Reflections on relocating (Part 2)
13 October 2015 – Adina Langer
Last December, I shared this post about my then-recent relocation from Lansing, Michigan, to Atlanta, Georgia. I wrote about my efforts to make connections in my new community and to nurture my career as a public history consultant and educator. Ten months later, I am writing from an altered vantage point; over the summer, I decided to apply for and ultimately accepted a new job as Curator of the Museum of History and Holocaust Education at Kennesaw State University.
Although I am very excited about my new job, I was trepidatious about writing this post. I have been co-chair of the National Council for Public History Consultants Committee since 2012, advocating for consultants within the public history community and trying my best to offer advice to young professionals and those seeking to make an adjustment to consulting. Ironically, I believe that an analysis of my decision to leave consulting in favor of a full-time job can offer some additional insights for those interested in pursuing a consulting career.
It is essential to acknowledge the personal context in all of this. As my favorite yoga instructor, Bryan Kest, is fond of saying, “everyone has unique life experiences that result in these bodies and these minds.” I would add “these careers” to the mix. In 2012, my husband and I decided to have a baby. I had left my job at the National September 11 Memorial Museum to pursue a consulting career in Michigan, but we knew that our time in Michigan had a sunset. My husband would graduate from his PhD program in the spring of 2014, and we had agreed that we would follow the best tenure-track opportunity for him. I hoped to maintain my consulting practice through this transition time, and I imagined a part-time schedule.
During the winter and early spring of 2013, I subcontracted on research projects with History Works, but it became increasingly clear to me that I would not feel comfortable traveling great distances by myself when it got closer to my due date, so I communicated this to History Works’ fantastic president and worked on my last research project in the early spring. At the beginning of the summer, months of volunteering at the Michigan State University Museum led to an opportunity to contract as a project archivist. I did not want to lose this great opportunity, so I had a frank conversation with the managing curator, and we agreed on a timetable that would take the project right up to my due date. Then my son came early.
The folks at the MSU Museum (mostly women, as is pretty common in our field) were very understanding. They agreed to let me finish the project in October after a three-month “maternity leave.” Of course, maternity leave for a consulting historian consists of living off of savings. In my haze of wishful thinking before the baby was born, I had imagined networking and communications while he slept, hours of professional reading, securing projects for the remainder of our time in Michigan. Instead, I just barely managed to stay afloat with my responsibilities to NCPH and to my board position at the Historical Society of Greater Lansing. Suddenly it was October. We hired a babysitter for the first time, and I went back to the MSU Museum to finish my project, dutifully pumping breast milk every three hours and then finishing the finding aid at home during the hours we’d allocated to babysitting.
During the remaining nine months spent in Michigan, I took primary responsibility for our son while my husband finished his dissertation. We were always practical in our decision making, but even though we agreed that we could hire a babysitter if and when I wanted to work, I often felt guilty about using that time for the speculative work necessary to maintain and promote a consulting career.
When we moved to Georgia, it seemed to make the most sense for me to create a regular part-time work schedule for myself, spending my remaining time caring for our son. Here’s the truth: to be successful, a consultant must work full-time even when she doesn’t have paid gigs to account for full-time work. With a part-time work schedule, I found myself taking on greater portions of the necessary work of household management. Time spent on my professional development and promotion of my consulting practice shrank as I prioritized other things. I internalized a notion that, because I was not bringing in additional income great enough to cover additional babysitting costs, I should not take the time necessary to invest in my consulting practice. Consulting is both a psychological and practical commitment.
At the same time, I knew that I wanted to devote more time to my work. I wanted to grow professionally and contribute to my field. I knew myself well enough to know that I would be a better mother and partner if I could find intellectual and emotional fulfillment through my work. When the opportunity arose to apply for a full-time job, I talked it over with my husband and decided to pursue it. I don’t regret my decision.
Someday, I may decide to return to consulting. The beauty of public history consulting is that every professional experience only serves to enrich your portfolio. If and when I return, I will have a deeper understanding of the commitment necessary for success. That commitment must be made without the security offered by a traditional full-time job, so it should be made with eyes wide open. And sometimes all the advice in the world can’t open your eyes wide enough. We build careers through unique life experiences, and together we enrich our professional community.
~ Adina Langer is Curator of the Museum of History and Holocaust Education at Kennesaw State University. You can follow her on Twitter @artiflection and on the web.