Our View From Here

Perspectives of Five Women

Finding my Calling

Similar to Isabel, growing up I had a long list of things I wanted to be when I got older. One of the first professions I can remember selecting was a chef. This is somewhat ironic when you review the number of posts I’ve had discussing how I don’t cook. But when I was little, cooking was fun. “Cooking,” mind you, usually consisted of stirring ingredients that my mom or grandmother put together. I specifically remember when I decided I wanted to be a chef. I was pretty little – probably not more than 5. I was “helping” my mom make scrambled eggs. She must have set up a stool for me to stand on because I have a vivid memory of looking at the stove top (which would have been above my head at that point) and stirring the eggs in the pan. I must have had an excellent stirring experience because I remember that was the experience that convinced me I would be an exceptional chef. I maintained this interest for a year or two, but then got distracted by other interests.

Once I got a bit older, I had a sustained interest in a science-related profession. In elementary school, science typically consisted of the physical sciences. I remember learning about forces and electricity and other things that did not hold my interest. While I was a good student, I always struggled with these lessons. I was devastated once when my teacher chastised me for not paying attention in class because I couldn’t answer a question related to the lesson. It’s not that I wasn’t paying attention – I just didn’t get it. Things finally changed in middle school when I had a life sciences class. Now this was interesting! Plants and animals and cell biology just clicked with me. I could totally get on board with this.  I think what really inspired me to pursue a career in science was a television show I saw about a zoo that had a polar bear that gave birth to two cubs. I believe the mother rejected the cubs so the zoo’s staff hand-raised the cubs. THIS is what I wanted to do. I would be a zoologist so I could play with baby animals all day long. Of course, once I realized that zoology would require many, many years of schooling and I would have to pay my dues doing un-fun things like cleaning out cages, as opposed to cuddling cute baby animals, I lost my interest. Still, throughout high school I explored being a biologist, a geneticist and finally a physical therapist.  I briefly talked about my stint as a physical therapist wannabe here

The stumbling block to all of these science-related careers was that I couldn’t just take biology in college. When exploring majors, I discovered I would have to take high level chemistry, physics and math classes, which were never my strong points. I realized that it would be incredibly difficult for me to succeed in any of these classes, and that I didn’t have a strong enough passion for these fields that would see me through these classes.

What I’ve always been good at, and what I’ve always enjoyed, is helping people and creating programs or organizing events to solve their problems. Once I realized that, transitioning to the nonprofit field was easy. I majored in business because the supervisor of my internship majored in business, and it seemed as good a field as any to prepare me for the nonprofit world. So, for nearly the last 7 years I’ve been working in the nonprofit sector. As I mentioned in a recent post, I just accepted a new position at NYU. While I will still technically be working for a nonprofit, my new clients will be businesses and universities and I will be helping them with business challenges they face. It will be a different industry with new challenges, but at the end of the day, I’m still going to be helping people with problems. I’m becoming pretty confident that’s my life’s calling, and I’m pretty ok with that.

Even at two, I was ready to enter the high-powered corporate world!

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1st Anniversary Repost: The Best Laid Plans…

Our View From Here is one year old! In celebration of this occasion, we’re reposting our favorite post from the last year! Enjoy!

I’m a planner. When I graduated high school, I had a plan. I was going to Penn State, where I was going to study kinesiology for a few years. After I got most of my general education credits under my belt, I was planning on transferring to Slippery Rock University (yes, this is an actual college) to become a physical therapist.

I diligently followed my plan…for a semester. I learned all about pronation and supination and realized kinesiology was not the field of study for me. To be honest, I’m really not sure where this interest came from initially. I have never utilized a physical therapist; I wasn’t athletic. In fact, I think my sole experience with physical therapy came from listening to my dad grumble about doing his after his hip replacement surgery. After a mini-crisis of trying to figure out what I was going to do with my life, I settled on going back to my volunteering roots. I began volunteering with the Red Cross and decided to major in Business Management, like my supervisor did, so I could go eventually be a manager at a nonprofit. Eleven years later and I’m finally a Program Manager at a nonprofit foundation. This is one of the few aspects of my life plan that seem to have come to pass.

