Yesterday I ran into an acquaintance from a church I used to attend. We met years ago while he was studying for a doctorate of Music Arts, and I was working on my doctorate in Anthropology. I remembered the sheer joy and poise with which he had once played the organ and directed the choir. I was happy to hear that he had successfully completed his program and earned “the D.”
“Woohoo!” I said to him. “Do your students call you ‘doctor’?”
Usually an upbeat and jovial person, his response was terse. “Do you think they call me “doctor” at Wal-Mart?” he shot back. “I’m tired Fatimah. I wonder if I should have done my program. Now that I’m teaching high school, I keep thinking I should have done a doctorate in education. At least then I could be a school principal.”
I have to admit that I was a little taken aback. My extremely talented friend wasn’t even teaching music. I listened as he went on to explain that he now taught at one of the public high schools in town while also holding down a part-time job at Wal-Mart to make ends meet for him, his wife, and toddler.
My heart went out to him. I couldn’t help but wonder what it was that he really wanted to do. It was clear that the teaching gig was not a highlight for him. Did his graduate program somehow not supply the technical and professional tools he needed to be competitive for a career in music? Had he changed his mind about a career in music and preferred to teach? Was the job market such that he couldn’t find a job in his field?
Look, I get the part about needing to bring in extra income by doing odd jobs. There are times in life when you may need a job, any job, to make ends meet, and I’m not mad at that. I’ve worked as a reader and proctor for test takers with disabilities, signed up to teach Princeton Review courses, and I’ve been one of those students that the university hires to call alumni and ask for donations. (That last one was one of the most soul-killing jobs I’ve ever had. But it was the perfect bridge job.)
That’s right. It was a summer job. It had evening hours, which gave me daytime hours to write the first draft of my dissertation. It was also on campus and didn’t require me to have a car to travel to work. It was also kind of mindless. You read a script, take the donation if offered, then rinse and repeat. It didn’t require a lot of mental energy, which I needed to reserve for my dissertation writing.
But back to my friend, who I’ll call Dr. Evans. Like any good coach and ethnographer, I couldn’t help but ask some questions. And this is what I found out: He really wanted to be a band instructor at a southern HBCU (historically black colleges and universities). He could even name the specific university where he wanted to teach! That’s awesome because it says that he had a vision, a goal, and a preferred destination. He wasn’t wandering about without knowing where he truly wanted to be.
A Side Hustle Should Only be Temporary, Right?
It was saddening that this hustle period had become a permanent mental and physical place for him. He seemed to be resigned to his current work and life though he had so much going for him to make it closer to his dream career. The fighter and strategy partner in me comes out when I hear someone living so far from their passions when they still have a desire for that goal.
Yet, there are times in life when doors close for us, and it’s time to consider a new trajectory or avenue. For example, if you’ve been on the academic job market for a few years in a row, you haven’t received an offer (a decent offer), and you do not have a clear stream of income, you may want to consider another strategy to leverage your skills and expertise. Similarly, if you’ve been on the post academic job market and haven’t been getting hits with your approach, it may be time to consult an expert on fine-tuning your job search strategy and revising your job targets.
My musician friend still has options—options that may get him to his dream career or at least a few steps closer.
So how can Dr. Evans position himself to pursue his highest goals while still acknowledging his present income needs?
What online and in-person networking can he do so that key people in collegiate music programs get to know him and become champions for his goal?
What can he create while in his current public school teaching role that would bring him joy in teaching music and a visible demonstration of what he’d like to create in the collegiate music space?
What other music teaching experiences would closely approximate his desire to teach at this particular HBCU?
I knew that Dr. Evans and I would need to dig below the surface of the goal of teaching at the specific HBCU to see what other involvement in music and teaching would fulfill his drive and love for working in music.
Because he had resigned himself to the life he was living, Dr. Evans could not step outside of his situation to see any different options. And, he didn’t have a career coach who could ask him these questions to get him closer to his goal. So, rather than seeing and working toward the life he wanted, he could only see his current circumstances.
But Dr. Evans was not ready for these questions just yet. First, he had to believe that his situation could change, so I offered Dr. Evans principles from Be Bold: Launch Your Job Search or Career Change with Confidence to remind him of his awesomeness and to reignite his self-confidence. These same affirmations and coaching have helped me and my clients during times when the fulfillment of our goals seemed afar off and cheerleaders seemed distant and few. That’s because you need energy and support to diligently work toward the goal – the job, the journal article, the dissertation, the artwork, the side hustle — that you cannot yet touch.
The rest of the work will be up to him. It will require him to be bold, to seek the help he needs, and to believe in himself. That’s a powerful combination that can make anyone unstoppable.
How have you been bold to invest in your pursuing your goals? How have you avoided getting into a rut while pursuing a hard-to-reach goal?