Where Do I Go From Here?

Back in July I started a new career path. I somehow pushed my way into a job at an incredible non-profit organization and spent four crazy months planning a huge, exhausting, amazing fundraiser. Two weeks ago my job ended and I was looking at another period of unemployment. Part of me was relieved since I think I worked harder in four months at the Hawaiian Humane Society (HHS) than the entire 10 years I was at MEDITECH, but a bigger part of me was really sad to leave the wonderful team I’d been working with and the friends I’d made.

In my time as Events Assistant for PetWalk I learned a ton and got just a little bit closer to figuring out what I want to be when I grow up. Even though I had my sights set on HHS since before I even arrived on-island, I had no idea if it would be everything I imagined. Anecdotally I knew non-profit was hard, unglamorous work for very little money. That wasn’t a problem for me, but I had no idea what living it would be like. The reality of this kind of work for me was that I didn’t work long hours, but I was exhausted every day. I drove all over town, I moved a lot of boxes, and I did my share of administrative work. It was very unglamorous. I also got sick three times in four months, which is very unusual for me. I usually get sick once a year, if that, but people have so much to do they come to work sick and then everyone gets sick. The money part turned out to be true too.

Moving here and changing career paths didn’t just mean learning a new field, in my case event planning, it also meant starting from the bottom. Hawaii is different than a lot of other places in that even if you have experience, there is so much competition for jobs, you inevitably have to trade down. You can’t be picky if it’s your first job on-island either, since local workers are always preferred. At the places I interviewed, this wasn’t the result of a prejudice against newcomers (although it is at some employers). It’s mainly because Hawaii is such a transient place, so going with someone local is a better investment long-term. I got asked repeatedly in interviews how long I was planning on staying because they routinely hire and invest time in training new employees, only to have them leave the islands. I was lucky to have HHS take a chance on me.

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Even though I took a title downgrade and a pay cut, and despite all the unpleasant realities of non-profit work, I loved my job. It turns out working hard suits me. It was really interesting to see the innumerable differences between my only two adult jobs. I think some of these were just differences between for-profit and non-profit sectors, but some were fundamental leadership and workflow differences. I won’t bore you with the details, but I’ll say this: it takes a talented and dedicated staff to run a successful non-profit. At HHS I worked with a group of people not only passionate and committed to the mission, but they work well together to produce tremendous results. I think it’s rare to find that type of giving spirit in a for-profit company.

When my time was over as the PetWalk Event Assistant, I wasn’t sure of my next step. I wasn’t set on staying in Events, or purposely leaving it, but I liked non-profit. In restarting my job search, I realized I like communications, too. Even after 10 years experience, that hadn’t been a given. I have never been one of those people with a 10-year plan. I’m lucky if I know what’s going on tomorrow and I like it that way. I like to leave myself open to opportunity and inspiration. I took my job at MEDITECH with the goal of moving into video because that’s what I did in college and I ended up liking it. Moving to Hawaii was all about re-examination, though. This was my chance to look at every part of my life and fix what wasn’t working. It was inspiration time. Spending some time in another area of communications helped me realize I really like public relations in the right context – working in the community to spread awareness of a cause I hold dear.

It turns out HHS liked me too, because they offered me a few chances to continue my work at the organization. I had the opportunity to leave the Community Relations group for Development, but I found myself indifferent. I felt like I wasn’t in a position to pass anything up, so I said I’d give it a try. The Director of Development instantly recognized my lack of enthusiasm, which I hid poorly. I can’t say I was surprised or heartbroken.

I’m thrilled to report that the other opportunity I was offered is a true dream job. After PetWalk I started working with the Volunteer Coordinator to figure out what I might like to do as a volunteer when my employment ended. We discussed a variety of possibilities, including working with HHS’s hiking club. A few days before my temporary position ended, the Director of Community Relations called me into her office to ask whether I’d be interested in continuing to work for HHS as the Staff Hike Leader for Paws on the Path. They were looking for someone they could depend on to be there every month, bringing enthusiasm, and spreading the word about HHS’s work. I didn’t even need to think; I just accepted. I was going to get paid to go hiking with people and their dogs!

It’s not a full-time job by any means. I lead one hike on the last Saturday of every month. In addition to the actual hike, I need to scout each hike, which means doing it once on my own ahead of time. I’m also responsible for engaging the community in HHS’s mission and growing Paws on the Path into a real club. I’ll be working with volunteer hike leaders to make the hikes fun and safe for all the people and pets involved. I’ll also be promoting the hikes on social media and planning post-hike gatherings for participants to get to know one another and learn about responsible pet ownership. I’m estimating it’s only going to be about a 20 hour commitment per month, but it’s the most fun job I’ve ever had. I know because I went on my first hike at Wiamano Ridge last weekend and it was everything I imagined.

Now, to find a full-time gig.

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