Making the “Gradient”

A Stop to Smell the Roses in Assisi

Each year, about this time, or a little earlier, Admin Superhero (and fellow MIDEA blogger) Nik Honeysett does a cover letter and resume review for the first year students in my museum studies course.   This is an important part of the curriculum for me, and for them, because Nik empowers the students to take off their rose-colored-I-love-art-history-and-museums-glasses and take an active role in shaping their own futures and careers.   During his presentation he shows a little graph showing the expected salary gradients for those who stay at one institution, and those who make regular moves up the ladder and out to another institution—and, not surprisingly, those who move, tend to make more than those who stay.


Salary Gradient from Nik Honeysett Presentation

I confess whenever I see this graph I am immediately plunged into the white waters of worry and have to spend the next couple of hours working my way back to the slow-moving river of my life’s work and a metaphorical inner tube headed towards contentment.   You see my personal gradient took an unexpected downward turn a couple of years ago.   A round of lay-offs at the museum I was working for left me momentarily without job.   Unable to move—my husband’s work is here in Cleveland and our only son was still in high school—I chose to return to the wide world of Higher Ed as adjunct faculty, supplemented by an occasional consulting job or public speaking opportunity.

In one of my favorite fairy tales, “The Twelve Dancing Princesses,” when the King offers the somewhat older soldier who solves the mystery of where the princesses have been dancing at night his choice of a wife his response is, “I am no longer young, give me the eldest.”  Just as the older soldier is looking for something different at that point in his life, when Nik shows students the salary gradient, I must invariably remind myself that net income is not how I currently measure my worth.

Getting laid off provided me with the unasked for opportunity to step off the hamster-wheel and consider my future. When I stopped running and looked around I realized the tool kit to do exactly what I wanted to do–teach, research, and write–was already in my possession and I have since rediscovered the passion that brought me to the art world in the first place. My only problem now is to make sure there are enough paid projects to balance the compelling projects that have to be accomplished on my own time.

My salary gradient doesn’t look like either of the lines on Nik’s graph but my lifework gradient is looking a whole lot better than it did five years ago.  At this point in my career I may not put my rose-colored glasses back on, but I will stop and smell the roses, and then I’m going to get back on my inner tube and discover what’s around the next bend in the river.

One Response to “Making the “Gradient””

  1. Beate A Jensen says:

    Thank you for that message. I needed to be reminded that though I would love to make more (who wouldn’t ?) it would not necessarily improve my life enjoyment. I love what I do, and that is rare in today’s world.

    Keep them coming!

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