Originally published January 15, 2015
One of my connections on LinkedIn wrote me to compliment me on what he describes as a unique background. Specifically, he clarified, mine is a long list of diverse job experiences. I’m grateful to him for pointing this out. After he mentioned it, I started looking at my experience a little differently and highlighting common traits, skills, and passions throughout my career. If you’re looking for work, as I now am, it might help to generate an inventory of your favorite things – a shopping list, if you will – that you bring to and derive from the work you wish to do. Here are mine. As you read them, think about your own and feel free to comment below.
I learned a long time ago that I value effective communication above all other traits and skills. It means more to me than simply knowing how to speak and write in ways that others understand and respond appropriately. It means more than having the right words at the right times. It means more than understanding the value of active listening. It means knowing when not to speak, when not to entertain certain (counterproductive) conversations, when not to press “send” on that angry text or e-mail message. Creative and business writing and public speaking have reared their heads in every professional and volunteer role in which I’ve served.
Community and Youth
My first volunteer position, though undocumented, was as a LEAP after-school assistant at the Free Library of Philadelphia’s Nicetown-Tioga branch. Is it any surprise that my most recent formal volunteer post was with Friends of the Free Library’s McPherson Square Friends Group? At Nicetown-Tioga, I helped young people with homework and service learning projects. I continued in that vein when I volunteered with the School District of Philadelphia a few years later. My reach also expanded into the socioeconomic and educational realms of community development while I was with the District. It is on that foundation that my career was built and has grown.
A natural storyteller, I first started honing my ability to regale others with compelling stories when I read to students at the libraries. Later, I would do the same as a business owner and consultant, this time through marketing and branding strategies. As my work led me to design and manage websites, write hard and human interest news stories, and publish my own magazine for five years, I discovered marketing to be a consistent thread among my duties and responsibilities, both as an employee and as a volunteer.
I thrive when I can create something from nothing. This is evident in my writing projects and in the after-school creative writing program I designed and taught at several places in Philly since starting my career (oh-so-many) years ago. As a youth, I was fascinated by the visual arts and would come as close as I could to it with pen and pencil sketches on every writable surface I could find. When writing became more important to me (after a high-school English teacher derided my writing with his remark to “leave writing to the rest of us”), I found other ways to express myself in the visual arts realm. I’m no guru at graphic design, and even so, I grab every opportunity to learn more about it when I can. There’s something about a blank page or canvas that draws me, and this drive has motivated me on the job and in pro bono roles.
“Creative problem solving” is actually how I sell this ability on my résumés and cover letters. And it’s apt; I’ve learned to become an out-of-the-box thinker when it comes to analysis, problem solving, and decision making. In supervisory and other leadership roles, I look for the most challenging problems – you know, the ones no one else wants in their court – and I revel in picking them apart first by recognizing them as opportunities instead of problems and then by brainstorming, sometimes by myself and other times with others, the most creative solutions to take advantage of the opportunities presented by what everyone else is calling a problem. Learning and growing are opportunities for which I live. When I was looking for a job three years ago, I didn’t see the problem of not working. Rather, I saw the chance to brush up on accounting and nonprofit management knowledge. It helped, as I landed my next job a month after completing some coursework at Temple University.
A list of all my favorite things would exhaust many more pages, most of which wouldn’t get read online, and the above list is concise enough that you get the point. Thanks for reading this far. Please share your thoughts and maybe even a few of your own favorite things you seek in work, at home, or at play.