Category Archives: MFA

Begin Again – 100 mph

I originally planned to write another career post, but it’s been a while since I gave an update on my latest journey. Buckle your seat belt. It’s a wild one.

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via GIPHY

Regular visitors to The Next Hundred Miles are familiar with my long distance journey to the MFA.  My last post announced my decision to pursue a second masters, this time an MBA, at the University of North Texas in Denton. Fellow graduate school survivors who may still be in rehabilitation after their thesis defense understand the insanity of this notion. Before I get too far ahead on this journey, I should explain why I decided to return to school in the first place. Furthermore, if I must return to school and amass an avalanche of student debt, why a second masters instead of a doctorate?

After graduation, I began searching for the job of my dreams and life has been moving about a hundred miles per hour. I spent a year in Garland, Texas (don’t move there), adjusted to the loss of an important family member, gained experience in some career fields I liked less than others, received a lifetime ban from a certain rental car provider (why would anyone steal a Yaris), and moved to Fort Worth.

In addition to becoming a new homeowner, the biggest source of stress during this time was my job. I’m sure we all have horrible job stories. In fact, I’d love to hear some of yours in the comments below, but everyone has the right to be sane in their place of employment.

Never continue in a job you don’t enjoy. If you’re happy in what you’re doing, you’ll like yourself; you’ll have inner peace. And if you have that, along with physical health, you will have had more success than you could possibly have imagined.”

– Johnny Carson

You may have heard this before, but money does not guarantee happiness. No matter how much you make or what material things it affords, money will never provide enough joy to suppress a toxic workplace.

I had a job in writing, a great salary, leadership opportunities, and a headache all day, every day. You’re right, no job is expected to be perfect, but there are many things I wish I’d heard during my graduate student commencement to better prepare me for the unexpected, but some of the best lessons are learned through firsthand experience:

  1. Your first job may not be your last job. It may be a stepping stone to provide experience for the positions you really want.
  2. Not everyone in management is qualified to manage or lead others.
  3. You’re not a failure if it doesn’t work out. It’s okay to change your mind.
  4. Some people at toxic companies have no desire to change.
  5. If the job you choose is a poor fit, find one that matches your size.

I always seem to find employment in places with poor company culture and terrible management. There have been times when I have been tasked with repairing it. Other times, it is simply DOA. I’ve learned so much in the past three years about the importance of company culture and the casualties of poor management. It’s not something taught in college unless you study Business Management or Human Resources, so I decided to return to college and acquire the skills necessary to help employers rehabilitate company culture and choose managers that are best suited to fit within that culture.

A second masters was the most logical choice for my career path. PhD candidates are in school to master their field of expertise so they can teach others, write educational materials, or do something Nobel prize worthy like curing cancer, discovering new ways to sustain the planet, or saving us all from a rabid, childish, hateful government intent on reversal and destruction, making the world a happier place.

I posted career advice in hopes of reaching someone who may share a similar experience, but I have missed sharing my journey with you and promise to bring you with me on this next ride. Don’t worry, I just completed my first semester and have plenty to share. I’ve missed you.

Until next time.

 

 

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Déjà vu – Defining Your Career Path to Make Good Art

I’m about to test the limits of my sanity by returning to graduate school in January for another masters degree.

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Before you ask, no I was not drunk or under duress when I made this decision. I was thinking of the future and trying to determine what would be most beneficial to advance my career.

Since moving to Forth Worth two years ago it seems as if I’m still assembling puzzle pieces in this game of life. Some pieces are still elusive and others extremely difficult to acquire, but the ultimate goal is to settle into a career that excites me. Can a career be a source of happiness? Absolutely!

I often write about career happiness and the importance of making sure a job is the right fit, because we generally spend 8-10 hours a day (or more) working. Doing something you enjoy has a positive effect on the mind, body, and spirit. Doing tasks you do not enjoy for extended periods of time produces a negative effect and can be damaging to the mind, body, and spirit.

