Seaward decision

Yes, your comments and feedback through this blog or on Facebook & email do have an impact on me. In fact, even though I haven’t had a chance to personally respond to everyone, I have recently made some choices that are taking my life in an exciting new direction based on that very feedback I have received in response to my previous journal entries.

In my April 7th blog, So Here’s What’s Up!, I discussed my frustration with feeling compelled to do so many things, but having the difficulty actually getting anything done. Several people responded to this blog post and suggested that I try to scale back the amount of things I am trying to do at once and focus on one thing at a time. Still others observed that I spoke very fondly of the times in my life when I was teaching or working with children and suggested that I may find a more rewarding career in that area.

Taking this advice to heart, the past several months I have been on a quest to find employment, fulfillment, and simplify my life. And I think I may be on the verge of a breakthrough.

The Mission Continues

The first step in this recent journey began when I discovered an organization called The Mission Continues. They offer paid six-month fellowships for post-9/11 military veterans to volunteer for a nonprofit service organization twenty hours per week.  The goal of these fellowships are to build leadership and opportunities for a career in the service sector. If you are a veteran I highly recommend looking into this program!

During the application process, I discovered that the program is not set up to simply “place” you in a nonprofit, but rather the applicant must already have an arrangement set up with nonprofit to host their fellowship. This put me a bit behind the ball and I immediately began furiously searching for a nonprofit to partner that met the criteria for a Mission Continues fellowship and needed someone to volunteer for twenty hours per week for the specific six months of the next round of fellowships. This turned out to be a lot harder than it may seem.

Special Gifts Theatre

I focused primarily on organizations that work with children and in the areas of education. Most of the organizations I spoke with did not have a consistent need for 540 hours of volunteer service between July and January. For example, one organization I was eager to work with, the Special Gifts Theatre, doesn’t have programs running year-round, much less anything that would require 20 hours of work per week.

I did sign up to volunteer at the Special Gifts Theatre once a week this summer assisting a class called Creativity in Motion (a sort of dance/movement class). The Special Gifts Theatre works with children of all ages with special needs throughout the North Shore. During the summer months they just do small workshops, but during the school year they put on full productions each semester. This is certainly an organization where I know I will enjoy volunteering, but they didn’t fit the bill for a Mission Continues Fellowship.

As I started looking into larger, more well funded organizations I discovered similar barriers to finding a job in general: It is hard to get your foot in the door and build a relationship that would lead to what amounts to a “hiring decision” especially with the added twist of someone in the organization sponsoring/mentoring me.

Additionally, the fellowship requires that all volunteer hours must be performed “on site” (no work from home) and it is generally recommended that your volunteer work be primarily centered around “direct service” to the community served by the organization. The clock was ticking for my sponsorship organization deadline and I had barely scratched the surface of networking and building the kind of relationships necessary to have an adequate fellowship set up.

Free & Equal

It was during this time that I reached out to Christina Tobin, founder and president of the Free & Equal Elections Foundation. As it turns out, this was also not a good fit for a Mission Continues fellowship because its activity would be considered “political” in nature and they exist primarily as a virtual organization – they didn’t have any real “on site” type of advocacy work I could do here in Chicago. However, I seemed to click with them and they had a definite need for some of the skills I could offer, so they decided to take me on for a one month volunteer trial period followed by an offer for paid part time work if everything went well.

I have been volunteering for Free & Equal for the past two weeks and so far the experience has been rewarding for both of us. I actually feel like I can bring many of my experiences and skills to bear and there is another exciting bonus: They are trying to set up a candidate database system similar to my KnowBeforeYouVote.com idea, and they need someone to help lead that project. So, the long term prospects of working with and for this organization are certainly promising and something I am excited about.

None of this, however, solved my most immediate problem: Finding a reliable and steady stream of income. Which takes me full circle to the title of this post.

Cruise Line Youth Staff

My friend Kimberly has been working as a youth counselor, and now a program manager, aboard cruise ships for the past several years. Ever since I first met her, she has suggested that this is a line of work I would probably love to do. After reflecting on my own best experiences in life I have realized that working with kids is something I find to be very fulfilling and energizing. So, I decided to take the plunge and give it a shot.

The first thing I had to do was renew my passport. Not wanting to impede the application process, I went ahead and ordered my passport expedited. Which, as it turns out, was a good thing because no sooner had I begun to contact recruitment agencies (the industry does not generally direct recruit, but instead goes through staffing companies) I received an invitation to attend an informational/interview event in Toronto. My new passport arrived just two days prior to my departure. Whew!

Next, I had to get all sorts of paperwork sorted out: preliminary fingerprint background check, CPR/First Aid certification, and letters of recommendation. I contacted several supervisors from previous work experiences and they all came through like champs with recommendation letters (thanks guys!) just in time.

After attending the Toronto event, I was more excited than ever to pursue this new line of work. The pay is pretty decent, contracts range from 3-8 months, and most importantly food, lodging, and full medical benefits are included (as well as flights to and from your port of call). The general drawbacks of shipboard life: working long hours without a single day off (for the duration of your contract), limited communication with “the outside world” and the transitional lifestyle in general do not seem like drawbacks at all from my viewpoint – or at least by my general disposition. Basically, I am fortunate enough to be at a certain point in my life and wired a certain way that this kind of work lifestyle greatly appeals to me with few perceived disadvantages.

Good News!

This week, I received two offers for employment from two different cruise lines. All I have to do now is get “seaworthy” medically certified and pass the official background check that the agency runs (both processes which could take one to two months) and accept an offer. Then I will be receiving an assignment and departure date if all goes according to plan.

There is a little bit of uncertainty about when I would be leaving – it could be in a few weeks or a few months, but other than that things are looking very promising. Hopefully, I can start sooner than later as I could really use the income: the added departure uncertainty makes it even harder than ever to land a job or contract. On the bright side, when I do depart, I should be able to finally earn enough money to start making headway paying off my debts while simultaneously staying busy – extremely busy – doing something I already know I love and find to be rewarding. Plus, it will give me the chance to really focus in on just one or two things without having so many other pressures and distractions.

As for the position with Free & Equal is concerned, I am not entirely sure how things are going to play out. I’ve been upfront with them about my need for and search for gainful employment, and I have committed myself to working as hard as I can while I am still extremely available to help the organization. While aboard a ship there will still be opportunities (the frequency and regularity of which are still unknown) to connect to the internet and possibly help out with the organization in my off duty hours.

But, unfortunately, I won’t really know anything until I am actually there. Ideally, I can earn enough money before I depart to buy a decent laptop capable of running all my Adobe Suite software so that I can continue to pitch in frequently and effectively with Free & Equal and possibly (knock on wood) contribute enough to still earn a small part time wage on the side. When you are drowning in debt, every little bit helps. I know that in the long term, Free & Equal is an organization I would love to dedicate myself to fully once I am in a position to be able to do so and/or they are in a position to compensate me for full-time work. Right now, the timing doesn’t seem to be working out in our favor.

In the meantime, I continue to play things by ear, taking one step at a time, and not getting too ahead of myself. After all, I know I can’t really control how the cards get dealt to me, all I can do is make the most optimal decisions with the cards and the resources I have to hopefully make it through another day, another week, another month, and another year.

So, yeah… things are looking up!