Mark: The Never-Ending Job Story

A former member of NCIV's board of directors once told me that he regularly looks for a job. He often scans lists of available jobs in the fields of international education, exchange, and development, just to see what's out there.

"Why?" I remember asking. "Aren't you happy in your job?"

"I'm actually very happy in my job," he responded.

"Then why look for jobs if you aren't planning to leave your current one?" I wondered.

"I'm not looking for jobs that would be a lateral move or a moderate step up or because I need a change of scenery," he explained. "I look for jobs that are a stretch for me, that I may not quite be qualified for but, if given the opportunity, would work my butt off to succeed in. I'm always looking for the next way I can move on to bigger challenges."

For me, this story neatly illustrates the point that both Sherry and I stress in this chapter: Your job search never ceases. It's a constant activity, a continuous journey that will keep you on the lookout for new ways to challenge yourself and better serve your cause.

Moving On

The time came when, difficult as it was, I had to leave NCIV. I'd previously viewed landing my position at NCIV as the end of something—the end of a search, the end of a process, the end of wondering how I was going to pay my rent. A few years later, though, I learned that it wasn't the end of anything. Rather it was, as Sherry describes it earlier in this chapter, a building block of my career.

As noted in chapter 1, I had a variety of experiences throughout college and grad school that had no obvious pattern or path. But I was happy with these choices because they gave me varied, valuable experiences and were the foundation for my later choices. They were building blocks. It was easy to view them as such because they were impermanent, short-term opportunities. I knew from the start that, whether in three months, six months, or a year, I'd be moving on.

But when I accepted my position at NCIV, I didn't think about it as a building block. It was a full-time job; it was permanent. I suppose I knew I wouldn't be at NCIV forever. But I didn't much think about it. The fact that, at some point, I was going to have to make a choice and take another step forward in my career wasn't yet a concern.

And then, one day, I realized with a start that it was time to move on. At first I felt guilty, as if I were betraying Sherry, NCIV, and the whole field of international exchange. But this wasn't disloyalty—only a natural part of my career progression. It wasn't personal—I simply needed new challenges. Had NCIV been able to provide those, I'd have been glad to take on a new, expanded role. But because the organization was small—at that time, a staff of only eight—there was limited opportunity for advancement.

I also came to see that not only was this need for a new challenge natural, it was also beneficial to everyone involved. A new position would satisfy my need for something fresh and advance my career. This move would also benefit NCIV and the cause of international exchange. If I stayed in my job too long, I ran the risk of becoming complacent and allowing my performance to suffer, thus damaging NCIV's ability to serve its cause. When asked about moving on, Ambassador Kenton Keith put it this way in his profile interview:

When you start thinking this is something you can do for another five-ten years—comfortably, with no particular effort—then it's time for you to be gone. You know when the job is no longer challenging for you, and you've reached the limit of what you can do with the resources that are available to you, then it's time to move on.

In searching for my next challenge, I started narrowly—looking largely at NCIV's partner and sister organizations in international education and exchange (some are listed in part II). This limited the possibilities, and the going was slow. I was encouraged to broaden my search, to think about potential new positions not only in terms of the cause they represented but also the skills I would learn. As Jennifer Clinton says in her profile, not every job will perfectly fill all of your "buckets" (i.e., embody your causes). But if a new opportunity hits at least one of your buckets and teaches you new skills that will transfer later on, then that opportunity may be a positive building block.

I broadened my search. While I hoped international exchange would remain a part of my career, I also wanted a position with a stronger communications focus and room to develop leadership and management skills. When initially interviewing for what would become my next job—as director of college communications at Georgetown College (the liberal arts school at Georgetown University)—I worried I might be compromising and abandoning my passion. Would I be happy in a job that didn't have a daily international focus?

In the end, though, I decided the position was right because it filled enough buckets. It would enable me to:

1. Build key skills, namely communications, writing, leadership, and management (supervising a small publications team).

2. Retain some involvement with international education by working with the dean on the College's outreach to China.

3. Support a mission I believed in. I was attracted to Georgetown College because I studied liberal arts at the University of Notre Dame. I strongly believe a liberal arts education has served me well, and that many other young people can benefit in a similar fashion.

When I left NCIV for my two years at Georgetown, I'd known it was time to move on. Moving on from Georgetown, however, was a very different process. It was only when the executive director of the Alliance for International Educational and Cultural Exchange, Michael McCarry, encouraged me to apply for an open assistant director position that I first considered leaving.

My discussion with Michael forced my hand. I was still enjoying, and learning from, my position at Georgetown and wasn't necessarily ready to move on. But I was intrigued by the possibility of working at the Alliance. First, I had to ask myself, "When would I be ready to move on, based on the growth potential of my job at Georgetown?" My gut told me nine to twelve months, tops. I wasn't itching for a change yet but thought I would be soon.

Second, I asked myself, "Where would I best be able to serve my cause?" As I discuss in chapter 1, identifying my cause has been an ongoing process, even a struggle. Around this time, though, I began to realize that the field of international exchange was where I wanted to be. Specifically, it struck me that my passion for the exchange programs I'd experienced was a clue to my cause. I wanted to be working on or with these kinds of programs.

Getting to these answers wasn't particularly easy. But once I'd considered them, it was clear. I needed to make a move and the Alliance was the place to go.

 
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