Non profit Executive Director….Inspired by ‘Working’ to bring meaning to work

I was looking for a way to reach Studs Terkel to tell him about the role of his book, “Working” in my life. Instead, I stumbled on to your website –and I’m intrigued.

Here’s my story. In the late seventies, I bought a copy of “Working” in a thrift shop for $2.00. I was working in the training department of a large corporation and already had an interest in how people learned and performed on the job.”Working” gave me a new perspective and respect for individuals and their work–especially those who love their work. I was deeply saddened, though, by the waste that occurs when individuals feel devalued by bosses and others in their working enviroment.

I have always loved my work, even when I was “just” a telephone operator for seven years. I have learned never to let anything stand in the way of my goals–especially not a boss (but that’s a story for another day).

Although I don’t have a college degree, I have been extremely successful in my career. Most recently, I was the Chief Strategic Planning Officer for a $6 billion insurance carrier. Most of my jobs have involved assisting management in changing or improving the culture of large organizations or in improving results through strategic planning. Pretty heady stuff for a girl from Pittsburgh who never went to college.

I did love each of my jobs, but my real desire was to be the one who created the environment in which people could find self-respect and fulfillment in their work lives as I have. I have watched well-meaning (and sometimes not so well-meaning) executives treat their work forces with careless contempt and a lack of understanding for how little it takes to enable people to hold their heads up and shine. Mainly, it takes respect.

Last year, our company merged with another company and I was laid off. In spite of my extensive experience, I was over 50 and had no college degree. This wasn’t a good situation.

A allowed my self to dream about what I wanted to do and decided that I wanted to run a non-profit organization where I could be the driving force behind the culture of the organization.

Everyone told me to get a grip and just take a job–any job. I wasn’t sure I could get such a job but I didn’t stop looking. I can be most persistent.

It took me one full year to find a job. I had only one job offer in that year. It is the job I’ve held for the past five months.

I’m the Executive Director of all the Vocational and Employment Work Services of a large multi-state non-profit that services people with disabilities and disadvantages. I had to agree to go to college at night to get the job and I agreed readily.

I make a good salary (although less than I was making in private industry). It is hard to imagine any position that could be more satisfying. I have about 300 people reporting to me and an operating budget of $21 million. Since mine is a newly-formed division, it is like creating a new corporation and this is incredibly exciting. The culture is not friendly and it is one where individuals are frequently devalued by managment. This gives me the chance to bring change and create a culture within a culture.

I know little about the human services field – but I have highly skilled people working for me and I am getting to combine my interest in creating work experiences and work environments on two levels — both with my staff and with the people we serve.

I don’t know what value my story might be to anyone else but I’m delighted that you’ve created such a website. I hope Studs Terkel knows of what you’re doing.

And by the way. I keep that old copy of “Working” on my conference table at all times.