If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that my posts are sometimes inspired by classroom discussions. This month’s post was prompted by a statement my wife Diane made last week when she was speaking in my Music Career Development and Entrepreneurship class about career development and future employment as an administrator at an academic institution.
She was telling the class that when she was a piano professor, she would encourage her students to “reverse engineer” their paths to achieve their professional goals. Essentially, they should start with the end in mind for a better understanding of what a successful path to attain a college teaching position might look like. One exercise Diane said was particularly effective was to have her students review past and present job postings to note the requirements for each, and cite any patterns and anomalies: e.g., Which experiences were preferred? Which hard and soft skills were they looking for? In recognizing this, the students could better chart a path that would help them take the requisite courses, pursue various teaching and performing activities, take on leadership roles, and so on.
In academia, as in any organization, having a variety of skills helps one to become a lynchpin, or at the very least, more attractive at the hiring stage for the “duties as assigned” statement that is prevalent in most contracts. Having a variety of experiences is a form of risk mitigation for the artist (and the institution)—similar to having a portfolio career as an arts entrepreneur where the artist has multiple revenue streams.
To emphasize her point, she recalled the cautionary tale of a fabulous musician we both knew. Many years ago, this musician was a finalist and had placed in a few different international music competitions. He also had a goal of teaching at a conservatory, but his laser focus on performing and preparing for competitions left no time for him to pursue anything else that would help him land a job in academia: he played the same repertoire, didn’t matriculate through a degree, and shied away from teaching experiences. He viewed all of those pursuits as a distraction from his near-term goal. In the end, he aged out of the competition circuit and because he didn’t have other experiences he wasn’t able to land a teaching position…
To be sure, the advice to start with the end in mind isn’t only for an administrative career. Generally, arts entrepreneurs who’ve been at it for a while seem to have a good grasp of the concept. A timely example is the portfolio career of Bryan Berge, whose interview will air this month. Listeners will hear him rattle off a variety of gigs and jobs he's had over the past 20 years, and while they weren’t all directly related to his positions as an A/V engineer, production manager and stage manger, they most certainly informed his thinking and approach to problem solving. He regularly applies what he’s learned in one field, to other fields and in different contexts.
Have you thought about reverse engineering to achieve your goals? If not, now is a good time to start.
Thanks for reading,
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