Career Change, One Day at a Time

06Oct10

[Image via Craig Harper]

I have spent a lot of time and money lately agonizing over my skills, talents, values and aspirations.  What do I enjoy?  What am I good at?  Where will I fit in?  Where can I find a job that will ask me to strengthen my talents more than it asks me to overcome my weaknesses?  Far ahead of my self-imposed November 1st deadline, I decided that the right job for me is writer/editor.  There!  Decision made, hard part’s over.  What a relief!

Now all I have to do is contact my alma maters for lists of alumni in publishing and unearth everyone I can who may be able to help me identify opportunities and how best to market myself.  Yay!  I’m in the fast lane to self-actualization!  I wonder if I’ll still be at the firm when it comes time to close this hellish transaction that I’m working on.  Maybe I can tell the senior counsel to shove that stock purchase agreement up his ass!  Yes, I will tell him to shove it up his ass and then I will take my desk lamp and leave, and only wear Levi’s and t-shirts for the rest of my life.

NOT SO FAST.

The alumni contact information garnered through my law school career placement office was about as accurate as next week’s weather forecast.  I moved on to my contingency plan, which involved a search of Martindale for lawyers in major publishing houses.  I searched Hearst, Time Inc., Random House, Penguin, Conde Nast, in each case clicking on every name that came up to see whether it belongs to someone who earned a J.D. at my law school.  Nothing.  How can this be??  In desperation, I used Martindale to search lawyers in every Manhattan organization that uses some variation of the word “Publish” in its name.  Sterling Publishing, Publisher’s Weekly, American Express Publishing.  Nothing.  Why, I wondered, did I not keep in touch with that guy who asked me out after our “Acting for Lawyers” workshop?!  He’s an entertainment lawyer now.  I bet he knows … people who publish stuff.

The career services office of my undergraduate institution was more helpful.  The staff there provided me with a very promising list of fourteen alumni holding titles like “Senior Acquisitions Editor, Princeton Architectural Press”, “Executive Editor, Random House”, “Assistant Managing Editor, Hearst Corporation”.  The list is impressive, I must say.  The responses to my inquiry e-mails … not as impressive.  It has been two days since my first alumni e-mail blast:

“Dear [X], I am an alumna of [Y], class of [Z], currently employed as a corporate lawyer and interested in making a transition to the publishing industry.  [Y’s] career services center provided me with your name, suggesting that you might be amenable to talking with me about the publishing industry and related career paths.  More specifically, I am seeking information that will help me identify which roles/jobs would best fit my skill set, personality and objectives, and how I may successfully market myself for those jobs.  I realize that you must be very busy, but if you have the time and the inclination, I would greatly appreciate the opportunity to hear your thoughts, either via phone or over coffee.  Best regards, Samantha Alexander.”

I sent that message to three editors.  I have received responses from zero editors.  Was my message so awful?

*sigh*  Surely I have friends and family — and access to friends of friends, and family of friends, and other people — who can lend insight or provide job leads?  Surely.  Mother’s friend, celebrity-ish chef, published author: “I’m sorry to say that all I know from publishing is people losing their jobs.”  Fan-fucking-tastic.  Excellent news. 

Thankfully, I still have in my arsenal a remote family connection, an even more remote acquaintance, a friend of my husband’s third cousin, and about seven alumni leads from my undergraduate institution.  In addition, I can still try contacting my original three alumni leads via telephone.  Maybe they get hundreds of e-mails per day, and didn’t see mine.  Or maybe they are just very busy.  I even e-mailed Joy, WordPress Editor Czar, and asked her where WordPress posts its job listings (don’t all the WordPress people look happy in their group photograph, standing on a nice patch of grass, dressed in machine washables?  I think there were even trees in their previous photo.  Trees!).  Joy got back to me.  Maybe the editor-alumni will, too.

At this point, however, I am feeling the chinks in my armor.  My optimism is down, I have flashes of despair, and I am experiencing slight nausea related to anxiety about my future.  Yes, the tides of my existential crisis are steadily rising.  How long will I be stranded in Biglaw?   Maybe I should just get pregnant.  No.  Bad reason to have a baby.  Maybe it’s time I added a psychic to my entourage of service professionals.  Or maybe I will just focus on one day at a time.  Yes.

