Monday, October 10, 2016

The road not taken

When I was 23, I was working part-time (initially 0.6, later 0.8) at a small education industry support association while completing my Master of Arts by thesis part-time. My job at the association was primarily around sourcing, editing, publishing and marketing a range of teacher-support booklets and student resource books. I found teachers who were willing to write them, commissioned the work, hand-held it through to delivery, copy-edited the product, sourced images and handled the permissions, arranged printing, marketed and sold the publications at conferences and events, and even packed and posted the mail-ordered products. About the only thing I had no touch on was the money bit (I didn't invoice or bank or pay bills).

I'm not sure whether it was just because this was my first professional job, or because I still had it in my mind that I wanted a "writerly" career and I didn't have the bredth of experience or imagination to think about other possibilities, but I assumed that my career path was one of two options from there: an academic career (which was already losing shine as an option as I watched the convulsions in the academy) or a career in publishing.

By the time I got engaged to be married in the December of that year, I had pretty much ruled out an academic path; in my discipline (American History), a PhD in the US would've been essential, and my life was taking me down a different road, with a partner who was committed to remaining in Australia. So I thought I had it worked out. I'd finish my MA, get married, and move into a job with a more mainstream publishing house. I'd work my way up through editorial roles. I'd build skills so that when the time came to have a family, I might be in a position to freelance those editorial skills from home for a while.

In the year following, I applied for six jobs in publishing, and was interviewed for four of them. In two cases I didn't make it past first-round interviews, but I was one of two final candidates for a job with Oxford University Press, and I was actually offered a job with Pearson Education.

With the Oxford job, I missed out to a person with just a touch more experience - that job I absolutely would've taken had it been offered. The Pearson job was a key decision point for me, though. It was an entry-level position, and the salary they were offering was lower than the fulltime equivalent of my 0.8 job; not massively lower, but when you are earning less than $30,000, $2,000 less is a significant chunk of change. And so, after agonising over the issue for three days, I reluctantly turned down the offer, even though it was likely to be a great path into the industry I thought I was decided upon.

After turning down the Pearson offer, I got so busy with wedding and honeymoon planning that I didn't apply for anything else, and when I got back from my overseas honeymoon, a postgraduate friend asked me to do some freelance publications work in the government agency she herself worked in. I took that option, left the industry association, and spent eighteen months doing publications and event work there while finishing my Masters. From there I went to another government agency to manage in-house publications, then to an online news aggregator service. It looked like I was sticking with publications-related stuff, if not traditional publishing per se.

My next job, though, turned that on its head. I went back to the government agency I'd first worked for to take a job developing policy and training systems / programs. This felt like a weird step - after all, although I had some training skills, I had never actually worked on policy before. I honestly thought it was a transitional job, that I'd do for 12 months to get back on my feet after the horrors of the night-shift news job, before going back towards publishing.

I was there for almost 10 years, and when I left, I was established as a policy development professional.

I don't regret any of my professional decisions to any great extent, although, with hindsight being 20/20, I can observe a tendency to stay longer in poor situations than I really should have. I do wonder sometimes, though. How different would my life / career be now if I had accepted that Pearson job? How would it look if I hadn't been just slightly edged out for the Oxford role? Would I, now, be a senior publisher at a big trade house? Or would I have abandoned the field and moved into something else?

The work I do is still "writerly" - of a sort - but it isn't what I imagined my future looking like, back when I was 23.

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