“Isn’t your job depressing?” is one of the many responses I get when people find out I’m a career coach. The question surprises me because no, I don’t consider my work depressing. Sure, I go through the same ups and downs as my clients — I want them to have what they want, so if they really want a particular job, I’m right there rooting for them. If they’re trying to reinvent themselves and there are lots of obstacles in the way, I take a deep breath too.
Inspiration shows up regularly and often in surprising ways. Like you, I love a good “I landed my dream job” story. But what sustains me are stories about progress. My inner sociologist loves to dissect the dynamics and influences at play and progress reports from clients are chalk-full of fascinating tidbits. They’re part human experience, part hero’s journey and part learning experience. Get ready to be inspired…
I recently encountered a woman who is extraordinarily inspirational – and I thought you’d want to get to know her. Her name is Linda Chase, and coincidentally, she’s from Portland. Unemployed and having survived some pretty devastating challenges, she bravely embarked on a One Week Job, It’s Never Too Late! project.
Below is a special guest post from Linda Chase, sharing what she learned during her experience, and how serendipity shows up when we’re open to it. ~ Stacey
FINDING HOPE AND PURPOSE AT AGE 60 BY WORKING 52 JOBS IN 52 WEEKS IN MY COMMUNITY
As we walked down the path, my eyes blindfolded, my guide dog, Omni led me up hills, over roots and around trees. Suddenly I felt her stop, warning me of impending danger. I felt the air in front of me with my hands–no obstacles there. I gingerly scraped the pavement with my foot to see where the path was going and realized we had come to the top of a flight of stairs. If not for my amazing guide dog, I would have tumbled head over heels to the bottom.
I was in Week #23 of my project working 52 jobs in 52 weeks, and my week working with Guide Dogs For The Blind was, by far, my favorite. My love for animals, especially dogs, is well-known, but after observing and working with the labs and golden retrievers at Guide Dogs, my respect and awe multiplied by leaps and bounds (tee hee…).
Sixteen months earlier, I was on a plane flying from California to Portland after visiting my mom in my hometown of Santa Barbara. I spent a week visiting and walking on “my” beloved beach healing from life’s recent upheaval. After being laid off from my latest non-profit position, I had attempted to find work for months–to no avail. I finally took a job in my neighborhood coffee shop as a barista–but it wasn’t enough to pay the bills. Our house went into foreclosure and we moved into a small 2 bedroom apartment where I made the couch my bed so my two kids (Laura and Alec) would each have a bedroom.
We are a resilient lot, but nothing prepared us for the next upheaval: our border collie Brady developed cancer and had his leg amputated. We cared for him and helped him adjust to 3 legs (dogs are amazing in their adaptation).
Then we were hit with the terrible news that Emmett, the kids’ dad and my lifetime love, had terminal brain cancer. We all enveloped each other throughout his dying, and Emmett died a few months later. I valiantly mothered my kids through this but several months later, I realized I was reeling and rudderless. Hence: my trip to California.
Serendipity was on that airplane back to Portland. Well, his actual name is Sean Aiken, and he was my seatmate. We began talking, and he told me about the project he had completed working 52 jobs in 52 weeks, writing a book about his experience and starring in a documentary about it. As he told me about his adventure, I began to get excited. Although Sean was in his 20s and worked these jobs to find his passion just after college, I began to ponder: what if I, an 60- year old underemployed woman, did a similar project as a vehicle for re-defining and re-energizing her life? And, perhaps, finding a job to boot? Sean was thrilled with the idea, and One Week Job, It’s Never Too Late! was born.
I learned that possibilities and opportunities are available in our communities.
Although it would have been exciting to travel around the country working any job anywhere (as Sean did), I soon realized that for an older woman, dedicated to her children, provider of her home and rooted in her community, I needed to engage in my own community and ask for one week opportunities close to home.
I made a list of all of my interests and passions (music, animals, nature) and not only began to spread the word with friends and acquaintances that I was looking for jobs, but I also began to research businesses close to my heart. At the same time, I also decided to say “yes!” to any job offered to me. So, for the next few months, my task was to contact, call and visit businesses in Portland and “sell” the idea of working for a week.
Although this was one of the hardest parts of this process (who likes to cold call??), as the weeks went by, I realized this was simply networking and informational interviewing. Some people said yes, others said no, and some I had to hound for weeks or months but … drum roll! … didn’t give up! I began to line up jobs two months in advance, and I was finally ready to begin my first job.
Anyone can undertake a version of this project. It begins with a decision– a commitment– and it is accomplished by daily, small action steps.
For the next 12 months, I showed up each week at a new place and learned the ropes of my weekly job. Here is a partial list of jobs and careers I explored: Director of Children’s’ Musical Theater, Farm Hand, Technical Recruiter, Event Planner, Marketing Coordinator, Personal Organizer, Volunteer Supervisor, Post-Partum Doula, Realtor, Wedding Officiant, Horticulturist, Costumer, Personal Chef, Animal Caregiver and Guide Dog Trainer.
I ended my year with my greatest and most fearful passion as a professional singer, and in that process, I met many musicians with whom I sang at my end-of-year event spotlighting my entire adventure. A crowning moment to an amazing journey.
Throughout this adventure of finding and working 52 jobs (as an older worker), I learned that possibilities and opportunities are available in our communities. In addition, although ageism is certainly a factor in today’s job market, in every job I worked, I was not treated “less than” any of my fellow workers. Indeed, I have said many times, that it almost didn’t matter what the job was, it was the camaraderie–the sense of belonging and meaning–that was the highlight of each job.
Anyone can undertake a version of this project. It begins with a decision– a commitment– and it is accomplished by daily, small action steps. At the beginning of this project, I felt diminished, broken and unmoored. I used this “One Week Job” vehicle to motivate myself to get back into life. As a result, I feel more confident, more connected to my community and, once again, excited about the possibilities in my life. I now hope to inspire others to find opportunities in their lives and communities. It’s Never Too Late!