In the 10 years I’ve been doing this, I’ve had the opportunity to work in both the Federal system and the CRM industry. In either case work can ebb and flow; it is the nature of the business. Personally, I don’t think this was emphasized enough through the course of my BA. I thought I’d graduate and slide seamlessly into a full-time career as an archaeologist. Is it possible? Yes. Did it happen to me? No. Will it happen to you? Perhaps. But if it doesn’t… that is okay!
Working as an archaeologist (field tech, shovel bum, etc.) is a wonderful experience. Who wouldn’t be happy with a full-time gig? But if you’re seasonal or work in an area where the weather is just plain shit for some part of the year, my hope is you’ll see your situation as a natural part of the process and something that most archaeologists go through. Being part-time or seasonal is how more than 50% of archaeologists work.
I want to highlight a few of the ways in which I stay busy in both the off-season and amidst times when field work is sparse. Veterans of the field are likely familiar with this dance, but I’m writing more for the people who haven’t been doing this for long, or those who may still be in University and are thinking about making a career out of shovelbumming. The point I want to drive home in the next few hundred words is that the end of the season or slumps in work will not result in the apocalypse; in fact you have the potential to become a better person because of it.
Initially this list was pretty lengthy, but I’ve simmered it down to what I feel are the three things you should prioritize. I left out ‘searching for your next job’ because that should be obvious. Anyway…
First and foremost I’m a dad, so slumps in fieldwork leave me with more family time. If you’re a parent, you understand your kids are your life. If you’re not a parent, chances are you have something else you love above all else; pets, plants… writing hot and humid archaeology based fiction. My first recommendation should come as a no-brainer: when you’re not digging, spend the time doing what you love most with who you love most. My family just finished a cross-country move. Every minute we’re not at work or at school, our little family is out exploring new places. A break in field work means more time to explore! Now all the things we couldn’t cram into a weekend can happen easily. Get in what you can in the off-season; cram your off time with quality EXPERIENCES because when the next break in field work happens, you can look back with satisfaction at those past adventures instead of remembering how bloody f-ing bored you were.
Aside from archaeology and my awesome little fam, I’m incredibly passionate about fitness. I’ve been involved with CrossFit since 2007 and have worked as a coach at two boxes (CrossFit gyms). CrossFit is fun; it helps me alleviate stress and keep my GPP (general physical preparedness) high. GPP is something I like to talk about a lot with my athletes, especially those who are new to the sport. GPP as it relates to archaeology should be defined as being prepared for all aspects of work in the field; walking long distances, carrying heavy or unbalanced objects, being able to execute repetitive motions both efficiently and effectively, and amidst it all: avoid injury.
You’ve all seen this in a job posting before:
The work is performed outdoors in rugged terrain to include very steep, wet, muddy, rough, uneven or rocky surfaces. Positions require physical exertions, such as, bending, crouching, stooping, stretching, reaching, or similar activities. Candidates must be able to walk 8-10 miles a day carrying loads in excess of 50 pounds.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve worked with people who either didn’t take this seriously or despite several field seasons still aren’t prepared. I understand that a majority of University upbringings don’t really highlight the physical demands of archaeological field work, but if you’ve been doing this for multiple seasons, what is your excuse for not being field ready? If you’re in between sessions, now is the time to capitalize on your GPP. This will prepare you for what’s to come on your next job, help cope with the stress associated with job shopping, and improve your self-esteem.
When I worked for the Forest Service, I’d work a 10 hour day of survey, run 2 miles to the gym, cram a strength session and WOD in, and finish with another 2 mile run four days a week. Mind you I was single at this point in my life, so my list of responsibilities was low. But even now with a family, I still make it a priority to finish each work day with some type of physical activity. I highly recommend setting the bar early in your session. Spend the first two weeks putting in an hour of physical activity every day after work. Get your body used to a longer than average day, increased physical demands, and you’ll be so much better for it. You’ll see the 3PM slump disappear and have larger energy stores for after work activities.
As a plus, CrossFit, much like archaeology, has been an amazing way for me to meet people. CrossFit affiliates are spread across the globe and in a field that can send you to some unfamiliar places, it’s nice to be able to find a CrossFit gym almost anywhere you go. Currently, there are more than 10,000 CrossFit gyms world-wide. There’s a pretty good chance you’re within a few miles of one now. For those who bum around or travel for work, this is a great way to find a community. Even if CrossFit isn’t your thing there are plenty of 24 hour, judgment free, treadmill stocked fitness establishments around the globe. So my second suggestion is to stay physically active for your next field session.
The rest of my in between time is filled with things to help flesh out my skill spectrum and satiate personal curiosity. Some of these are related to archaeology, others dwell in a whole different realm. I’ve taken a variety of jobs to fill the voids since I started doing field work. I’ve worked as a public relations and marketing director (a job that above all taught me that I don’t want to ever be public relations and marketing director). I’ve hosted Star Wars trivia nights at a brewery. I’ve worked in a patent office. I’ve performed contracting work… something that I quite enjoyed and a prime example of seizing on a longstanding curiosity. The decision to slide into that position was multifaceted: it was steady work, my employer was on board with my need for time off when field work called, and it provided me with the opportunity to learn a surplus of new skills. In the end, I soaked up a great deal of information about general contracting and even built a house from the ground up (bucket list). Hopefully, at some point in the near future, I’ll be a home owner myself. Having the skills to tackle plumbing problems, install drywall, and mud like a boss will save me money in the long run.
Therefore, my last suggestion is to always be learning. This doesn’t have to be a completely new craft, hell; you can hone the skills you already have. Be completely unoriginal and practice flintknapping. Sure, 90% of all archaeologists do this, but there is a reason. Knapping is cathartic and it is a great lens through which you can establish better artifact interpretation. But if you don’t have access to good source materials or prehistoric archaeology makes you cringe, there are other ways to stock your memory palace with quality furniture. Volunteer at a local historical society, museum, or library and familiarize yourself with the history and resources of the area whilst helping someplace that is likely a non-profit and probably needs hands-on support. Pick up freeware GIS software and brush up on your mapping skills. The possibilities are as broad and as varied as your imagination.
Hopefully you’ll find this helpful. I’d love to hear what you do in the off-season and whether you agree or disagree with any of what was said above. If you have questions, I’d love to a chance to answer those as well, or point you towards someone who can. Feel free to leave something in the comments below or reach out to me on Twitter @sexyarchaeology.