Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Deep Thoughts by Adi

Doesn't that title just bring you back to "Deep Thoughts by Jack Handey?"  (If you don't know what I'm talking about here are a couple of classics:  "One thing kids like is to be tricked.  For instance, I was going to take my nephew to Disneyland, but instead I drove him to an old, burned-out warehouse.  'Oh no,' I said, 'Disneyland burned down!'  He cried and cried, but I think that deep down he thought it was a pretty good joke.  I started to drive over to the real Disneyland, but it was getting pretty late." -or- "To me, boxing is like ballet, except there's no music, no choreography, and the dancers hit each other.")

Is that humor too warped?  Sorry.  It was cool when I was in high school.

For such a light-hearted opening this is probably going to be the most serious post I've written.  It's been a pretty crazy year for me professionally and lately I've been reflecting on my road up this point a little more than usual.  If you choose to keep reading you're in for some backstory but also, I hope, some positivity and encouragement.

Once I settled on a major in education I decided I was going to be a third grade teacher.  (The kids would still be young enough to respect you but old enough to wipe their own noses and tie their own least you would hope.)  Of course, I never did become a third grade teacher, because God said "Ha!" or something like that, meaning He had a different plan for me.  After brief stints with kindergarteners, subbing, and temp work, I had no clue what to do with my life or why I chose a major in education.  Discouraged and between jobs, I took advantage of some vacation time back home with my family.  I was out one day with my mom when my dad called and told me that I'd just gotten a call from a district back in Louisiana--the good one!  We were a week into school at this point so I thought my chances of getting a teaching job that year were shot.  I returned the call and they had found my resume (which HR said would be thrown out after a year, and this was definitely more than a year later), saw I had ESL certification, and when could I start?  It turned out to be such an awesome position.  They believed in me from the start and I adored the people I worked for, not to mention the subject matter and the variety of students I got to work with.  It was the dream teaching position and I don't know that any other teaching gig could compare, even to this day.  The only reason I stepped down after that year was because we were moving back to Texas.  I was sad to leave that one but hopeful since I got a year of teaching experience out of it. 

Unfortunately, we were moving back to Texas during one of those low periods where schools were maxed out and there were no open teaching jobs.  (Admittedly, having been burned by a large urban district before that ESL position I knew I didn't want to work for a large district, but you'd think that the 30+ smaller- to mid-sized districts I tried would have led to SOMETHING!)  I had a couple of promising interviews, one of which ended with "here's where your classroom will be...just wait until next week for HR to call with the offer," which, of course, did not pan out and resulted in an embarrassing phone call to HR inquiring about said offer.  The school year started and, once again, I did not have a teaching job.  Fortunately, I was once again desperate and started to look outside the school district realm and into higher ed.  I started getting nervous before we left Louisiana in August and had widened my net then, and landed a phone interview with the admissions office at Texas Wesleyan.  It went okay, but I didn't have much time to think about it as I did the interview from our hotel room on base just before we hit the road to move back to our hometown!  A few weeks later I was called in for a second interview--a presentation!-- and studied up on everything Wesleyan I could find, scouring the internet and pestering all of the former students I knew.  Over a month later I got the offer (turns out I wasn't their first choice...oh well!) and very eagerly accepted.

That Wesleyan job, though not on my career path, turned out to be incredibly beneficial to my career.  I was able to gain public speaking experience, polish my customer service skills, and take free classes toward my master's degree.  It was such a new chapter in my life that I found it fitting to choose business administration for my degree because it WAS different and I wanted a challenge.  I stayed at Wesleyan for about two years until I spotted a job that looked interesting while helping a friend with her job search.  You see, between my junior and senior years of college, I attended a birthday dinner for a friend.  She had invited a few friends and her family, so I struck up a conversation with her brother's girlfriend, who told me about a six week internship with a local school district.  She got me in touch with the director of the grant program that needed help, and I got the job.  That was my first exposure to grants, and wouldn't you know, the job posting I saw several years later was in my home district, working with that same federal grant!  I figured it was worth a shot so I applied.