I finally watched Steve Jobs’ Stanford commencement speech and felt encouraged upon its conclusion. He talked about the importance of doing work that pleases you and not forcing yourself into conformity. Jobs said:

The only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking and don’t settle. You’ll know when you find it.

His words reminded me of Neil Gaiman’s “Make Good Art” commencement speech. I found Gaiman’s words to be encouraging while I pursued an MFA. He states:

Life is sometimes hard. Things go wrong, in life and in love and in business and in friendship and in health and in all other ways that life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do. Make good art.

So why do we waste our talents in lackluster positions instead of pursuing something more pleasing and making good art? It’s not about having the courage to follow your dreams. Many of us are already doing that. It’s just easier to make good art when you have a reliable source of income.

Jobs asked, “If today were the last day of my life would I want to do what I am about to do today?”

His response:

If the answer is no for too many days in a row [you] need to change something. Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your inner voice. Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. Stay hungry. Stay foolish.

I’m glad I earned an MFA. It provided me with tools I needed to get on the path of becoming an author, helped me develop relationships with other writers, and opened doors to career opportunities in writing that previously did not exist.

For all intensive purposes I have a job for which I’m thankful, but when I asked myself Jobs’ question the answer was a resounding no. I’m a trapezoid that doesn’t wan’t to fit into someone else’s idea of the perfect box. An MBA in Marketing will enhance my current skillset, complement my other degrees, and hopefully make me more marketable to the type of companies for which I’m better suited.

In the meantime, while I’m looking for escape routes from my current box I’ll be preparing for a new journey to an MBA. I hope you will come along with me for the trip. If it’s anything like the MFA you can expect an exciting journey.

Trust your intuition. Find your career path. Make good art.

Back to Basics – A Writer’s Journey

It’s never too late to start over. The original plan after graduation was to turn my thesis back into the novel it was on the way to becoming. At the time I was working on a novel of linked stories and to comply with thesis requirements I had to choose three to present. After thesis when I began to put it back into its original format I realized I no longer liked the way it was laid out. Not only that, I had grown as a writer and my characters had matured. So basically, I started from the beginning.

Many writers cringe when they look at their old writings. I started by separating what I liked about what I had written from what needed to be discarded, and now I’m in the process of rebuilding the story.

For me, the most difficult part of writing is self-judgment. I’m my harshest critic. I learned at a young age to aim for perfection, but in writing, as in life, perfection does not exist. Unfortunately, this habit of harshly criticizing my own work produced writers block and delayed the progression of my work.

I was pleased to discover I’m not the only writer with this habit. I follow @thewritelife on Twitter and saw their blog post “The Real Source of Writer’s Block (And and Exercise to Beat It).”  The post recalled how as children we effortlessly told stories because our audience mainly consisted of our parents. As we grew older we became aware of a larger audience and doubt settled in, which produces writers block.

To combat writers block the author recommends a five-minute free writing session before you begin to write. During the five minutes you are encouraged to purge your thoughts onto the page. The purpose of this exercise is to find your writer’s voice in a judgment-free place so that you can once again capture that childlike spirit of producing judgment-free work (that will one day be harshly judged by others). The exercise may seem menial at first, but if you stick with it, eventually when you do start writing again you’ve stopped judging your work enough to write freely.

I have not tried this technique, but definitely plan to do so. I have a novel to finish.

 

 

 

 

Unfinished Business

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Life after graduation feels a lot like being on a Ferris wheel at the carnival. The ride begins slowly. When it picks up the pace it sometimes takes you places you realize you don’t want to go, but you must stay seated until the ride comes to a complete stop. At times, it seems as if the ride will never end, but eventually it does, and you get to try something else.

I received my masters degree two-and-a-half years ago, but it feels more like a year. In that time, I’ve settled in Fort Worth, dismantled my thesis in an attempt to create a well-written novel, started a collection of short stories, and set out on a quest to find the job of my dreams.

The novel and short stories currently riding the Ferris wheel are works in progress. Like me, they anxiously await the moment I get THE JOB OFFER OF A LIFETIME so that my quest can end.

