The Way I LIVE

When I graduated with my Bachelor’s, the one thing I was sick of hearing was, “So, are you going to teach?” I had finished a degree in History, focusing on European Studies. Useful? Not really. My passion? Absolutely. You know what wasn’t even on my radar? Teaching. I love teachers; truly, I do, and I have formed some amazing relationships with the people that have educated me over the years. I’ve tried my hand at it, and I just don’t have the patience.

So no, people of my past, I was not about to go into teaching.

Graduating in 2011 with no job prospects was actually pretty terrifying. I moved in with my grandparents, which was a huge adjustment after living on my own for 3 years. I spent the summer applying for jobs, interviewing, and being rejected. (I also spent the summer binge-watching The West Wing, but that’s a little irrelevant) Eventually, my grandfather hooked me up (read as: took pity on me) with a contract position researching and writing marketing material for a construction firm in Los Angeles. Soon after I started that, I also scored a part-time, on-call gig at the Harvard Museum of Natural History.

While the contract position ended after five months, the job at the museum only grew. A position opened up in the gift shop, and I leapt. Harvard has amazing benefits, even for part-timers, and I jumped at the chance to go back to school and learn something new, even if I had no idea what it was I wanted to do with my life. This job changed all of that.

How? You see, I’ve worked or interned part-time in museums since I was an undergraduate. The jobs never lasted, and never went anywhere, but I always loved being in a museum. I loved having to learn what the museum was about, the intricacies of it, and learn little factoids that visitors would find interesting. After a few months at the natural history museum, it finally occurred to me that I belonged in museums.

Not in the Indiana Jones “this belongs in a museum!” sense, but you know what I mean.

That was 2011. I started my graduate degree program in 2012. Flashforward to 2015: I am 90% done with my master’s degree, and can’t keep my schedule straight because of everything I have going on. And I love it. But I also feel like, when I say, “I work in a museum,” many people immediately picture a) art, b) stuffy people looking at art, and c) stuffy people talking about what they know about art.

None of these things are what I do or what I want to do.

My job at the Harvard Museum of Natural History is pretty straightforward: I work in their gift shop. My position is unique in that our shop is in the middle of the museum, so often we are the first people visitors come to with questions – which means I have to know a lot about the museum itself. Which means I know more about sperm whales than you really every cared to know about. But I love telling people, and people seem to love hearing it!

But that’s not the only thing I do.

As a graduate student, in order to get your degree, you must complete an internship. Right now, I am midway through a year-long internship with the Bostonian Society. They run the Old State House Museum, one of the oldest buildings in Boston, and the old seat of British government in the old colony of Massachusetts. My boss is amazing. She’s only a few years older than me, but she has achieved so much, and she wants me to achieve so much more; she is the wind beneath my intern wings. What do I do for her? I research objects, mostly. But not just any objects: I research the objects the museum has forgotten about, the ones kept in a storage unit with the lights off for decades that now need new homes. Boring, you might think, but it’s actually my favorite thing to do. Researching these objects has become a puzzle, but it’s my puzzle. My project involves a heavily stigmatized (in the museum world) process called ‘deaccessioning’, wherein a museum seeks to get rid of an object in its collection through trade with another museum, public auction, or (as a last resort), destruction. Boards don’t like it, the public doesn’t know much about it, and museums everywhere try to avoid it even though it’s a process that everyone needs to tackle at some point – much like cleaning out your closet and getting rid of clothes. It’s a little stressful, but in a good way, and like I said, I love it. I love it so much.

The other part of my life, the part I wasn’t expecting to happen, was the part I do just to do it. To make myself happy and to help others. I’m a co-chair on the New England Museums Association’s Young Emerging Professionals Affinity Group, and a co-host of Drinking About Museums, an informal group of museum professionals that get together once a month to hang out and drink. Both of these projects mean I get to hang out with awesome people all the time. But it also means I get to help people in these groups be the best versions of themselves. I’m all about networking and getting your name out there, not only as a tool to help further your career, but to make friends and colleagues that you can bring with you no matter where life takes you. Some people get so career-obsessed that they forget about living their lives, and what’s life without friends? Colleagues can be friends, too! Our affinity group has planned a hiking trip for the fall and has more awesome activities in the works, in addition to getting all of the fun and free events in the city on our calendar for our group members to attend (including free museum nights, parties, and farmer’s markets). Drinking About Museums has a bit more informal networking going for it, but it comes with a hefty dose of fun. Recently, we had a pre-conference “brush up your networking skills” party, and it was the most well-attended event the original organizers have had in years. It was a blast.

Why am I telling you all of this? Why should you care about the trajectory of my life? Because everyone, at some point, is in the same boat as me. The question of, “what are you going to do with your life?” is one that every millennial has heard at least 100 times since junior year of high school – a time when, honestly, nobody wants to think about their 20s or 30s. If you told me in 2006 what I’d be doing when I turned 26, I’d probably have laughed at you. My point is, always be open to the possibility. I shut out a lot of that in my life, and the past four years have taught me to do the opposite. Seek opportunity whenever you can. Greet challenges and take chances. Live the crazy, wild, fantastic life you dreamed about living when you were 17. What better time than now?

So no, people of my past, I didn’t go in to teaching. I went in to museums. And they changed my life.

- Alli