Taking the reins of my life seemed like such a straightforward, fool-proof plan.  What could be easier?  When I want something, I take control, focus my energy and get where I want to go.  That is standard operating procedure; mechanical logic.  If I focus, then I achieve.  But this feels different — a different kind of goal, a different kind of challenge.  I can’t have control, because someone else does.  Some yet-to-be-seen editor will control whether I get my shot.  Or even better, some yet-to-be-seen person will control whether I even gain access to the yet-to-be-seen editor who will control the rest of my life.  Self-promoting in Manhattan, in a changing industry, during “the great recession”.  Yes, this is a very new kind of challenge.  Luckily, any urge I may have to resign myself to my fate is not nearly as strong as my desire to make more of my life.  Somehow, something has got to give.  I have to be more creative.  I must focus more, try harder.  *sigh* One day at a time.

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10 Responses to “Career Change, One Day at a Time”

  1. 1 Cara

    You may be getting stuck because you’re not being specific enough. Do you want to be a writer, or an editor? What do you want your day to look like? Can you get some books on becoming either of those things? I know a lot of editors are probably also writers, but it seems to me that you will make more progress if you pick one and focus on that, at least until you can make your leap from Biglaw. If you want to be a writer, what do you want to write? Books? Magazine articles? Short stories? Start writing them, then start submitting them. Read books on how to get published. If you want to be an editor, maybe the best place to start would be looking at all the publishing houses’ job openings. You probably can’t be an editor right off the bat, but maybe you can start as an editorial assistant and work your way up. Meanwhile, if you get more specific about where you want to go, people may be better able (and more willing) to help you.

    Good luck! Don’t give up–you’ll figure it out!

    • 2 Samantha Alexander

      I think you’re right, although part of my reason for wanting to talk to these people was to get more information, which would help me decide where to focus. But you’re right, maybe I should at make an effort to at least appear more directed. Also, I think I could’ve buttered them up a little more; expressed a more general interest in them and their resepctive jobs, specifically. Thanks for your feedback and good wishes!!

  2. I currently work for a publishing company based in Suffern, NY though it was started in NYC. I wish I had better advice though the company I work for is not nearly as big (or high-paying) for someone with your qualifications. From what I’ve seen and experienced though, your skills are definitely something that won’t be wasted if you go into the industry. Yes, you should be a good reader and writer but it’s more important to be the voice of reason. The biggest thing I’ve learned as an editor: Authors are crazy. And publishing houses are picky as hell for a reason. I can’t begin to tell you how many people have sent me emails asking why they weren’t on Oprah’s book club yet. I could write my own book detailing the craziest ideas I’ve received. I also get books about Jesus being an alien on a daily basis.
    What I’m trying to say is, maybe you won’t find an editing position, and I don’t know how far away from law you want to stray from but perhaps you could look into finding a job as a literary agent or something of that nature. With your experience and I’m sure your skills of dealing with difficult people, you’d most likely excel.
    Those are just my thoughts though I know I’m not qualified at all to give someone like you advice. I do think that if you really are interested in publishing, you’d definitely be an asset for writers and publishers alike as perhaps a liaison between them. 🙂

    • 4 Samantha Alexander

      Let’s be clear — your thoughts and advice are supremely important and helpful to me, especially since you are the ONLY person in the industry that I’ve had the pleasure of receiving feedback from (at least, to my knowledge). If you can describe for me the best and worst parts of a junior, editorial job and what a typical day at such a job might look like, I’d be extremely grateful.

      Literary agent and entertainment lawyer are possibilities that I’ve entertained for 10+ years from now, but I don’t feel quite qualified yet, given my lack of contacts and industry knowledge. Frankly, I’m just really confused about the opportunities available to me, assuming that there are any.

