Humanist & Entrepreneur: Reflections and Resources
Hello, Humanists@Work! It was a pleasure to meet so many of you at the UCHRI Graduate Career Workshop and Networking Dinner in Sacramento. As an extension of our time together, I offer the following “reflections and resources” about expanding your professional identity in order to find the right kind of work.
As Humanists, many of us share similar values: critical and creative thinking, education in all forms, the literary arts and the world of ideas, freedom of mind and the application of ethical inquiry to social/political reform, a conscious relationship between individual agency and the common good. We tend to think of ourselves professionally in these terms: as teachers, researchers, writers—perhaps as organizers or advocates or even innovators. But have you ever thought of yourself as an entrepreneur?
If you have ever interpreted an old text in a new way, devised a teaching technique that inspired students to come alive in class, thought about how your academic discipline might advance the work of another, and/or blog regularly, then it’s likely you already have the kind of entrepreneurial skill that can benefit you inside—and outside—the academy.
We don’t need to be Bill Gates or Oprah Winfrey to be successful entrepreneurs, but we should be willing to rethink the rules we inherited, as they did. Early in my own career, I felt constrained by the hierarchy imposed upon me by my own institution. I created a new Honors class titled “BodyMind Literacy” and was excited to draft the proposal and eventually help undergraduates understand the relationship between body and mind as a form of literacy—an idea en vogue now, but at the time, ignored or dismissed. Unfortunately, I was told that only “ladder faculty” could apply, and since my department consists entirely of career Lecturers, I did not qualify. I decided to ignore the rules and apply anyway.
I figured: I can’t be the only one in the university to feel like I’m feeding my head and ignoring my body. Maybe other folks will understand that we don’t have to live in such a divided state; maybe other folks are like me: frustrated by the dualistic split between arts and sciences, cognition and physicality, the classroom and the so-called “real world.” I was searching for synthesis. At the time, I took a yoga teacher-training course and got a certification in massage therapy—not to pursue those careers, but to expose myself to other educational environments and entirely new ways of thinking.
“BodyMind Literacy” was approved (largely due to the support of one committee member who believed in my project), and the students were so receptive that I decided to expand my reach and create a website. “Trusting the Body to Teach the Mind” is the theme of LauriMattenson.com, a site that now gives me access to a worldwide community of like-minded people, some of whom contact me in order to offer me work and/or writing opportunities.
I had never thought of myself as entrepreneurial; to the contrary, I assumed I had to be some sort of ruthless industrialist or technological wizard in order to be a trailblazer, and in order to make money. But now I understand that “for profit” does not have to mean “greedy and evil.” Humanists of the world: you do not need to choose between honorable work and a healthy paycheck. Money is merely another resource, and we all have access to it.
My work within the academy is my bread and butter, but I also derive great satisfaction (and additional income) from my creative work outside the academy. This summer, I wrote a Kindle-single length book about how I used my own body to transform my mind by practicing the Israeli martial art of Krav Maga, and decided to self-publish on Amazon. Some of my colleagues had little regard for this choice, as academics often value peer-reviewed articles, well-researched tomes, and a well-worn path through the conventional publishing world. A few people found a way to let me know that my ebook wouldn’t be taken seriously. But that’s not how my readers feel, and I found it deeply gratifying to publish in precisely the way I envisioned—and I enjoyed figuring out how to do it myself. Now I’m learning about marketing techniques and book reviews, so my next move will be a press release. The entire process is teaching me how to be a businesswoman in addition to an educator: I’ve learned to negotiate prices and contracts, hire people to help me, and the best part: I have direct access now to new audiences. If you have similar DIY impulses, I urge you to follow those inclinations more than the opinions of others.
I sometimes eavesdrop on conversations as I stroll through campus, and I hear how people see themselves: “I’m an Americanist,” they claim. “I’m a Medievalist.” These titles are powerful: it’s a wonderful thing to shape your professional identity around a body of literature, a period in history, the mastery of ideas. These people are a rich source of knowledge and inspiration in the educational world. But if you cannot find the specific academic position you desire, or it’s just not available right now, then it might serve you to think of yourself more broadly as a Humanist—and also an Entrepreneur.
Your experience in graduate school has already made you marketable in many fields. If you’ve ever worked on a research study, you’ve probably organized and evaluated data, investigated and synthesized information, demonstrated discipline and problem-solving abilities. If you’ve taught classes, you’ve had to utilize strong communication skills, remain sensitive to multiple and even conflicting perspectives, think quickly, manage groups, design curricula, and advise, engage and motivate others.
Finding the right kind of work, for me, has been—and continues to be—a challenging and deeply satisfying journey. If I can support your journey in any way, feel free to contact me. Here are a few additional reminders and resources:
- Take note of environments in which you thrive.
