Just Get a Job – Or, maybe how I kept finding a next step on my, less than direct, career path

I grew up in the era of the American Dream, the self-made man (person?), upward mobility (climbing the ladder), and career paths with influences of Horace Greeley and lingering manifest destiny. My story is more one of wandering, stumbling or rambling ahead.

As a kid I had ideas and interests, but nothing compelling or solid. My parents expressed little in the way of expectations or direction beyond “You better be able to take care of yourself.” At school, either I wasn’t paying attention, or they weren’t saying much to help me “find” my career, life path.

Growing up in the Vietnam War era made college sound like a good idea. Wait, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start again.

My convoluted job path

After years of berry picking, paper routes, door to door candy sales, greeting card sales and a few other odd jobs, Bill Hodge (a church friend, home from college for Christmas), suggested I consider Summer Service Corps (SSC). I applied and got accepted. SSC was basically the way Conservative Baptists staffed summer camps and other affiliated programs around Oregon. It was the summer of 1971, and I was 17 when I went away from home for the first time to work at camp. I split my weeks between washing dishes and cabin counseling. I loved it. I also met Connie Butler, who I would marry years later.

Coming home in the fall for my last year of high school, I needed a job. Sherman Goodson (my maternal grandfather) was the head cook at the Mayfair House restaurant at 82nd and Division, in Southeast Portland. I applied and got hired as a dishwasher. One evening, after I had been there a few months the owner was making a pass through the kitchen. My grandpa stopped him, nodded toward me and said, “We got a good one in that kid.”

The owner responded. “We sure do.”

My grandpa took a breath and continued, “Bet you didn’t know that’s my grandson.”

“Well, I sure didn’t.” Which was followed by. “Got any more grandkids we can hire?”

By June 1972 I had graduated from high school, quit my restaurant job and returned to camp for another summer as a full time counselor. I loved working at camp.

In the fall of 1972, I started community college in Bend Oregon, and I needed a job. My mom connected me with Dave Rowley (the husband of a friend of hers through some unknown connection). Dave was working as a delivery driver for the local Coca-Cola distributor. I was soon working in the warehouse.

As I was making my way through college, I had little long-range career plans or aspirations. I knew I loved working at camp and wanted to find a way to continue. At the urging of a mentor friend, Mike Gower (part of the state Baptist youth leadership), and Connie I decided to apply to be a counselor at Camp Firwood, an independent, non-denominational Christian camp in Bellingham Washington. I had never been north of Seattle and knew little of what I was getting into.

I was accepted to the Firwood staff, and that summer broadened my understanding of camping by moving beyond my Baptist upbringing.

Fall of 1973 I was back in Bend and back at Coca-Cola. I stayed through the summer of ‘74 and getting married that September.

I transferred to Oregon College of Education to become a teacher. I hoped that teaching would be a way to work with kids and that the schedule would allow me to continue working at camp in the summer. And I needed a job. Lee Britton (lead counselor at Firwood in 73) drove bus for Salem Public Schools and encouraged me to apply. I applied and was a bus driver for my last two years of college, graduating in 1976.

The summer of 1976 I wanted to return to camping and became the day camp director at the Firs in Bellingham. The Firs is connected to Camp firwood. I spent the spring and summer looking for a teaching job in Oregon. I had several interviews including one with a principal who showed me fifty plus files and said, “Lucky you got an interview.” I got a call that I had finished second.

Summer camp ended and Connie and I returned to Oregon a week before school was scheduled to start. I called the college placement office and asked if it was too late to find a job. The response was. “Oh no. You call every day and I promise we can get you a job by the end of the week.”

I called daily, followed up on leads, and had two interviews set for Friday afternoon. I was offered a job on the spot at the second interview. Mill City, a small mill town in the mountains. The mill had closed years earlier. The interview ended with the superintendent asking, “You’re a guy. You can coach too, right?” We signed the contract on the hood of his car, outside the house we would be renting from the district, late on Friday afternoon. I started prepping my fifth-grade classroom on Monday morning. After teaching (and coaching) one year at Mill City Elementary it was back to Bellingham and the day camp for the summer.

Mid-summer 1977 I got a call from a principal who had interviewed me the year before. He had a new opening and offered me a job. The school was closer to where we wanted to live. I had to get out of my Mill City contract to finalize the shift. Oh, and Lee Britton was the connection (his dad was the custodian/bus driver) to Brooks Elementary, and he had recommended me.