Had someone told me back then that in just a few short years, camping and hiking would be among my favorite pastimes, I would be skeptical, but I could concede that it was possible. Had the same person told me that in a few years after that, I would enjoy skiing so much that I would go out and buy my own equipment I would have probably had a bit of a chuckle. Finally, if someone told me that in 10 years I would have started scuba diving and be well on my way to finishing up several advanced certification courses, I would have nodded and smiled politely, while slowly backing away, for fear I was speaking to a complete nutjob who could go postal on me at any moment. But alas, here I am, looking forlornly at the skis I bought this season but probably won’t have a chance to try out. In my work bag is a course book to teach me how to dive with enriched air, rather than regular 21% oxygen air. And I’ve been working with friends to coordinate our schedules for a camping trip in June. I have one person to blame for all of this, my husband, Darren.

Us, several years ago

Darren first went camping before he was a year old. He is an Eagle Scout (that’s the highest level of Boy Scout) and has been skiing for over half his life. The scuba is new, but an interest he’s had for years. He finally convinced me to take the class too, and I have to admit, it was nice to learn something together, rather than always being two steps behind. The point of this post isn’t to pay homage to Darren, the outdoor Adventure-Boy (though I happen to think he’s pretty swell). No, the point I’m trying to get across is that I think it’s important to have someone in your life that pushes you out of your comfort zone. Someone who can challenge you to do things you might not otherwise do. For me, it happens to be Darren, but I don’t think it needs to be a significant other – a good friend, a relative, even an arch-nemesis can fulfill the role. Whomever it may be, the trick is to find that person, and let them push you, because you might find there’s a whole lot of fun to be had once you do.

As I was writing this post, the song from the below video popped in my head. I have no idea if it makes sense, or is completely antithetical to my point. I read comments from others about the meaning of the song and the comments ran the spectrum from “live life to the fullest” to “you’re going to wake up in 20 years and regret your life.” Since no one else seems to know what it means either, I’m just going to go with it. At least it’s catchy.

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The United Nations, New York, NY

I more or less knew that I always wanted to do something that “mattered” as a career, but after nearly 6 years working for a nonprofit, I’m beginning to re-evaluate my definition of what “matters.” As I mentioned in the last post, I work with emerging nonprofits, both in the US and worldwide, and help them become more effective organizations and increase their ability to serve their communities. While that all sounds very warm and fuzzy, my work has a large administrative component to it. Even though I work for these start-up nonprofits, I have a hard time rationalizing to myself that paying a client’s phone bill or providing a vendor recommendation to them is really making a significant difference in the world. I also have to admit that even though I wanted to work with nonprofits, I didn’t want to personally be nonprofit.

I thought after I got my Masters degree, I would have a wealth of possibilities open to me: the UN would be begging me to work with them, the country’s most prestigious think tanks would be competing with government agencies to capture my expertise and every Foundation with a global focus would want me as their Senior Program Manager. Ok, I wasn’t that naïve, but I certainly didn’t expect to still be working for the same organization that I started working for after I completed my undergraduate degree.

The economic meltdown is certainly having an effect on my job search. Last year, I really didn’t find anything to even apply to, but even though I’m starting to find some interesting opportunities, now I’m competing with more candidates than ever before. It’s frustrating. I know I can do these jobs and do a great at them, but for some reason, I just can’t seem to convince the hiring managers of that.

I’ve considered going to the “big, bad corporate world” and making tons of money and then making lots of donations to charity. This way, I can still make a difference, but I can also support my family better. These thoughts are then challenged by my fears of selling out. It’s complicated, and makes me feel like I don’t really know what I want to do with my life. I’m sure everything will work out eventually and that this is probably not an uncommon experience for people in this age group. I also agree with Isabel – I’m thankful to even have a job right now. I know plenty of people who don’t, and the fact that I’m whining that I don’t like my job makes me feel like a self-indulgent whiner. So…..I’m going to buck up and refocus my energies on finding a job I really want. Thanks for reading. This has been rather cathartic. Hopefully, before too long, I’ll have some positive news to report!

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