In faculty meetings, I generally feel tense and anxious. I am not destined for administrative work. But others thrive in collaborative settings and feel motivated to work together and make change. When I am sitting face-to-face with a student in office hours, however, I am devoted to that person’s needs, even if only for fifteen minutes, and this makes me feel purposeful and productive. I also need to work alone sometimes—perhaps more than most people—and I am overwhelmed in large social gatherings. And yet, speaking to large groups of people with a common cause—this thrills me. All this information guides my career choices and daily behaviors. In addition to thinking about the content and purpose of your work, consider: do you prefer working alone? One-on-one? With small or large groups? Do you thrive in office settings? Out in the field? Moving from location to location? The answers may help guide your career choices.
- Practice answering questions like these: “Startup CEOs Reveal the One Question They Ask Every Job Candidate” (Entrepreneur.com)
- Pursue your extracurricular interests, whether they are “practical” or not.
Most of us have a list of things we do simply for pleasure, and not necessarily because these activities will boost our careers, but it can be informative to find the link between our extracurricular pursuits and work life. For example, I would never want to be a comic, and I can’t recall one joke on demand, but I watch a ton of stand-up comedy, because as a public speaker, I’m inspired by models of unapologetic fearlessness and quirky vulnerability. In the middle of graduate school, I took a leave of absence and moved to Jerusalem. Everyone criticized me for getting off my career track, but what I learned there eventually transformed my career. I wrote an article about the AMC TV series Breaking Bad for my website, and while that piece has never made me any money, it was a pleasure to write, and that feeling nurtures my creativity and makes me more available to future insights and opportunities. Everything you do to feel your soul and nurture your passions will have a beneficial impact on your personal and professional disposition.
- Seek out and stay in touch with personal/professional contacts and like-minded people.
Large numbers of conference participants intend to stay in touch with people they meet in workshops and seminars, but only a small percentage follow through. Be one of these people! Find us on LinkedIn or other sites, email us, ask questions, share ideas.
- Participate in conferences, seminars, and workshops.
Do a google search, ask colleagues, find lists of conferences in multiple fields of interest. I recommend three in particular:
- The OpEd Project: media and leadership training for people in any field who wish to advocate for a cause; programs are designed to help participants write and publish OpEds (or other genres); open to all but set up to support women and other under-represented groups in journalism.
- The Center for Courage and Renewal: Retreats and resources for leaders and activists in many professions including teachers, doctors, organizational administrators, clergy, etc. with particular focus on attending to the integrity, values, and skills of the individual participants.
- AWP: Association of Writers and Writing Programs, provides community, opportunities, ideas, news, and advocacy for writers and teachers of writing. I include this because their annual conference/bookfair is huge (over 10,000 people), so even if you don’t teach writing, the exposure to writing/publishing options and literary arts organizations might be of value to you. If you are a member, you will also have access to the career resources section of their website.
- Craft your online presence consciously.
Your resume/CV is important (check out The Resume Studio), and consider also offering a statement of some sort (on LinkedIn, your blog or website) including: the questions that interest you, the world you imagine, commentary on an article that inspires you, samples of work-in-progress, a profile of a person you admire: samples of your writing that represent you. Read the mission statements of various organizations/institutions and ask yourself if their values align with yours. If you are on Facebook, consider posting substantive content: articles you might discuss at the water cooler with new colleagues. Make those posts “public” instead of only “for friends.” That way, a potential employer will have access to your thoughtful engagement on social media. Decrease the postings about what you ate for dinner (unless, of course, you want to write restaurant reviews!).
Many of you are already saavy when it comes to social media. I grew up without it, so while I have a twitter account, I rarely use it. I struggled with this for a long time and sometimes feel that I should be online more, but ultimately, I also have to engage in ways that feel right for me. On one hand, I resist reminding you to “trust your instincts” because it’s cliché. On the other hand, it bears repeating, because it’s a practice. We absorb the values of our communities and institutions, and it takes time and an active negotiation process to sift through those influences and figure out: which ones shall I continue to practice? Which ones make me feel limited or fraudulent? Which ones make me feel empowered and inspired? Only you can navigate these choices.
- Find other applications or audiences for your academic work.
If you know a lot about the Renaissance period, for example, why not write an article that links the creative impulse of that time to the entrepreneurial mind today? Or why students (or businesspeople, or administrators, or another group) today should read a particular author? Pitch your idea to a magazine designed for that audience? You never know who might read it and contact you. When I wrote my thesis in graduate school, I figured I’d submit the document and never use it again. Who else but a biblical scholar would be interested in my study of the phrase “panim el panim” (face-to-face) in the Torah? But now I realize that I’ve built my entire pedagogy on this concept, and there’s a reason I was so drawn to the work of Emmanuel Levinas and Martin Buber. My website includes “A Case for Face-to-Face Education,” and my early influences continue to inspire me.
- Tend to your health.
We know the basics: nutrition, exercise, psychological and social support. Consider a regular practice of mindfulness as well. The UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center offers free guided meditations, relevant research, classes and retreats, and other resources.
My final recommendation: one eloquent, honest, slim volume by Parker Palmer, titled Let Your Life Speak. He reminds us that vocation is not so much a goal we pursue, but a calling we listen for. I reread this book whenever I feel distracted or discouraged, and it reminds me every time to listen closely for the insights that come from the inside.