Collective Wisdom: 13 Pieces of Advice I Wish I’d Had

Tommy Wong – https://www.flickr.com/photos/gracewong/295382746/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=85227644

Last Friday I spent some time with three awesome museum women. We were tasked with speaking to a group of college-age interns, who might or might not enter the museum field. Our first question was what advice would we give our 21-year old selves, if the clock turned backward? For me, it prompted a lot of self-reflection. In college, I didn’t always listen to my mentors. I was polite, but I didn’t always internalize and reflect on the advice offered.

So here, for anyone who’s listening, a baker’s dozen of things I wish I’d understood at the tender age of 21.

  1. That self-advocacy is a practice, and it’s different from making it all about you. Self care brings out your best; selfishness, your worst.
  2. That a woman’s workplace is different from a man’s. That a woman of color’s workplace is different than a white woman’s.
  3. Empathy has a key function in the museum workplace, and empathy doesn’t mean playing Ms. Fix It.
  4. That it’s important to understand your field of practice, whether it’s museums, archives, galleries or libraries. That studying your field as if it were a country you might visit is important. Learn the culture. Teach yourself who is powerful and why, and who is not powerful and why.
  5. That suffering and scarcity are not traditions that should be passed from one generation of museum workers to the next. Ridiculous schedules, pitiful salaries and job descriptions that read like indentured servitude are a form of hazing. Don’t take a job that requires another job to make you whole. See #4.
  6. That engaging with people in your workplace–regardless of age, race, position or gender– is important. It’s not a favor you do, it’s a learning experience. Sharing stories builds trust. See #s 4 and 12.
  7. That not all problems deserve the drama they receive. Stay in the present. Blame can wait. Solve the problem and move forward.
  8. A career needs to feed your soul, but it may not do that every day. Watch for side roads. They are slower, but the experience is entirely different. Be open to taking them.
  9. Stand up for your colleagues. Not standing up for them is selfish. See #1. You may be sure you’re not racist, classist, sexist, fattist, but remember the writer’s maxim: Show don’t tell. It’s not about your beliefs as much as your actions.
  10. Who told you you have to do everything perfectly, by yourself, the first time? Ask if you don’t understand or if you need help. Collaborating doesn’t make you a bad person or a bad colleague. It generates good ideas.
  11. One of the great joys of the museum workplace–indeed of any workplace– is learning. You aren’t an expert. You may know a lot, but there’s always someone who knows something more. #neverstoplearning.
  12. Don’t depend on fate or love or a mentor to orchestrate your career. It’s your career. Strategize for yourself the same way you would for an organization.
  13. Be kind.

Be well and stay safe.

Joan Baldwin



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