My Brilliant Second Career

This was written as par of Open Salon’s open call. 

Within a few weeks of starting as a freshman in college, I became my dorm’s go-to person for editing papers. It all started with a paper for my roommate, who then spread the word. Soon enough, random acquaintances would stop by with a printout in their hand (oh, those days before “track changes”!), sheepishly asking if I had a second to look at their history, rhetoric, English literature, [fill in class here] paper.

I never said no. I genuinely loved editing papers and giving suggestions as to how to make their efforts stand out.

You would think that some light bulb would have magically gone off, telling me that writing and editing were what I should have done with my life.

Alas, it was not meant to be.

In my 34 years of life on this earth, I have spent 21 years in school: elementary, middle, and high school, college, three-year degree in Italy (which required an American bachelors but counts less than a master’s), and a master’s degree. College and beyond were spent trying to figure out exactly what I should be doing, and I thought I had hit the jackpot: art and architectural conservation.

How cool would that be? Diagnosing and preserving artistic and architectural treasures, saving cultural heritage for future generations, and patting myself on the back the entire time.

When I finally decided what it was that I wanted to do, I was living in Italy. What better place than Italy to pursue this passion? The Italians have the lion share of historically significant cultural heritage in the world, and most of it is decaying. Surely, getting an Italian degree from an Italian university would give me an “in” to the field. Having an internship in one of two Italian government research agencies would definitely secure a job as a conservator.

In order to pay for my studies and contribute something to the household income while I was a student in Italy, I worked as a translator and editor (!) for a news agency. I loved doing the work and I loved my coworkers, but it came too easily to me. I could bang out a translation of a politician’s incoherent ramblings in about ten minutes.

Surely if it was that easy, I wasn’t meant to do it. Making a living meant having to work really hard and struggle, right? Well then, I was on my way to going into the right business!

I definitely progressed from a wide-eyed, eager-beaver student to a weary and pessimistic graduate in no time. After graduation, I found that since I didn’t have Italian citizenship, many doors were closed to me as far as government jobs were concerned. And lobbying by a small group of people made it so that if conservators in Italy hadn’t graduated from one of three schools (and my university was not one of them), they were considered in the same category as bricklayers, and given the same pay.

So what does an insane person do in these circumstances? Go for MORE schooling, of course. I thought that a master’s degree from an American university would definitely put me on the right track this time. Off we went to New York, where I proceeded to get an MSc from an Ivy League school, have an internship at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and give talks in international conferences.

I felt good. I was on my way. My husband was an angel for letting me pursue my dreams, but it was all paying off now! A job offer at a prestigious architectural firm in San Francisco! Yes! Yes! Yes!

Fast-forward to 2009, when the entire world was reeling from stock market crashes, housing market woes, and general economic malaise. What happens when there’s no private or government money for…anything? The arts get cut. What is included in the arts? Everything I was interested in.

I was laid off in February 2009 because my firm didn’t have any more projects. Once I got laid off, A asked me, “What if you can’t find work in this sector anymore?”

I meekly replied, “I can always write.”

Even I knew how crazy that sounded. I knew writers. It wasn’t like their lives were so easy and they had their pick of plum jobs. Years of toil, little pay, and heartbreak were generally associated with writing and editing.

As it turned out, I couldn’t find a fulltime job in conservation. I applied to anything and everything out there. Government posts, private jobs, fulltime, contract work, anything. People didn’t even have the decency to write and turn me down. It was just total silence from the moment I’d send in an application.

I did, however, find a part-time job as a conservator with a fantastic boss. She trusted my judgment, let me make decisions, and treated me amazingly well (all things definitely lacking at my first job). At the same time, it was still a part-time job. With a newborn daughter, I needed more than that—something with benefits and paid leave, etc.

One day, I randomly looked on Craigslist for “writer” positions in San Francisco. Apparently, I hadn’t let go of the pipe dream that I could, indeed, write if I wanted. A job posting popped up for “Creative Writer.”

I thought, I’m a writer, I’m creative, why not? I applied. And mercifully, the people on the receiving end of the application were out-of-the-box thinkers who were willing to give a chance to someone with very little writing experience.

After a while, my role morphed into a copywriter and editor. Little by little, I gained confidence in my writing skills and ideas. I restarted my blog. I felt good. In my element.

The light bulb finally went off. My brilliant second career should have been my first one.


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