Bullish Q&A: Can You Go Full-Time to Part-Time and Back Again?

I work full time as an Occupational Therapist and teach piano lessons on the side. My husband has a steady government job. My full time job has benefits, however my husband’s benefits are better and I am considering taking a part-time job as an Occupational Therapist. This would allow me to bring in a higher hourly rate as opposed to the full-time with benefits thing. It would also allow me to devote more time to my piano teaching. Right now I find that I am too busy and am turning down students. I believe I would bring more money in with these two part-time jobs than what I am currently making.

However, I am worried this will hurt me in the long run. In a few years my husband wishes to return to graduate school and I will likely seek full time employment again in order to have benefits for the two of us. I am concerned that having part-time work on my resume will affect the kind of salary I am offered when I return to full time work. I would have to disclose what my previous salary was when negotiating, and it would become obvious that I was working per diem instead of salaried. I could say I was devoting time to my piano teaching business, however I have discovered that most employers don’t care about this. I would argue that it develops skills very related to Occupational Therapy (developing client interpersonal skills, billing, organizational skills). But most people would say the two areas have nothing to do with the other.

Basically, I am concerned that the benefits would be only short-term and that I would be trading a higher income right now for possible future increases.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the transition from full-time to freelance and back again. For a ballsy, self-motivated person, it’s not too hard to go from full-time to freelance and orchestrate an income boost while doing it. But it’s very hard to go back again!

I think you’re absolutely right that you will not be able to convince employers of occupational therapists that your piano business is related to occupational therapy, or that your part-time experience translates into what they’re looking for. This reminds me of something a software engineer friend told me — he said that his employer knew perfectly well that you don’t need to go to college to know how to code, and that sometimes people who didn’t go to college are better at coding. However, he still paid college graduates more. Not because they were better at coding, but because they were better employees — they took direction, met deadlines, etc. They knew how to toe the line. It wasn’t about their skills, exactly, but about the meta-skills of Being an Employee.

You might be able to convince a startup that something awesome you did on your own is, in fact, awesome and relevant to what you can do for that startup. But institutions are wary of non-institutional experience.

So, I think you’re right — going to part-time and expanding your piano business might provide a temporary income boost, but at the expense of your future career as a full-time occupational therapist. (Unless you want to open your own occupational therapy center that focuses on piano … therapy? Is that a thing? Could it be? I have no idea.)

Another option would be to stay full-time now, and then — since people are beating down your door for piano lessons — just raise your rates until you have the right number of students. If you are getting more willing customers than you have capacity for, you’re not charging enough!

Hope that helps! And here are a few Bullish columns on related topics:

Bullish: What’s Your Business Model?

Bullish Life: Never Opt Out All the Way (A Response to the NYTimes)

Bullish: Maybe Work-Life Balance Means You Should Work MORE

Bullish: Thinking More Productively About Money

Bullish: How to Run Your Career Like a Business

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