      • I’m glad I can be of help! Obviously editing is a lot of reading but a lot of my day goes to replying to emails. Often times, there are things my boss doesn’t want in a book (usually because either it’s controversial or just plain bad) but the author insists so I have to mediate and find a way they can both be happy. With every book I get, I do two-three full readings of it. Once for grammar and spelling and the second time for content. Then I send it to the author to see if they’re okay with all the changes. When they give the okay, then it’s sent to be published.
        Because I work for a non-traditional publisher, there are lots of times where I also get books that are almost incomprehensible because English isn’t their first language. Instead of rejecting those books, someone has to pretty much re-write them. That person gets to be me. It’s really tedious and frustrating at times and probably not something you’d have to do at a large publishing house. But you may find instances where you’ll be reworking a large story arc or part of a book to make it more marketable, less offensive, etc. And most of the time, that means having to discuss and try to make the author okay with that.
        I’m sure there are opportunities out there, especially with your degrees and all. But it’s an industry I’ve noticed people have to work their way up on. Originally I was just a cashier at the retail store of the publisher. Then I was given editing and PR duties as well. So most likely, the first job would be assistant editor and moving up from there.
        Also thank you for your comment about law schools. The whole process is driving me crazy and I don’t have many sources of info that aren’t those crazy top law school forums, my undergraduate school that’s not the most helpful or encouraging, or friends that are already in law school.

  3. Mechanical logic is fine if you happen to be a machine . . . and some are. The very nature of your quest, however, is to become something more than a mere automaton. They same Rome wasn’t built yesterday, and just having an objective is a heck of a thing. First of all, is any editing gig good, or would you rather be editing books? Magazines? Newspapers? What kind of publication, what genre? If you’ve looked at my blog yet, check this one out again:

    http://tygarjasbigstyck.wordpress.com/2010/09/30/you-want-it-you-got-it/

    The point is, the more specific you get, the likelier a clear path. Aside from that even, the more specific you are the more you can be inspired to get creative because the more specific you get, the more you know what you are creating. General is hard to grasp at; if anything can be anything, then as of now you’re successfully editing your own blog. What do you want to be editing?

    This isn’t about control, in fact as you loosen up on control, you might find something in your periphery you hadn’t noticed before because your stare was too fixedly forward. What it is about is keeping one steady baby step at a time toward the direction that’s most likely; clarification of direction will come automatically as long as you just keep going. You’re already heading the right way and have the world watching to help beside, just try not to worry, it aint worth it. Keep doing what you’re doing, and enjoy a cup of tea while you wonder about responses. Some take longer to respond than others, and the time table that works out most perfectly for you may not necessarily be yours!

  4. 7 Samantha Alexander

    I really like your post and I think it does a good job of articulating what I’m trying to do here. I am flawed in that I’m a control freak who wants (and often expects) immediate gratification. But you and Cara are right — I need to hone in on exactly what I want, put it out there to the universe, keep throwing my energy at it and wait. As usual, thanks very much for your insightful comments.

    PS — I am now a subscriber of your blog and note that you don’t post very often. You have lost souls (not entirely unlike myself) out there waiting for wisdom! What’s the deal?

    • The deal is I work 40 hrs a week until I sell enough books that I can stay home and write out three postings a day three days a week. But, further more, what kind of wisdom do those lost souls need? Should I seek them out, or wait for them to find me? I just posted an interlude. Until the souls get specific one way or the other, I promise more on the way, probably, Sunday. . .

  5. 9 Bro

    The way new careers work is that you figure out what you want in a general sense and move in that general direction. As the journey goes on everything becomes clearer. Like Dad’s vision, he thinks he sees something, and the closer he gets to it the less he’ll have to squint and the more likely he is to see exactly what it is. Now if you have bad vision like his and are going on a trip to somewhere knew it would be good to maybe go to Google Maps and print out some directions. Sounds to me like you may need to do more homework on where you want to go and where you’re headed. Research online, talk to some people in the field who can’t help you with a job but can tell you about the industry, get more info from your high priced career counsel, etc. .

    I’d help you with contacts, but I can’t figure out what you want either enough to know who to ask. I’d normally say just take any job you can find in publishing, even if you have to work for free, and figure out where you need to go from there, but you are looking for a high paying job as well.

    Normally, I’d have to bill you for all this advice, but you can consider it a belated birthday present. 🙂

    • 10 Samantha Alexander

      All good points. What I am doing is just what you suggested — trying to talk to people in the field who can tell me about the industry. Not even that is easy, unfortunately. So, I’m in this weird catch 22, where I need more direction in order to gain access to the people who can help me figure out my direction.

      *sigh*

      Going to a publishing networking event next Thursday. They won’t be able to hide from me there …


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