Give me the Humanities or give me Death! Counsel a Career Changer: What the hell is a liberal artist to do these days?
May 25, 2011 1:27 AM   Subscribe

CareerChangeFilter: Lost generalist in a land of specialists. Editorial book publishing work solved the problem. (As an editorial specialist I could work on general-interest projects in a range of subject matter.) Then it became the problem. My wrists can't handle the tight deadlines and the industry's been a mess for years. I've got lots of skills and experience, but editorial is my only expertise, and it's just not transferring. I'm reaching a point where I don't even know what category to click on craigslist. So I'm depending on the wisdom of the Green. What jobs haven't I thought of?

Here's an Overview of My Experience
- English/ESL teaching [Very outdated experience!]
- Project (and people) management [Somewhat outdated experience.]
- Customer service skills
- Editing, (nearly always uncredited) writing, (light) design, copyediting, proofreading
- Project coordination
- Organizational/information management experience
- Good research skills
- Good people skills
- Excellent interviewing others
- Lots and lots and lots of multicultural experience
- Varying levels of fluency in romance languages, including Spanish
- Extensive travel experience

I'm also currently updating my skills by learning:

- Photoshop and Dreamweaver (because my Web skills are mostly nonexistent)
- Indesign (because I don't know it well enough)

Here's a List of Fields/Professions, Relating to My Interests, That I've Considered Over the Years ... and Then Decided Against or Couldn't Make Happen
[1] Book cover designer (few full-time jobs, too mouse-and-wrist dependent).
[2] Architect (poor job market, universally advised against).
[3] Librarian (poor job market, universally advised against).
[4] Legislative Aide: (I've known a few, and many liked their jobs. But the hours are brutal, which is why so many aides are right out of college).
[5] Communications writer/editor in a college or business (all the ads I've seen demand far more specific experience than I've got), and I'm can't say this idea intrigues much, anyway.

The three jobs below still really interest me:

[6] Staff writer at a magazine (I'd thought I could maybe transfer my book publishing skills and take something more junior in a magazine. That was naive. There are too few jobs doing this, and people with years of journalistic experience usually get first dibs, even at the very junior levels, which require multiple internships for entry).
[7] Tour director (I asked a question about this here. But most of these jobs aren't openly advertised or only hire from within the industry. Those that are openly advertised tend to pay a pittance; also, most aren't full time.)
[8] A job involving travel, research, and writing for a company that researched and sold classes abroad to upscale travelers. (I applied for, and didn't get, this job, which sounded great and even paid well, but I've only ever seen one ad for this sort of thing, and have been unable to locate any other companies that do it.)

These Are My Limitations
* I can't do heavy typing (i.e. when transcribing, writing, editing, or on deadline) for more than 20 hours a week or my hands will go (tendinitis in both wrists).
* I can't do much more than 40 hours a week on a regular basis; I've never had that kind of energy.

Other Relevant Facts
I'm currently in the Northeast. But I'm more than willing to move.... In fact, I've moved twice in the last three-and-a-half years, and had a healthcare-related writing/editing job in between, with bouts of unemployment on either side. The healthcare stint left me comatose. I don't seem to be energetic (or philosophical) enough to relegate all of the ME interests to after-work time; so if I'm not at all interested in what I'm doing, I get depressed. Worse, all of this directly coincided with the recession and one liberal arts profession after another (read: all of my interests) being gutted by a changing job market. The fact of the matter is I'm really burned out.

So the Best Job for Me Is ...
... something quirky, flexible, interesting, varied, something which I never would have thought of, maybe something that will allow me to work outside the office sometimes, something like -------------

Can you fill in the blank?


TL;DR Help!
posted by Violet Blue to Work & Money (11 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Well, you could get dictation software to help with your wrists.
posted by delmoi at 1:32 AM on May 25, 2011

What about adult education? You could run classes on writing, editing, proof-reading, information management, publishing...
posted by lollusc at 1:45 AM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Information architecture, training design, and project management all occur, not least because I know other people with a similar mashup of skills that have gone that way.
posted by rodgerd at 3:01 AM on May 25, 2011

Depending on what "varying levels of fluency" really means, you might consider work in translation or interpretation. The translation end of things is easier to break into, and your editorial background would be a plus, but you'll run up against similar keyboarding problems as with some of the options you're steering away from. The workflow is very voice-recognition friendly, however, and you can really cut down on the amount of manual typing you need to do by getting proficient with Dragon et al.

