My Weird Career Path, Part 2

Here's part two. I'm telling my career story to make a point; you should never feel like you're stuck somewhere to get somewhere, and all who wander are not lost. Really. 

The Patchwork Years

So we're living in Colorado Springs with baby Sophie, I'm working for the opera company, and Ryan is teaching 4th grade.

As you might imagine, the need for an opera company in Colorado Springs was not high, and we all started to look for other things to do. It wasn't an ideal time for me to launch into the production world in another area; I was taking care of Sophie and getting ready to have more kids. Toward the end of the life of the opera, I was hired by two local nonprofits who had two major shows per year at the Pikes Peak Center, which just meant a few weekends away from family. I was able to be production manager AND lighting designer for these groups, which worked perfectly for them because they didn't have the funds to pay for two separate people. I picked up two more nonprofits with the same deal, so that was a start. That was 20-ish years ago, and I still do the gigs for one of the nonprofits. I love dipping my toe into the production world just for a bit, and then going back to my regular life.

These gigs were great, but they were by no means a living. So I needed to revisit my strengths and shift gears. I'd just come from a production planning meeting with one of the nonprofits, and was introduced to the local grant writer who was also in their office. What? That was a thing? I left the office thinking, "hmm, I could do that. I can write. I wonder how I do that?" The next day, I called the grant writer and asked to take her to lunch. She was building her business and looking for a partner. I could work at home and we would meet twice a week to create strategy and divvy up assignments. And she lived 15 minutes from my house. 

We had a great six months; she trained me to research and write grants and how to set up grant schedules for each organization. We were a full service operation, tracking progress, writing final reports, and researching new grant opportunities. Then she got a big fancy job in Dallas, and she called to tell me she was moving away. Within the span of about 3 weeks, I had gone from being the mentee to managing all of her local clients on my own. But the work was flexible and it's what I needed at the time, so I dove in. 

The good thing about grantwriting was that it was extremely flexible; the drawback was that it really only required a few hours a month for each client, and there weren't enough clients in our area. We could branch out, but we were resistant to having it take over our lives. So we needed to supplement. 

On the homefront, we had just bought a house after living with my parents for about six months while we waited for it to be built. We'd added Benjamin to the family three years after Sophie. During that time, I worked for my mom as an editor for Quiltmaker magazine - again, because I could write and I knew quilting after freelancing during grad school. My dad took care of the kids, while Ryan commuted back and forth to his second teaching job in our targeted desired district. When the house was ready, the Qultmaker offices were too far away from our new house to make staying in that job viable, so I needed something else. 

I'd been toying with the idea of opening an in-home daycare. We were moving into a standard but brand new house, which meant that I wouldn't have to worry about the house being at code for licensing. I took the classes, still not sure I was going to do it for sure. I had visions of three-year-olds who were not related to me dumping yogurt all over the brand new carpet. But it met all of my other needs; I wanted to be home with kids and contributing to the family financially. I was pretty sure this wasn't my lifelong path, but it met my needs at the moment. I got licensed, and went for it. 

For three years, I divided my time between family, in-home child care, grant writing, Pikes Peak Center gigs, and editing projects for the quilt magazine. I opened up a business making customized quilts for people, and made about five of them. I stopped when I realized that there were not many people at the time who were willing to pay for the many hours a custom design took. I also sold some quilt patterns to the magazine, edited some stand-alone books, and continued to quilt for them. This was truly a patchwork time in my career, but it worked for us. 

It didn't take me long to figure out that I am really not built for in-home child care. I loved the kids, liked most of the parents, and the income was good. But I got to the end of the day with no nurturing left for my own kids, so I knew I needed to shift gears again. I tried adding meal plans to the child care packages; when parents came to pick up their kids, they could choose among an array of frozen dinners I'd stored in my freezer to take home for their family. Clients loved it, but I had to stop when I realized it was illegal since I didn't have an industrial kitchen. I kind of forgot to check on that. 

At that time, my sister was transitioning her work as well. We had a lot of "what if" conversations, and we decided to expand the grant writing business together. She's also a great writer, and we added clients to our roster and ran a successful grant writing business for three years. We loved working together, but the work was stressful, and Alissa and I spent a lot of time talking about how we didn't feel like we were building something - we were supporting others. Time to shift. 

I think that's when Alissa started a big job with an actual company - by this time, please note that I'm 35 years old and have never had a full-time job in an office. I wasn't quite ready for that, because in the same window of time I discovered that baby Ethan, #3, was on the way. So I took grantwriting on solo.

I patchworked my way through the first three years of Ethan's life, and when he was ready for preschool, I was ready to try an office. I worked my way into a job in the school district, and spent longer there than I had ever spent in a job before. I used some of my production management skills to work as facility manager for the district, my writing skills to do some grant writing for them, and my time in the opera world creating Learning Points, a series of after-school and summer classes for kids and evening classes for adults. I also started their first before- and after-care program for child care. Eventually, I was supervising five caregivers and their assistants. When I write about that job, it's such a strange combination of everything I'd done before! Nobody knew what to call me, but I filled a lot of needs in the district. 

A few years into the job, I signed up to help the drama teacher at the high school. Sophie was a freshman, and I came as a parent to help. There was one guy running the program all by himself, a nearly impossible job. When he discovered that I had a background in directing, that was it. I spent the next six years directing the shows while he was the technical director. Pay was next to nothing, but I adored working with the kids and it was such a great way to keep tabs on my kids and their friends. That job continued through Ben's senior year in high school. I loved every minute of that. 

Well, that's enough of that for now. But see how all the experience is starting to merge into interesting opportunities? More to come in part 3. 

Maria Capp