And I got it!

Thirty districts, each full of numerous positions, with NO LUCK, and suddenly I get the only job I applied for?  That's just crazy, or a God thing again.  In fact, I got to coordinate the afterschool grant program for a school in the neighborhood where I grew up.  The foundation of my faith was established in the church across the street from my school.  How cool is that?!  It was a lot of work to start a program from scratch, especially with my husband being sent for a four month assignment four hours away during my first semester, plus taking grad courses two nights a week, but it was an incredibly rewarding experience.

I loved that position and had no desire to leave for another school when our district got another round of the grant, even if it was a little more ideal than the one I worked with and secured two more years of employment for me.  However, perpetually ambitious, I applied for an opportunity to move up, and it did not happen when I wanted it to.  I'd like to tell you that I took it in stride and was completely fine with it, but the truth is that I'm glad no one else was in my portable at the time I found out because chucking pens and pencils across the room is a very cathartic experience and one best had alone.  :)  When my tantrum burst was over, I immediately grabbed a pen and an index card and wrote out this verse:

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."  Jeremiah 29:11  (It's still on my wall, right above my computer screen!)

So, here I was at the start of another year, with a new principal at the same sweet school, and I immersed myself in my campus and enjoyed the program, which at this point had matured into something I was proud of and continued to grow.  I also got a little bolder in my opinion sharing in our staff meetings, respectfully, of course, but more outspoken than before, because I figured I had a clean program, several years of experience, and nothing to lose.  That ended up working in my favor.  You see, things were happening behind the scenes that I did not know about, and I would soon have the chance to try again for that promotion, only this time it was a revamped and improved position.  My openness caught the eye of my administrators, especially considering that after a year into the grant I let my boss's boss, the head of the grant department, know that I was interested in learning more about the field.  He never forgot that, and I am glad!  This time, when the position came open, I got it, and it was another great step in my career (though bittersweet, since I had to leave my little middle school!). 

I said I wanted to learn more about grants and I did (and still am)!  Grant writing, grant reviews, grant evaluation, presenting at grant conferences--I have gotten to experience some really neat stuff in this career I stumbled into.  It's not over yet, but as we are nearing the end of year four of that second five year grant you start to face that temporary nature of grants.  Grants are seed money, an incubator, prompting you to try something new on someone else's dime that hopefully you can learn from and maybe even keep going.  Some people are able to secure multiple grants, even back to back, but there is no guarantee, especially with members of the government vying for federal money to fund their own passion projects at the expense of others.  It's hard to plan a career in grants, but the experience has provided me some peace that doesn't make sense through a worldly lens. 

One great thing that I've gained through this experience is trust.  The positions I've held in this grant were never part of my plan.  Heck, nothing in my career thus far was part of my original plan.  Praise God for that!  He knew what I needed more than I did, and I am so, so thankful for that. 

The other most significant thing I've learned is openness.  Don't say "no" because it doesn't fit your plan.  If someone offers you a chance to take charge, even if it means more work that you'll be doing for free, consider it.  That department staff training day you coordinate for the university may end up being an attractive point of experience on your resume that sets you apart from the other candidates.  I am convinced that part of success is showing up!  Go to that networking event (or birthday party, in my case!); put yourself out there; do the things that scare you!  Make the speech, head the committee, make yourself known!

If you've made it this far, WOW!  I've been wanting to get these ramblings down and thanks for joining me as I did.  I hope you'll leave inspired and ready to go for whatever it is that you want to achieve--or be open to something even better than you could hope for!



  1. I enjoyed this -- gave me a chance to see inside your head. It's information you wouldn't share during our dinners out, just vising and talking about "surface stuff". Very, very interesting. Too, you are a very good writer -- the narrative flowed and kept me engaged (that's me, the wannabe journalist talking!). But yes, fascinating. My son married a very remarkable woman who is interesting and intelligent and ambitious. It will be wonderful to see how you evolve! And I get a front-row seat! How exciting!

  2. You're sweet! I'm happy someone is reading this thing, haha!

    your fellow almost-journalist