Is it really that important to find the right job? Absolutely!

What interests you? Where do your strengths lie? What do you do exceptionally well? These are the important questions to ask yourself when choosing a career path, or considering a job offer. It’s not about what you majored in, but what makes you happy. We can all agree it’s best to find a job you love, but if you’re stuck in one you hate then everything else in your universe will be thrown off balance until the ride ends.

Professional career coach, Christie Mims, describes job dissatisfaction in her Muse article, “2 Big Signs You Don’t Just Need a New Job, You Need a Whole Career.”

She writes:

  • You’re currently slumped over your desk.

  • The very thought of work makes your stomach curdle.

  • When you try and muster excitement about that next PowerPoint or team meeting, you suddenly start to daydream about chucking it all and opening a bar on the beach.

The image Mims depicts summarizes a typical workday for someone stuck in the wrong career. So how do you get off the Ferris wheel of a job from hell?  First figure out where you went wrong in choosing your current position. What aspects of the job make you the most miserable? If the problem is with a co-worker or manager ask yourself if the job would be fine without their presence. If so, it’s not the job.

If you truly don’t enjoy the day-to-day tasks in your position, feel uninspired, bored, and stifled it’s time to start looking at other career paths.  In “Finally! A Simple Formula for Finding Your Passion,” Mims writes:

Some of the things you are passionate about are probably going to be hobbies, like chocolate is for me. But some of them will be new career options.

There is a correlation between the things you are passionate about and your career pursuits. Why not work doing something you enjoy? It will make you a much better employee and happier person.

Once you figure out what you want to do, how do you go about finding a dream job? It is important to determine what factors meet dream job criteria.

Do you need an exercise membership as one of the company’s benefits? What are your salary expectations? Are flexible hours important? Would you like to travel? What about company culture? Do you prefer a small company where you rarely interact with your co-workers or a larger environment with numerous opportunities for group outings and recognition? Before you begin to search for a new position, figure out what you want.

When you’re ready to search, start within your own network. Contact friends, colleagues, and mentors to see if you can connect with their network. The best way to get hired is by referral.

If you have a small network or are just beginning to establish a network try the job boards. I’m not a big fan of the creative job recruiting agencies, but it doesn’t hurt if you find one you enjoy working with.

Make sure your resume and LinkedIn profile are top-notch, and avoid posting anything you wouldn’t want your grandmother to see on social media. Thinking of hiding your profiles? Don’t. It makes it appear as if you have no social media presence at all. This can hurt your chances of securing your dream job.

While you’re waiting, stay up-to-date on the latest interviewing techniques, media trends, and technology. Subscribe to several career blogs and read their recommendations about how to create a personal brand. The Muse regularly posts career articles and some job leads as well.

If writing is your thing, check out job listings from some of the writing magazines or offer freelance services to build your portfolio while you wait. I strongly recommend practicing the AP Stylebook Quizzes to stay on top of your skills.

Best of luck in your endeavor.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pomp and Circumstance

It’s New Year’s Eve and instead of making resolutions for 2015 or waiting to watch the ball drop in Times Square I am looking forward to the fact that tomorrow I get to sleep in. December has been a busy month and I have much to be grateful for. In fact, I am about to embark on my next journey which crosses several hundred miles. It’s time to go home.



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If you have been with me from the beginning you know I have been a Tennessee Texan for the past two years and seven months while attending graduate school. Two weeks ago I attended Murray State University’s commencement and walked across the stage as they called my name to accept the keys to a dream I have been chasing. As I look at graduation pictures sometimes it is hard to believe I am the girl in the photographs. Surreal does not even scratch the surface of what it felt like to be in that room. It was the Academy Awards for graduates. Our procession in robed regalia to Pomp and Circumstance was the red carpet, and walking across the stage and being recognized for your hard work was like winning the Oscar.

