I have said this before, more than once, about more than one job. When you feel trapped in a situation, or you are really unhappy in a job, I think it is typical to feel like you only know how to work in this one place, or do this one, very specific, often very crazy set of tasks. I can definitely recall thinking, “I don’t know how to manage a budget, I only know how to organize this budget,” or worse “my only real value is that I am willing to show up here every day and be treated this way.”
It’s not just me. I have heard various permutations of this statement from so many people, especially those who work in non-profits. (Well, so many women, but that is a different post.)
But honestly, it isn’t productive to think this way. That is a mindset that breeds resentment and frustration. When I look at my resume now, I know that I have a variety of transferable skills that I have developed over time. Project management, administration, budgeting, writing and copy-editing, event management and production. A project is a project, whether it is a play, a book, a workshop, or a grant-making program. An event is an event, whether a workshop, a play, or an outdoor site-specific dance. I bet that with the right guidance and support, I could manage a fundraiser or gala. Yes, the details are different and more complex, but the principles are essentially the same. And yes, the idiosyncrasies of a particular organization or job can deeply shape how you handle tasks in that situation. But the principles that guide your work are intrinsic to you, not the organization for which you work.
I am willing to bet that if younger workers in the arts and non-profits were exposed to more professional development, there would be less of a feeling of isolation and this sense of how different job functions like budgeting, projects and events, program development, and other areas of work are handled across the field. Maybe the crazy way you do things is the crazy way everybody does things! Maybe new technologies exist that could be beneficial to your organization.
At the end of the day, this is an issue of self-perception. Feeling trapped, isolated, or unable to translate your skills is a function of how you see yourself and your ability to move forward. Every job has something to teach you, even if it is a “negative” lesson. The question is how long it takes you to absorb the lesson, and what you do with that information going forward.