The Job I Didn’t Get

No blog entry about my career--or lack of-- would be complete without a picture of Drayton Hall, the first museum to hire me. For the record, I believe it is sustainable--but just barely.

No blog entry about my career–or lack of– would be complete without a picture of Drayton Hall, the first museum to hire me. For the record, I believe it is sustainable–but just barely.

“What is your ideal job?” my husband asked on one of those very rare recent occasions in which we were alone. We had been discussing how easy our lives would be once we had the right care situation for his mom. Yeah, that is what we talk about when we are alone. We talk about other stuff, too. I swear we do.

“My ideal? I want to be a museum director, but I want part-time, flexible hours and a decent salary. And I don’t want a commute.”

Then, we both laughed because museums are notoriously low paying. Hours are seldom flexible—you usually have to be there when it is open to the public, and we live in the sticks. Everywhere is a commute for us. Surely, such a position didn’t exist.

A week later, not one, but TWO friends, sent me emails containing a link to a job they thought might interest me. It was a director’s position at a house museum. Twenty-hours a week. 30K per year. And how local was this museum? As the crow flies, about six miles from my house. As I drive down narrow country roads, about twelve miles! That’s about as local as anything gets to us.

The timing and the detailed job description fit my list of impossible wants so completely, that I thought, “This is a part of a Divine Plan. I was meant to have THIS job.”

So, I up-dated my résumé, wrote a cover letter, said a prayer of both supplication and thanksgiving, and emailed it. The very next day, the museum’s president called me to set up an interview, and it was imperative that the interview take place tomorrow. I panicked a little over having no time to prepare, but on the other hand, she urgently needed to meet with me a full week before the position closed? Hmmm…she must have seen something on that résumé that she liked, right? And so, I credited the urgency to this job being part of that Divine Plan.

I didn’t tell too many people about the interview because really, I didn’t have time. Also, in the event that I didn’t get an offer, I’d end up with a lot of follow-up conversations in which I would  sheepishly say, “No, didn’t get it.” Who wants that? The few people I told all said the same thing—“You are a shoo-in! I can’t imagine anyone is more qualified. You are probably over-qualified.”

The next 24 hours were filled with interview-prepping details. What should I wear? Do any of my suits still fit? Where is my briefcase? What is the quickest route from my house to the museum? Do I have childcare and granny-care lined up? What if that care falls through? I visited the museum’s website about six dozen times and I checked review sites to see what kind of experiences visitors had had. I called my references to tell them about the impending interview. I had asked them to be my references just two days earlier when putting together my résumé. They all said, “That was fast!” and added that bit about me being a shoo-in.

The interview itself was…hmmm, one of the most anticlimactic experiences in my entire career.  First, I met with members of their executive committee—the president who had phoned me just yesterday and the vice-president. I did an okay job—not a great job–answering their questions. And the questions were mostly about how I would handle difficult situations that might arise between board members. (Might arise? Please. I’m sharp enough to know that these situations had risen between board members and the result was that they were now shopping for a new director. Nothing here was hypothetical.)

The truth is that I have served on boards and I’ve worked for organizations with boards, but I had never reported directly to a board, and so maybe I wasn’t quite as over-qualified as my colleagues believed me to be. Still, the executive committee seemed somewhat pleased with my answers—or maybe they were just being polite.

The second half of the interview was with a group of board members. I got the very distinct feeling that half of them were cheering me on. They loved everything I said, they gushed over my résumé, and smiled a lot. Across the table from this enthusiastic group of supporters sat a grim pair. They frowned, took notes, exchanged glances, and said, “ahem.” They weren’t impressed. One asked how many people worked at my last museum, and when I answered that they had seven full-time positions, she scoffed, “Why on Earth would any museum need to employ that many people? Seems like a waste to me.”

While I could be wrong, I think this board was caught up in a conflict that is common in small museums: Half the board is eager to professionalize by hiring staff, and the other half believes staff is completely unnecessary because they’ve been running this museum for the past twenty years without receiving a dollar of compensation. Thank you very much!

As I drove away, I felt disappointed on so many levels. I was disappointed that I had not interviewed better. I’m usually really good at that sort of thing. I was disappointed that some of the board members were already planning to give the new director hell—me or whomever they hired. I was disappointed that the museum itself was so unsustainable. Yep, unsustainable. There are over 5000 house museums in the US. Most are of local interest only, poorly interpreted, poorly visited, and in need of funding, but offer nothing unique enough to deserve funding. (Harsh, huh? But if you work at a house museum, you either know this or you are in deep, deep denial.)

And I was really disappointed in myself because despite knowing what a horrifically impossible position it was at a completely unsustainable museum, I really, really, REALLY wanted it. Even I question my judgment there. What kind of asinine career choices have I been making my entire adult life?

It really gave me pause and the opportunity to examine why I would want that job. I concluded that when I thought about that museum, I was fantasizing about having an office–place where I could go that would have nothing to do with MIL or my children, a break from my real life.

Besides that, I really do miss work. I miss earning a paycheck. I miss being a financial partner in my marriage.  I miss using my education. I miss contributing to society in some meaningful way—a bigger way than our little five-person household. I miss working with other adults. I miss going to the bathroom without children yelling for me “Mom, mom, mom, MOM! I need you!” I miss eating lunch without an old woman glaring at me and asking “¿Que passé?”

So, I had lots of reasons for wanting that job, but none of them were very good—at least from the point-of-view of those doing the hiring. I wondered if they picked up on any of this. In any case, the museum’s president called to tell me that she was not offering me the job. She was very pleasant about it, and I thanked her for the call. She said that she would like to call me in the future and possibly hire me as a consultant—if the museum came into any kind of funding. I told her that I would like that very much, but I am not holding my breath.

As it turned out, I was very fortunate not to have been offered that job. Shortly thereafter, my granny-care/child-care plan fell apart. I would have been a liability—not an asset—to that museum.

Still, I’m stuck on the idea of that position being part of a Divine Plan. I truly believe I was supposed to contemplate and pray about my career—or lack of career, at this point. It really served as a reminder that I was once part of a world beyond this household. I am very grateful for that.

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