Even though it was not the intimate graduation our English Department has planned in May and even though my immediate family in Texas could not attend, I am so glad I participated. My daughter, who has been with me along this entire journey, was there to see me graduate which made it even more special. If you are grauating soon make sure to attend graduation. Think of it as the Pre-Oscar party to the rest of your life. It is worth it!

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Now that I am officially no longer a student my focus has turned to finding employment, finishing my first novel, and traveling. My goal is to attend AWP – 2015 which will be held in Minneapolis and get settled once I return to Texas. I would really like to do more book reviews as well. I hope these posts have been helpful and encouraging, especially for those of you who may be considering entering graduate school. If you have any questions about the thesis process, low-residency MFA programs, road trips, or just want to talk about writing please leave a comment below. I would love to hear from you.

Right now, I am surrounded by boxes, but as always, I  am excited about the next adventure. The next time you hear from me I will probably be back in TEXAS. Thank you Tennessee for the Texas-sized welcome. Kentucky, I am pleased to be able to take a piece of you back with me. Texas, I will be home soon.

As always, keep reading, keep writing and keep dreaming.

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Happy New Year!

Plot Twist: Destination Unknown

In fiction, conflict can arise and create a plot twist. These plot twists propel the story into a new direction and help “build” the character or get them to where you want them to be. If life were fiction and I were a character, right now we would be encountering my plot twist. It reads something like this:

The fearless Texan, with a yearning to travel and desire for knowledge, sets out to explore the unknown and pursue her dream of becoming a novelist. Setting her sights on graduate school, she heads to Kentucky for an MFA program in creative writing at Murray State and finds a temporary home in Tennessee where she discovers, unlike Texas, they worship pork, not beef, and are accustomed to tornados in the summer and single digit degree weather during winter.

With bachelor’s degree in hand she searches for work in her new surroundings, but encounters resistance within the economy. After completing a three-month sentence in Cashierdom, she loses one month of sanity in Printingville before making her way to Leasetropolis which is surrounded by Plexiglas, has extremely low ceilings and conventional thinkers.

Three residencies, three mentors, three meltdowns, 68 text books, an attempted thesis defense assassination, wretched teaching presentation, confidence-building reading, and almost 945 days later – it’s finally time for graduation, which also means, time to return home.

The festivities are bittersweet for the Texan. An obsessive planner, she is in “relocation mode.” Her thoughts are not on graduation gowns, mortar boards, tassels or honor cords (although they are an honor), but her future: the next job, next home and the next hundred miles wherever they may lead.

Desination Unknown

I have said in the past there is joy in adventure. Yes, there is, unless you are job hunting. There is nothing exciting about being an almost graduate, stalking employment boards, resume revisions, and rejection. You can say it is good practice for when you start submitting your work for publishing, but in reality no writer has positive thoughts about having their work rejected.

Job hunting is in some ways worse than having your writing rejected. At least you get rejection letters. Most companies seeking candidates for employment don’t bother to respond at all – even some placement agencies.  Why such cruel and unnecessary punishment? Is it unrealistic to hope for the career of your dreams? Perhaps, but the dreamer in me is willing to accept a happy-medium. Writers live to write and will usually do whatever it takes to be able to continue doing so.

The magnificent thing about plot twists in writing is the ability to shape the character into the person you need them to be. Sometimes this is through hardship, loss, or frustration, but as long as you are holding the pen or perched in front of your keyboard the story possibilities are endless.

Congratulations to my fellow graduates. We made it! To those of you still on the path, keep fighting for whatever it is that motivates you to be the person you have always wanted to be. No one can stop you from writing, but you. Dream it, claim it, capture it!

As for me, right now my destination is unknown, but there are still 41 days left for another plot twist and who knows what a page turner its may turn out to be.

Destination Unknown

 

This is only a chapter, not the ending . . . The story has yet to be told.

