careers, job, livelihood, work, passion

This past weekend I took Perry the Pontiac in for an oil change. Making small talk, my mechanic asked me about teaching at the College. He had spotted my faculty parking passes and he was curious (I get this a lot. I imagine the braces throw some people off) so I told him about teaching a course there once a week while continuing to work full time at Quinte Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

“So, I guess you’re just working the other job until something full time comes up at the school then?” He asked.

It was an innocent assumption. You often hear about teachers at the elementary and secondary level taking substitute positions to get their foot in the door for when a more permanent position becomes available. But it’s also an assumption that I’ve heard often when the subject of my career comes up. Just a couple of weeks ago I had to update my information at my bank because they had my instructing role listed as my full time employment (“What do you mean this payment is from your employer? It says here you work at Loyalist!” – I’ve been banking there my whole adult life, folks). There was no mention of the fact that I actually work full time as a director of communications, even though they definitely have been told so in the past.

I can literally see it on the faces of people I’m speaking with: They ask me what I do and I tell them. Then I watch as an uncertain look flickers across their eyes as they attempt to process the title “director of digital media and communications”. What the hell does that even mean?

And then they turn to a friend to introduce me and what comes out is, “This is Sara. She’s a professor at Loyalist”!

Every. Time.

In truth, I get it. “Communications” is already a nebulous enough professional concept for a lot of people. It can mean a lot of different things. Compound that with the “digital media” component and I can absolutely see where the confusion is coming from. This is a career that didn’t exist a handful of years ago. It’s still kind of new and, for some, it’s really bizarre that a person can actually make money, let alone a career, by working with social media and the internet. I mean, I don’t think my own family completely gets what I do for a living (sorry, mom!)

I can see how it would be easier to latch on to the teaching position. Teachers are familiar, their work is straight forward and easy to understand.

Plus, if I’m being honest, it’s impressive to be able to say that you teach at a college. Why wouldn’t a person want to flaunt of a job like that?

But every time a person erases any trace of my full time career, a little piece of me dies on the inside.

Make no mistake: Teaching at the College is an amazing opportunity that I am forever grateful to be able to take part in.

I am proud of it and I never want to make it seem like I take it for granted, because I don’t. Teaching there means that I am constantly learning something new about my industry and about myself. I get to work on skills like public speaking and conflict management, among others that my other position wouldn’t necessarily afford me the chances to practice. Plus I get to meet and work with brilliant people – both students and faculty – all of the time. I am very lucky and I’m very proud.

But I am also very lucky to be a woman in my 20s who has been able to work in the field I studied for. I’ve spent the years since graduation diligently working on building my portfolio and honing my skill set. I’ve worked very hard to get to where I am and, at the risk of laying down some serious humblebrag here, I have been able to accomplish some fairly impressive things in my career. I am very proud of my work.

And when a person brushes all of that hard work and professional pride under the rug in favour of simply focusing on my teaching, well… It kind of stings.

I don’t expect everyone to completely understand my job or how it works. I get that there will always be people whose eyes glaze over when I start talking about reach and engagement and content marketing. It’s cool and I certainly don’t take it personally.

But I’d rather your eyes glaze over than have you dismiss it altogether.

What can I say? I’m just really passionate about what I do. So, the next time I correct you by pointing out that, yes I teach at a local college but I also happen to work full time as a director of digital media and communications at a pediatric practice, I hope you don’t take it personally either.