However, interpretation might do a better job at checking your boxes and avoiding wrist strain. Both fields are strong and not going away anytime soon. I'm a translator and not an interpreter, so I don't have a lot of specific pointers on how to transition into the field.
posted by SomeTrickPony at 4:08 AM on May 25, 2011

My brother-in-law, after 15 years in the music industry (at radio stations and a marketing job at a major label) did an amazing job reinventing his career by becoming an ESL teacher here in NYC.

It turns out that getting solid credentials is really quite straightforward -- Columbia offers an 8 week long certificate program over the Summer. At the end of it he was promptly hired by Kaplan. He was also hired in short stints at Columbia and NYU. He then asked how to get a fulltime job at either of those schools and they told him he needed a Masters in Linguistics. So he got one... at night, from... CUNY I think? He then got hired fulltime to Columbia.

Granted, he's always been fascinated by foreign languages and linguistics so your mileage may vary but still, he's done an impressive job completely changing careers and ascending within the new career fairly rapidly.
posted by petestein1 at 7:53 AM on May 25, 2011

You might also look into web content management/strategy. I'm a web content manager for a state agency. Although I have lots of web design background, it doesn't require much in the way of web skills other than learning the ins and outs of the specific content management system. Knowing HTML is key, however.
posted by perhapses at 10:09 AM on May 25, 2011

It sounds like I have a similar job to perhapses. Aside from knowing html, and understanding how web differs from print, there aren't really any technical requirements for my job. It helps to be able to pick up software packages quickly. There's not so much typing involved - certainly not as much as editing or writing.

Have you thought of being a press officer? It's varied, there's often some travel, some writing but not extensive (press releases are not long) and you talk to journalists on the phone.

Or doing internal comms for a big organisation (in-house magazines, intranets, strategy)? Depending on the organisation, that might involve travel and will certainly involve some writing and editing and some talking to people.

Not for profit work also springs to mind. A friend of mine is a fundraiser (major gifts), but there's also lobbying and grant proposal writing. All would use some of your skills.

Finally out of left-field, a former colleague who could no longer type due to RSI is retraining as an occupational therapist.
posted by plonkee at 12:34 PM on May 25, 2011

@rodgerd and @perhapses and @plonkee: I've managed long, complicated multi-volume book projects before, which means that I was in charge of hiring, supervising, quality control, budgets, and deadlines for editing, design, inputting, and layout for hundreds of pages total, and the various people on-site and off- responsible for doing these jobs.... More recently, I've coordinated multi-part projects, but had (much more peacefully) less oversight (and no responsibility) over who did what when, and only had to address what was missing, what was done, and how well it was done, and act as liaison among all these parties.

*How similar does this sound to what you're doing now?
*Do you think I could get a job on the basis of this experience *now,* with my current skillset (plus some HTML and whatever else I could cram on in the meanwhile)?
*Do you all like it?

Also @rogerd: I'm extremely interested in your information architect suggestion!!! I enjoy and I'm extremely good at organizing information according to hierarchies, and I gather (???) information architecture includes this skill. But I'd also gathered I'd need to learn various programming languages to do something like this?

*Do you have any suggestions about where I could learn more about this, to figure out if I might be qualified ... now?

Note that I'm more than willing to cram, take less money, have less responsibility, etc. in order to transfer industry.

Also @perhapses: What do you mean by strategy?

Thanks to everyone else, as well! All the comments were really great! If there's more out there, keep them coming!
posted by Violet Blue at 3:09 PM on May 25, 2011

Small nonprofits often have less than a full-time job's worth of marketing and communications to accomplish, so they look for someone with those skills plus the ability to contribute in other ways, which you've got lots of. They're also likely to value any significant connections that exist between their goals and your interests. is a good starting place to find leads.
posted by FLAG (BASTARD WATER.) (Acorus Adulterinus.) at 4:00 PM on May 25, 2011

For content strategy, check out this business and look at what they do. The owner also wrote a book called Content Strategy for the Web.

I don't like working for a huge government bureaucracy but I think I would like the job otherwise.
posted by perhapses at 4:48 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Late, sorry.

What you're doing now is much more involved than the kind of work that I do, but generally on the same lines. My organisation is not all that big, and I constitute a web team of 1. Together with html those skills absolutely translate into web content management / web editing.

With your experience, I would just start applying for jobs. Also, my previous CMS experience was in wordpress which is so easy to get started in. Just go ahead and build some self-hosted sites.

I enjoy my job. I work with some really good people. I'm also not a fan of government bureacracy.
posted by plonkee at 2:56 PM on July 1, 2011

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