Go to school, get a degree, then get a job, and you’ll be set for life. How many times have you heard this narrative? This narrative is what I call the “American Dream.” The American Dream is instilled at a very young age. Other options or routes to “success” are not even discussed. Academia is not for everyone, and the traditional narrative to the American Dream needs to be extended and modified. Vocational school and entrepreneurship are not given enough discussion when it comes to achieving the so called American Dream. I’m here to tell you the American Dream is a lie. Times have changed and traditional methods do not render the same outcome as they once did. I followed the traditional path of going to school and taking advantage of the education system. I received my Bachelor's, and according to the American Dream, within six months, I was supposed to have a decent paying job; that’s why the student loans begin to roll in after six months of graduating...right? Well, that was not my case.The loan bill did come after six months, but the job, decent bank account and white picket fence did not.
It was a year and some change of me searching for my American Dream; I thought I did everything right. Throughout my undergrad journey, I was told to focus on my classes, get the highest GPA, and you’ll be set. Young and naive, I tried to follow the given advice, but with my situation, I was unable to simply focus on my classes and get the highest GPA. I had to work two jobs and take six, sometimes seven courses to graduate “on time.” Also, getting the highest GPA does not guarantee a financially stable life. I understand encouraging students to strive for the best, but sometimes the goals colleges push you to strive for are not achievable due to personal circumstances. And is it just me, or do those goals sometimes sound like a sales pitch?
I feel myself getting extremely longed winded with this post as I reminisce on my academic journey. I’ve accepted that I cannot look back on my college career with the happiest of thoughts. I had to do what I needed to do in order to do what I wanted to do. At the end of the day, it is a blessing to complain about obtaining the 2 1/2 degrees I have. My point is, once I learned that I needed to work smarter, not harder and that the American Dream is a lie, that’s when my dream began to seem a little easier to catch. I buckled down with my magnifying glass and zoomed in on the strategic moves I needed to take to get my version of the American Dream. I hope these tips and hard truths can help any emerging museum professional in search of their “American Dream.”
These tips and truths can be applied beyond a museum career.
The tips & truths to working smarter and not harder:
Learning that Success is defined by you, not your college, not your family, or society, creates mental peace. Decide what happiness feels and look like to you. Set and achieve your own goals.
Network! Set up meetings or lunch dates with folks who are where you want to be. Ask questions, take notes! Research the individuals first. Sadly, not everyone is willing to offer counsel.
Professional development is key. Even after you’ve earned the credentials (Bachelor’s or Master’s), take advantage of more professional development such as certificate programs and free online courses. Be strategic with your additional credentials. Make sure they fit your niche.
Learning that college degrees do not guarantee employment will humble you. You’re not entitled to a job just because you’ve earned the paperwork. Get hands-on experience. Intern and volunteer at multiple institutions. I know this sounds like a lot, but as I mentioned, I worked two jobs while taking 6/7 classes. If I can do it, you can too! Spread your experience out if you need to. Do what you can, even if it’s an hour or two a week.
Graduating on time is a construct. Pace yourself. The path to achieving goals is not a straight one; life happens in-between. You’ll graduate when you’re ready. Please don’t do as I, and take six classes at once. I was under the pressure of “graduating late.” There’s no such thing as “graduating late.” What was I late for? Yes, hustle, but don’t stress yourself.
Explore other options to success. As I mentioned previously, vocational school and entrepreneurship are routes to “success.” If you have a passion, try to turn that into a business or a service. You’re still worthy without college degrees. Degrees do not determine your worth. I’ve meet some educated, yet shitty scholars.
Just because it’s tradition, that doesn’t mean it’s always right.