Saturday, August 09, 2008

Starting over--a high-stakes learning opportunity

(reposted from BlogHer)

I'm addicted to starting over. I like things to be new and fresh. I love learning new things on the job (or off). My husband? Not so great with the starting over. He once commented that "It's only a rut if you're looking down into it. When you're inside it, it's a groove. And yet it's time for my husband to shake some of the dust off his career, and for me to consider where the heck mine is going over the next few years.

Here's the deal: as many of you know, Mr. Trillwing is in newspapers. Remember those? The satisfying thud of a large newspaper on your front walk? The inky smudges on your fingers? Your one-stop source for local information for a mere 50 cents?

Newspapers today are facing a crisis: print advertising is becoming less popular. Subscriber numbers (and therefore readership) are falling. Paper costs are rising. So newspapers are literally thinning down--they reduce the width of the paper on which they're printed, they cut or combine sections, they lay off writers and designers and ad reps. Increasingly, newspapers are outsourcing their production to workers in India and elsewhere.

Oddly, Mr. Trillwing has plenty of work. In fact, on behalf of two newspaper companies, he produces five newspapers and three websites from an office in our spare bedroom. But he works 60 hours a week at least. And he is not paid as well as he should be.

If I found myself in this situation, I'd land on my feet. There will always be more people seeking learning experiences. My Ph.D. and the skill set I've acquired over the years would serve me well in a number of contexts.

My husband is not so lucky. Although Mr. Trillwing is incredibly bright, he is not a student; he barely graduated from high school, and at age 46, he's not anxious to go back to school to remake his career.

In short: he's overworked and undereducated in a very bad U.S. economy where most people have little leisure time for learning. Most of the job ads I've read mention a college degree as a requirement.

I'm a huge advocate for college education. After all, I teach in higher ed, and I consult with faculty on improving their teaching. That said, employers are short-sighted when they expect everyone to have a college degree. The U.S. university, as currently conceived, is antithetical to the way many people learn (and to the way some people teach).

Oddly enough, Mr. Trillwing and I find ourselves in similar places in our lives. He's undereducated and is in need of opportunities to learn new skills in an informal atmosphere, on his own time. I've educated myself straight out of the system--I have a Ph.D, which means unless I want to enter an entirely different professional field (e.g. law, library science, or medicine), I'm finished with my formal education.

We're both suddenly in need of learning experiences. His career and industry have gone stale, and my job is one that people typically hold for 5-7 years before moving on to something else--yet in the university hierarchy, my job is a dead end; there's no clear place to move up from where I am, and yet I'm stuck very much in the middle of academia's ladder of salary and prestige. I have, in short, hit the glass ceiling of the academic who is not on the tenure track.

Learning new skills and fields excites me--I tend to take on too many projects at once. Learning new things makes Mr. Trillwing a little bit nervous; he works on a single epic project, incrementally, over several years, until he has accomplished something of real value.

So: I'm trying to learn patience. He's trying to acquire spontaneity. At the end of this month, he starts his first class as an adult that's unrelated to his career: a guitar class through the local community college. Me, I'm reinvesting myself in the garden, planning for the long term even though we rent this house and yard. I'm subscribing to the feeds of blogs like urban homestead, You Grow Girl, and Sprouts in the Sidewalk. I'm trying to get my husband to read Escape from Cubicle Nation and Shifting Careers.

But I also want to pull us away from our computers, to do that hands-on learning that is so important to children but that we forget is crucial for adults as well. We must learn to reconnect with the earth, with other people, with music, with creativity and play. We're faced with a high-stakes learning opportunity: we have many options but limited time (in our lifespan and in our daily lives). And we need to be modeling good learning and creative lives for our almost three-year-old son.

What advice do you have for us? For me--a highly trained academic who loves informal learning environments, but maybe a little too many of them too much--and for my husband--a casual learner who's navigating a midlife crisis and possible career change?


Rebecca Clayton said...

I've changed careers, relocated, and redirected myself several times, so my advice is "Don't worry so much!" Be open to possibilities you weren't planning on, and you'll find that sometimes employers are also open to applicants they hadn't expected.

I think your husband's experience would trump degrees and credentials unless he's looking for a job with a huge company and a faceless, procedure-driven HR department. He wouldn't like working for an outfit like that, anyway.

ArticulateDad said...

Follow your hearts. You know what excites you and interests you. Do what you love to do. I can't say for sure "and the money will follow" but what better is there to do with your time and energy than what you're best suited for (whatever that is)? The trick is to find a way to leverage that passion into sufficient means to sustain yourselves. I agree with RC above: "don't worry so much".