Friday, June 29, 2007

A Survey From AAM

The Emerging Museum Professionals Committee has designed a new survey and would like input from those of you who read the YMP blog:

"Thank you for your interest in Emerging Museum Professionals at AAM! We invite you to take a few minutes to complete a brief survey to guide AAM's activities and services for emerging professionals working for and with museums. It should only take a few minutes to complete and will provide us with valuable feedback on the resources and services that you want and need. Take the survey! Thanks in advance for your participation!"

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Second Year Itch

As summer swings into high gear, I prepare to mark my second anniversary in my current position.

These two years have offered me the best education I could ever imagine, experiences that allow me to grow continually, and stability in my work life.

As of late, I’m feeling the itch to continue my education or experience some kind of change, this could stem from the fact I haven’t lived in one place for more than a year since I was a young adolescent. I love change, things in flux, and challenges. I thrive on deadlines, on stressful experiences, the new-job learning curve; I’m a glutton for it. It’s not like that doesn’t happen currently but everything feels too safe.

Don’t get me wrong I love my job, my colleagues, and the institution I work at. I look at my colleagues and some are marking their thirtieth anniversary at the Museum – that scares the blank out of me. I know the time will come where I’ll need to move on, but I feel like if I did – I’d betray them and this place – but I understand it’s totally unrealistic for me to think I could stay here for my whole career. Maybe that reveals something about my working environment – in this unfamiliar community where I can count my friends on part of one hand– my job is my identity, I work (and I’m sure many of you do too) more than a full-time job (which I do because I value this place and what we give this community) this position has wedged its way into almost all aspects of my life. My neighbors know me, a trip to the grocery store in the scrubbiest of clothing is always met with a familiar face; anonymity I once found so comforting is gone.

Grappling with this, I’ve looked into different graduate programs, each of them offering more questions than answers, I’ve talked with my director but I haven’t come to a solution. I don’t know what the right answer is, I’ve heard over and over that right is rarely the easy way. I just don’t know how I’d reconcile this with my high-esteemed colleagues or myself.

Advice or similar experiences, please share.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Avoiding Burnout as a Young Professional

As undergraduate students, and even as graduate students, we dealt with our stress by hanging out with friends, attending a school event or party, and always in the distance was the proverbial "light at the end of the tunnel". Graduation was some fixed date in the future toward which we were continuously striving. A set end-point at which point we knew that there would be some new challenge awaiting us. Unfortunately, now that we're in the "professional world" we lose that "point on the horizon" and one day can begin to look just like the next. We find that the "challenge" we actually face is trying to avoid burnout in our young, professional careers.

I have experienced brief periods of burnout in my now 8-year-old professional career, and for me, it makes my resume look a little bit like a patchwork quilt. Now, I don't regret my job hopping in the past because it led me to where I am now, a fabulous institution in my hometown doing something that I love. But even now, I need to "refocus" on those aspects of my job (and personal life) which give me the most joy and satisfaction.

In recent months, however, I have recognized these signs of burnout in many of my young-ish colleagues here at the museum. It has helped me to know that I am not alone, but I've thought a great deal about how I can help them avoid the "career quilt" that I've experienced. One place I reached out to was First, the signs....
  • Have you lost your enthusiasm for your work?
  • Is your work become more than a drag but a weight that gets heavier and heavier?
  • Are you feeling that you no longer get satisfaction from your job, or are you questioning the value of tasks that you perform?
  • Are you entertaining the thought of finding a new job?
  • Do you no longer laugh or have fun at work?
  • Are you more irritable toward coworkers or customers?
  • Do you always see work as a chore?
  • Have you developed chronic worry about your job?
  • Do you feel lethargic and empty in your work?
If you answered yes to a good number of these then you, too, might be suffering from burnout. Not to fear! Finding good stress management techniques can often help alleviate these feelings of dread every time your alarm clock goes off in the morning. lays out some relatively simple ways to refocus yourself and to once again find your passion for the job. You can visit the website for a more detailed description of these solutions, but here is my own take on what has worked for me and might work for you, as well (though keep in mind, I'm a museum professional not a mental health professional):
  • Look for the positives in a challenge rather than focusing on the negatives. How might this additional project dropped on your plate allow you to improve your visibility in the institution? What new opportunities will become available to you by assuming a new responsibility?
  • Have fun at work. All of the important things I've learned in life I learned from the movie "City Slickers". Ok, so not really, but Jack Palance and Billy Crystal were on to something when they talked about finding that "one thing" to make your life complete. The author and philosopher Joseph Campbell frequently referred to your "bliss", or finding and following that thing about which you are most passionate. Some of us are lucky enough to find it, many more are continuously searching...and that's ok, too. But while your on that journey, there is no rule that says you can't enjoy yourself. Try to get those monotonous tasks out of the way early in the day so that you can focus on more enjoyable tasks for the rest of your day. Get out of the office and speak with a student group or a senior group visiting that day.
  • You deserve a break today. The marketing geniuses at McDonald's had it right. Take a walk through your museum's galleries to really LOOK at all of these amazing things that so many people pay to come and see. In Milwaukee, we actually had mandatory weekly "gallery walks", which were in essence a walking meditation session. We conducted one-on-one meetings this way, brainstorming sessions, you name it. It really kept us, as a staff, connected with why we took these jobs in the first place.
  • Mix it up. Redecorate your office. Work out details for a flexible schedule where you can come in an hour earlier (or later) one or two days a week (or more) so that you can get some things done without the phone ringing or school groups screaming in the lobby. Though it may also sound counter-intuitive, you could also ask for some additional responsibilities or a project which you know you would enjoy.
  • Step up and take control. Many times, supervisors recognize that employees may be suffering from burnout but don't know how to address it. Without going up to your boss and saying, "I'm burning out," (trust me, you won't get the response you were hoping for...I know from personal experience), try to suggest some new ways that you might be able to do your job or ask for permission to run a project for a short time to try and put your stamp on it. Own it. Who knows, maybe you'll find your "bliss".

How do YOU deal with stress and potential burnout? Share your suggestions by clicking on the "comments" link just below this posting.