Encore Moment

my boss recently forwarded notice of a contest entry to me a short time ago, where you need to describe when and how you experienced a radical shift in your purpose in terms of a career, and how you plan on continuing that career into the future. here is the current draft. it’s due to be submitted by 20th october.

Describe the inspiration, the insight or the event that set you on the path to your encore career.

I began a new phase in my life a short time after college. I was working at a coffee shop at a dead-end job for over four years, spinning my wheels. The downhill path undeniably spiraled into the pits when my marriage fell apart. I felt that a career change (or, perhaps, actually starting a serious career) was definitely in order, so I began work as a video game tester. For the next four and a half years, I gained more experience, responsibility, and unfortunately resentment. I realized that the corporate world–where everything, it seemed, was about financial gain, or about pushing units on the shelves instead of cultivating creativity–was not for me. I wanted a new job, but I was pleased with the salary, benefits, and casual atmosphere that my current job provided. However, the dread of dealing with the marketing plans, the balance sheets, the artifice of office politics, sucking up to corporate big-wigs was abhorrent to my sensibilities by then. When the lead producer mentioned the office was downsizing and that I wouldn’t be brought on the remaining team, I simply replied, “This is the kick in the pants I needed.”

Though I’d only heard fleeting descriptions of the non-profit world, I knew it was worth investigating. Before I was out of work, I immediately made a promise to myself that from them on, if I had to make money working for someone else the rest of my life, then it would be to work only in non-profit organizations. What did I have to lose? I spent the summer collecting unemployment and combing through websites dedicated to non-profit jobs, finally landing my first as a project coordinator for an AmeriCorps education team.

I enjoyed it so much that, when that contract expired, I applied to be an AmeriCorps volunteer myself. For the following year, I tightened my belt and proudly served as a member of the local American Red Cross’ Emergency Services department, visiting survivors after they’d been affected by house fires. My horizons within the town I’d spent the last ten years of my life were irrevocably expanded, in ways I didn’t even know existed, and if it were possible to make a living in that position, I would definitely do so. Most significantly however, stirred within me was a vague feeling of distrust and skepticism of the all-too-apparent class system that disenfranchises and displaces the poor, the previously-incarcerated, and people of color.

My dedication to non-profit organizations further strengthened after my positive experience with the American Red Cross. I’ve been employed for just over a year now at Maryland New Directions, where I work as a career facilitator. For the work I do here, I acquired a national certification to assist ex-prisoners in finding work and keeping their jobs; barely two months later, I became an instructor for the same certification. I honestly love my job, and I’m very happy to have become a solid asset to our team.

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What work are you doing or do you plan to do in your encore career? How is it meaningful to you and to others?

I desire to continue working in the non-profit sector, assisting the disadvantaged and under-served through career facilitation: assisting in writing resumes, cover letters, and other business correspondence; addressing the various issues that ex-prisoners face when seeking work; and encouraging those who are unemployed to become positively-thinking and productive members of society.

My belief in the immense power of positivism cannot be swayed. By instilling within our clients—who have long been without hope, options, guidance, and in many cases any alternative to a life filled with high-risk behaviors and incessant, negative encounters with law enforcement—the energy and encouragement to learn and succeed, I cultivate self-worth in others, one person at a time. However, when a client regales me with their success story after “finally” being hired, I am instilled with a true sense of accomplishment, and the knowledge that my “day job” is absolutely worthwhile.

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