Caryn Shebowich ’15, Mansfield Foundation Fellow in Non-Profit Management
My last week brought my fellowship full circle. I finished everything on my PT to do list for the summer, and made some decisions about my life and my career.
Decision 1: Direct feedback is important for my growth.
As my supervisor and I decided what to do to wrap up my fellowship, she asked me how I would like to get feedback. I decided I wanted direct feedback. She scheduled two roundtables for my last week, one with the programs staff and one with the office staff. During those meetings, I sat face to face with my coworkers/mentors, and one by one they were asked to talk about what capacity they observed me in, my strengths and areas of improvement, where they thought I might be headed career-wise, and any other advice they had to offer. It was my job to sit back and mull over what they told me. It was the first time I had ever done anything like that before, and it was fantastic for my growth. The affirmation of my strengths gave me a new level of confidence and hearing the areas improvement said aloud straight to my face forced me to recognize them. Scary as it was, receiving constructive criticism and confirmation that I am perceived as a valuable part of the team was truly invaluable.
Decision 2: I will never work in financials.
I got the opportunity this week to sit down with our Deputy Director and learn some of PT’s financial processes: I learned about how we do our rent roll and consignment sales tracking for our thrift store. I crunched some numbers and walked through the systems that our DD has so carefully set up. Each one is full of checks and double checks and spreadsheets galore. While I know that my brain works in a very Type A, logical progression, I didn’t particularly enjoy working with the numbers. It seemed tedious to me. I found that my favorite part of being trained in the financials was that I got to spend time with our Deputy Director. I enjoyed her company, not the spreadsheets.
This realization was confirmed in the feedback session; our DD said I was able to grasp the systems well but she didn’t think I’d end up in the financial world. She’s right. I love people to much to spend time with numbers all day. Even when I was working with our housing waiting list, which is a system with lots of files and spreadsheets, I enjoyed it because I knew the people each bit of data was connected to. Entering someone’s substance abuse history into a spreadsheet is like getting a little slice of the life story of a potential client. It’s constructing a context in which we as an organization can best serve that individual. Numbers, on the other hand, are usually the aftermath (no pun intended). It is much more difficult for me to see and appreciate how numbers are directly connected to people.
Decision 3: I am going to create my own major in a field related to psychology.
This one doesn’t sound as big as the other two, but it feels like the biggest of the three. It is the one I’ve struggled with since I started college, and particularly in the last few months. I am not going to be a Chemistry major. That feels so good to see in writing. I’ve spent countless hours in my Chemistry advisor’s office, talking his patient ear off. One of the things we talked about was the importance of hands on experience before making a decision about my major. I am so grateful to have had someone with whom to talk through my conundrum, and even more grateful that this summer has given me the hands on experience that I need to decide that my passion lies in psychology. I learned about and dealt with people with a wide range of mental health conditions during the last 9 weeks, and I’m fascinated by the diagnoses I’ve been introduced to this summer. I’m lucky to say that my supervisor has been an excellent teacher in explaining those diagnoses to me and has continued to feed the passion fire in me that my Cornell psychology professors sparked.
Decision 4: I plan to consider case management as a career path.
I came to this conclusion after my last intake of the summer. I was going over the final paperwork on my last day of work, filling in the important details about the person I did the intake with the previous afternoon: this particular person had what I suspected to be schizophrenia or something similar, was chronically homeless and clearly struggles with trust and stability. As I wrote in all the details I considered relevant, I was overwhelmed with the realization that I love this work. I took a long time to get there, but I know after my fellowship that I want to be in a person centered career. I know my strength lies in dealing with people. Even in everyday conversation, my mind immediately jumps to what resources can best help whoever I’m talking to. I’m always trying to piece together life stories of those around me, and sometimes I feel like a walking referral agency. And now I’ve discovered that a job exists where I could make a career out of synthesizing and walking reference ability.
Decision 5: I plan to start my career in the non-profit world.
I came into this fellowship with the purpose of deciding if and where I fit into the non-profit sector, and I have decided: yes, I fit into the non-profit sector. I made this decision without really realizing I had made a decision at all. During the first of my feedback sessions, my supervisor asked me to tell the staff what my career plans were so that they could give me words of wisdom about where they thought I was best suited. Without skipping a beat, I responded that I plan to work in a non profit in a capacity that deals with directly serving people and requires that I utilize my ability to synthesize. My supervisor stopped me and said, “You made a decision about non profits. At the beginning of the summer you were on the fence; you just made a decision.” I was as surprised as she was to hear those words come out of my mouth, but I knew as well as she did that they were true.
As I said, the last week brought this fellowship full circle. As such, I have another book recommendation, as I did in my 3rd blog post. The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom by Don Miguel Ruiz. It was assigned to me by my supervisor as part of my personal growth this summer, and I highly recommend it. The book left me at peace and has clearly articulated what I have always known, but haven’t quite figured out how to say, is the way that I want to live my life. A beautiful read. You won’t regret it.
Needless to say, I had a great last week. Saying goodbye to Project Transitions and Austin was my final challenge in my long list of challenges this summer. This fellowship pushed me out of my comfort zone time and time again, from case management to the financial systems to grant reporting to hospice care. In my final journal entry, I wrote “I will miss this experience more than words.” This summer was full of more growth, personally and professionally, than I can put into a blog. Thank you to my Project Transitions family for the best first job experience ever, to all of the wonderful Austinites that showed me what a magical city Austin can be, to my family for their everlasting support, to the Cornell Fellows program donors, faculty and staff for making this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity possible, and to you for taking the time to read this blog and share in my experience!
Enjoy the photos!