“I Should Be Writing” and Other Things I Keep Telling Myself

I should be writing. I know. I’m blogging, so technically I am writing, but I’m not writing. My MFA defense was nine weeks ago – NINE WEEKS, and I still haven’t written anything that doesn’t fall into the category of editing my thesis. I now hate the word “thesis”. The mere thought of looking at mine once more gives me anxiety. I just want it to go away. Isn’t that terrible?

Right now my idea board is split between three unfinished projects. One corner holds ideas for a novel I started when I first began the MFA program, an opposite corner has notes for a collection of short stories I would one day like to write, and the largest section is dedicated to the novel I am supposed to be working on. I say supposed to be, because remember, I’m not writing.

I can’t really blame it on writer’s block. I’m not blocked. It’s more of a void. Upon returning home, I threw myself into editing the thesis I wasn’t in love with, so that I could focus on other things. I am a firm believer that if you stare at something long enough you will eventually find something wrong with it. I guess that is one way of looking at my thesis.

As you know, we took a much needed break in Illinois before returning to Tennessee. Sadly, I had to immediately return to work. I have come to the realization that work (at least this position) kills my creative spirit. It’s like walking into a cave. The light has been extinguished and there is little air to breathe. Recent developments at work have only narrowed the space within the cave. After a long day there isn’t much motivation to write.

Compounding matters is the  job search. What does one do with an MFA besides teach, anyway? I forgot how much I loathe job hunting. The other reason I have not been writing is that I have spent every free moment searching for a new job. Have you applied for a job lately? The process is a nightmare. You start with a resume, but must input the information listed on your resume into the company’s job bank so that a computer can scan for key words to see if you are qualified before a human ever lays eyes on it. Those fortunate individuals who make it past the robot preliminary interviewers are then held captive in a virtual room with the heading “Under Review For Consideration”. In this room the line is long and the wait indefinite.

Your phone (if not already) becomes surgically attached to your body in fear that you might miss “that call” or “that email” from a prospective employer. You check spam religiously and scan the caller-id for missed calls.  You hope that website where you applied doesn’t have some sort of tracking system to log each time you check the status of the position. You picture them calling. Will it be a man? A woman? Either way, they will be extremely nice on the phone. You will get along well. Your enthusiasm for the position will seep through the phone line and they will not only want to offer you the position, but a great starting salary as well. At least this is what you tell yourself in the beginning when you are still optimistic. Later, your psychic powers will reveal that you will definitely not get the job, even though the company has not listed the position as filled.

This vicious cycle will continue until (1) you find a job; (2) you decide a career in retail or fast food is what you have secretly always wanted or (3) you give up and decide that doctorate isn’t such a bad idea. After all, you survived the thesis defense with multiple gunshot wounds. A dissertation, even a really bad one with hostage negotiations, won’t kill you, will it? What’s two or three more years? An eternity compared to a lifetime of debt, how much worse could it be? You love studying and completing assignments while your friends and everyone else on the planet enjoys life. Besides, a relationship would just get in the way of your desire for another pretty plaque to hang on your wall. Don’t worry about not having anyone to sit in a rocking chair with when you get older. You can just polish your pretty plaques.

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Is there such a thing as a job of your dreams? I think it is possible to come close. With that in mind, I am patient enough to keep searching. In the meantime, while I’m in my work cave by day and “For Consideration” virtual room by night I really need to be writing.

I think I will start with baby steps. Instead of focusing on piecing together the remnants of my thesis a fresh start might be in order. I don’t mean scrap everything, but perhaps re-familiarizing myself with the characters might shed new light on what direction the story needs to take. I have accepted the fact that I will not finish writing my novel within a time frame that pleases me. These things take time. The life of a writer is filled with frustrations as well as disappointments, but also much joy. Joy that comes from the last word typed on a page. Joy knowing it is good. Joy that comes from finally being published. It is all worth it. The good, the bad, the ups, the downs, the days when I know I should be writing, and the days when there is an unwritten story in my head waiting to be told. It is why we love writing.

If you, too, should be writing, but the distractions in life have become to loud to bear, give yourself a moment to be human, and when the time is right – write.

 

Until next time —