Today it’s not so much performing work as getting it. National unemployment, though dropping, still hovers around 9 percent. Add to that all the people whose career paths have yet to land them in the most satisfying niches, and it proves that we have become a country of job seekers.
This is not all downbeat. While a lot of folks are simply scrounging for groceries, many more stand imbued with the hope that “there is always a better job out there for me — somewhere.” Either way, today’s job seeker needs all the help he can get. And according to Erica Nagel, a large part of that aid comes in the form a dramatic perspective adjustment.
Nagel, McCarter Theatre’s artistic programs associate, will present “Dramaturging Your Career Path: Creating Compelling Narratives for Success,” to be held on Thursday, July 28, at noon at the President’s Lounge at McCarter Theatre. Cost: $20. Visit www.princetonchamber.org.
The program is part of Princeton LEEEP, a division of the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce aimed at young professionals. The program seeks to offer career guidance and help build relationships in non-traditional business venues.
Growing up in Belchertown, Massachusetts, Nagel became accustomed to career shifting. Her mother moved from being a quality control engineer to being a special education teacher.
Her father, an attorney, left private practice and went to work for the government. “I see this all the time with my generation of young professionals,” says Nagel. “We grew up with these self-reinvention models. It’s not so much career dyslexia, but finding new worlds to navigate.”
In 2003 Nagel graduated from Washington University in St. Louis with a bachelor’s in drama. She then came to McCarter, where she buried herself in new scripts and the ways of the working theater. After taking her talents to several other theaters, Nagel earned an MFA from the University of Texas-Austin.
For Nagel, drama is more than entertainment. It is a life tool. Well honed, dramatic practices can enhance inner discovery, all relationships, and practical situations — such as getting that job.
Nagel’s key perspective: the career seeker has to view himself as a dramaturg. OK, that sounds good. But just what in Shakespeare’s quill is a dramaturg?
Well, according to Nagel, a dramaturg is that professional person who takes the vision of the play’s producer, writer, and director and carries it through to fruition.
Dramaturgs are those innovative people, one-step down, who make sure the envisioned art makes it to the stage. “If you are to find that job you dream of,” says Nagel, “you have to be your own dramaturg — your own carrier of the vision.”
#b#Enjoy the swamp#/b#. As performance-readiness seethes around them, so many of Nagel’s associates keep asking “when do I hit solid ground?” Her answer is invariably that there is no solid ground. So just work on your balance. Job seeking is a total crap shoot. No matter whose rules you follow or how much labor you apply, there is no guaranteed result. “You have to cultivate your comfort with uncertainty,” she says.
One way of creating comfort with uncertainty is to stop rehearsing disaster scenarios in your mind. Instead, ponder the most probable results and prepare your next action accordingly.
Keep on asking. With each suggestion for the production, it becomes the dramaturg’s duty to ask why. Why here? Why now? Why this person? Why not three feet to the left?
So must it be with the job seeker. Have you asked yourself what you want from your work? There is nothing wrong with working for groceries if you have no food. Surviving today becomes your work rationale.
Yet if you have the luxury of time, consider the parameters of your possible jobs. Ask yourself the real, underlying reason why you are thinking of applying for that job, training for this field, or aiming for that specific company. (Hint: if your answer is “salary” or “because Dad did it,” you had better dig a little deeper.)
Part of this self-querying eventually will lead you to examine your skills and the job’s skills. “You’ve got to think of your abilities as a dynamic, ever changeable set of skills,” says Nagel.
Ask yourself: what skills do I hold today? Where do my natural abilities lie? Then browse through the listings with a wild and glancing eye and discover which companies might be hungry for capabilities such as yours.
#b#Narrating with style#/b#. As in the theater, every situation is comprised of relationships and atmosphere. Before you open your mouth, you must be aware of both. As a job seeker facing an official in a company, you are not the one with the power to hire and fire. But they are. You cannot ignore this differential. The question is, how will you craft your narrative in the face of it? Obviously, groveling or exuberant bragging will only make things worse. Instead, the job seeker must find a middle ground that minimizes, but never ignores, the relationship.
Like all good job counselors, Nagel prescribes having an ever-changing elevator speech at the ready. Yet, she emphasizes, it must suit the atmosphere of the room. Remember all those introduce-yourself sessions where the same folks get up and said the exact same script to entirely different audiences? Not too wise.
Nagel suggests bringing up a moment of self-realization and offering a person to root for. It makes you an active agent in your story.
Having a person to root for brings the listener on your side. Remember, people love to root for the underdog, or someone who reminds us of who we are — like the person suffering a first job’s uncertainty or the exhilaration of a first paycheck. Audiences also want to root for individuals with great ideas, or a person who has achieved something they want to be (from mail room to president in 18 short years). It only demands a phrase, but once connected to your listeners, they are on your side.
Sometimes life can do well to emulate the mechanics of art. The complex task of launching a play involves deep emotional dredgings, the height of intellect, and immense attention to detail. For those willing to undertake this multi-level dramaturg style of self-command, the better their odds are in obtaining an improved career path. And almost everything else within the drama of their lives, for that matter.