Overqualified and Underemployed

by Edna Landau

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A note to my readers:

The question below is a long one. I asked the writer to condense it, which she did, but after reading that version, I felt that the poignancy and impact of the original message were significantly reduced. I suspect that the writer’s dilemma will resonate with many multi-talented young people embarking on careers and have therefore chosen to reproduce the question in its original form. I hope you will choose to write in with your comments because your personal experiences will be of value to others and will provide a broader perspective than anything I, as one individual, might choose to say.

Dear Edna:

I finished my DMA in piano from a top program a couple of years ago and have two MM degrees from one of the best conservatories in the world. I love being able to do a variety of things in both teaching and playing, which has kept me focused on applying for full-time academic positions for the past five years. I have been working part-time as a teacher (college, high school, and private), performer and composer in the large metropolitan area where I live but I really need more work. Furthermore, I am one of the millions without health insurance because I can’t afford a good individual plan. I have always felt that with my many abilities and terrific recommendation letters, a full-time job was just around the corner but in spite of being shortlisted for a number of academic positions, I have come up empty-handed. I have a number of amazingly talented musician friends who work “day jobs” doing something else and I have been thinking of going that route, especially as I possess very strong administrative skills. Financially, it makes a lot of sense for the time being and it would also possibly keep me from taking on musical projects that I don’t really find attractive. It could also potentially open the door for me to be able to fund other things, like starting my own concert series and producing some good quality recordings of my playing. I have, however, been told that once you leave academe, it is extremely difficult to get back into it. I also can’t help but feel a sense of defeat at the idea of working so long and hard for my performance degrees, only to wind up doing something else for a living. I would hate for working an administrative job to permanently keep me from teaching and performing. Do you have any thoughts about that?    —Overqualified and Underemployed

Dear Overqualified and Underemployed:

Before I say anything else, I must urge you to please take whatever steps you can to obtain health insurance—at minimum, catastrophic insurance (may you never have a need for it). I am deeply concerned about the number of musicians, such as yourself, who  have no coverage whatsoever. In my view, a plan that is admittedly not top of the line is still better than nothing and could tide you over until such time as you might have employment that offers more comprehensive coverage.

You have acknowledged the considerable benefits associated with taking on full-time administrative work. Your major reservation seems to be that “once you leave academe, it is extremely difficult to get back into it.” Yet based on what you have written, you haven’t really entered academe, at least not in a full-time sense. Were you to continue applying for academic positions while accepting an administrative job, an explanatory cover letter would certainly clarify your continuing love of teaching and the financial realities that have forced you to expand your professional horizons. You have never specifically mentioned the possibility of an administrative job in a music-related area, yet there are many such possibilities. They can afford you the opportunity for increased and enhanced networking and perhaps, when you are least expecting it, provide the missing link to the job you really wanted. Alternatively, through such a job, you might meet people who will help to open up new outlets for your performing and composing activities. There is no reason to think of this as an “either or” situation. Many musicians with full-time administrative positions continue to perform regularly. In contemplating the best type of “day job” for yourself that will bring you the stability you crave and deserve, picture a scenario that allows you to keep as many options open as possible. A former boyfriend of mine once recommended to me a book entitled “Directing the Movies of Your Mind.”  I never read the book but I have always loved the title. You are clearly a highly effective multi-tasker  and if you take the time to sort out your most immediate priorities and act on them,  rather than concentrate on how many times you have been rejected for a particular job, chances are this will give you a more positive focus and the confidence you need to ultimately achieve your long-term goals.

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©Edna Landau 2011

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