteria that help you assess your next steps and weigh opportunities as they come or as you sift through job ads.
  • Assess your networks. Do they know what you do and what you’re looking to do next? Some of your best assets are the people you’ve already worked with/for. Think about your freelance gigs, your contacts at the digital media center, anyone you’ve even slightly worked with or networked with who can open doors or leads.
  •  Who is doing work that I admire? This “who” can be institutions and individuals. make an exhaustive list of every film, advocacy project, filmmaker, producer, writer, person, scholar, etc. who’s doing work you love. once you have the list, think about what aspect of what they do that you like. now go do a little research online — for each person on your list, trace their employment and experience background on their CV/bio. You want to get a sense of where they’ve been so you know the type of institutions and experiences that have helped shape (and employ or support) someone in a dream job like you’ve had.

Continuing with the online research, follow the money for institutions, projects and films that you admire. What institutions fund the films or projects that you love? What organizations do the advocacy work you value, and who funds them?  What other organizations are in that same network or orbit? These lists help you get a larger sense of the field you want to enter, common pathways to entering it, and they help you build leads — institutions and people you might want to work for or network with to get to your dream job. Then take the research offline to build your network and seek leads.

  •  If receiving a paycheck is important right now, you can always take a “bridge job”.  That’s a position that will pay you but perhaps not fit all your career job criteria. The main purpose of a bridge job is help you make ends meet. However, a bridge job can also be an entry-level type position in some area of your desired field; for example, production for a local TV station or for Nickelodeon (hardly advocacy right?) or a community organizing job that does not include filmmaking. The goal may not be to scale the ranks of the company but to get something useful out of the work experience while you focus your attention on growing your networks to get to the next job that takes you closer to the DREAM.

Summing up…

Don’t put so much pressure on yourself to find the “right” job or career that fills ALL your core areas– advocacy, research, community outreach, etc.   Your vocation need not encompass your avocation. In other words, there will be things you love and enjoy that will be developed outside of your main hustle (or job).  You can choose to develop your avocations as hobbies or a side hustle that pays.  But if you take the pressure off of finding one RIGHT thing, right NOW you’ll give yourself some breathing room to explore, to hone existing skills and learn new ones, and to gain momentum.

You may have to make a choice right now, using your priorities as a guide.  All of your passions and interests may not converge into a single job description at this point. (That’s why so many people go into entrepreneurship). So, I suggest a step-wise approach — that is, building to the dream career job through jobs that help you fulfill some of your top priorities that you outlined above and gain some of the key skills you need in your toolkit. Nothing helps you get to the next best thing better than being in a job that allows you to flex your muscles (use your skills), meet new people (expand your network) and demonstrate success. It’ll come full circle as you’re on your path. It may not be until job #2 or 3 that you find a way to bring it all together or grow your freelance work enough to support you more fully.

Let me know your thoughts.

Happy New Year,

FWC – The PhDCareerCoach

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