Summer 1978 it was back to camp in Bellingham. School in the fall and then back to camp for the summer of 1979.

Dick Eley (staff member and my summer supervisor) was my primary contact and advocate at the Firs. I wanted to be in camping full-time. Eventually we worked out a position description. I, again, asked to be released from a teaching contract and Connie and I moved to Bellingham in the fall of 1979.

In 1985 an organizational crisis resulted in a leadership transition (Dick was forced out), that resulted in my needing a new job. Thanks to the Moore’s, Hansey’s (connections we had made while at the Firs who were also involved at Birchwood Presbyterian) and other friend’s recommendations we had been attending Birchwood Presbyterian Church (BPC). At the time I was leaving the Firs, Birchwood was looking for a Director of Christian Education. In March of 1985 I began a 12-year run with the church.

While working at BPC I was asked to teach parenting classes for fathers of preschoolers in a local community ed program. I can’t remember who made the connection, but it helped. And the extra money was helpful, too.

I left Birchwood Presbyterian in 1997 after a rough last year. It was also a tough year for our family, including my dad’s death from lung cancer in August 1997.

While in transition Melissa (Menti) Pitsch (she had been a day camp counselor and a friend over the years who taught school locally) encouraged me apply to teach in the City University graduate school of Ed. I applied and got hired. This provided a part-time bridge for a few years.

The summer of 1997 my friend Bill Palmer (we met through volunteer work at Columbia Elementary) recommended me for part time work with a fund-raising project at First Presbyterian Bellingham. That summer gig turned into an interim role as director of the Inn college ministry. Within six months I was asked to stay on full-time. I never applied or interviewed and was there for 14 intense years. I loved the relationships and sense of working as a team with young adults. I struggled with knowing I was not skilled in similar ways to previous directors and clashed with another leader for too many years.

In July 2011 I left the Inn. I began piecing together a variety of jobs. Here is a link to a piece I wrote during this time Job Shift. I started a coaching business (almost all work through connections, friendships, relationships), worked briefly for the Presbyterian denomination collegiate ministries (Thanks to a series of people I had built relationships with on the national level), conducted church assessments in numerous setting across the country (thanks to Corey Schoessler Hall, our Presbytery exec at that time), worked with a trust (based on longstanding relationships developed while at the Inn), did some school sub work, and a few other random jobs.

In early 2014 continuing relationships brought me back to Birchwood Presbyterian as lead staff for a year of transition as they found a new pastor.

In the fall of 2014, as the BPC gig was ending and the national church assessment program was cancelled, Connie mentioned seeing an ad for a Mentor Coordinator position with Nooksack Valley Schools.

Nooksack Valley Schools are in rural Whatcom County, about a 30-minute drive from our home. The superintendent, at the time, was Mark Johnson, father of Stacey and Jill and father-in-law of Seth Thomas (all who I knew well through the Inn). I called Mark to get more info about the job. Our conversation ended with him encouraging me to apply. I did. Got an interview and was offered the job. What I thought might be a nice short-term bridge has continued and I will be starting year nine in August of 2023.

Some lessons or insights leaned on this career journey:

  • At almost every step and with each new job I was able to identify a person or multiple people who helped with connections and opening doors. Thanks to each one of you.
  • In my rambling career I missed out on some of the stability and financial benefits that others enjoy. I have a reluctance to fully commit to systems. Looking back, it is easy to see what I missed. Yet, I was privileged to do some unusual and creative things that, if I had not done them my life experience and relationships would have been significantly diminished.
  • I have tended to stay too long. Chalk it up to loyalty and caution about moving forward.
  • I’m great in a crisis.
  • I have violated the maxim, “Don’t love a job more than it loves you.” The results are never pretty.
  • I thrive on working with a group of people who are united to help others. Organizational and staff culture are real and may be the greatest determiners of my “fit.”
  • Culture caution, the concept of a workplace being family is dangerous. It may offer a feel-good piece on great days when all is flowing. But when the pressure is on the family aspects quickly disappear.
  • I love helping others learn, grow and go forward. I have been fortunate to be able to live this out in varied settings with people who have become cherished friends.
  • I am thankful for the way in which each job, each year, and each relationship, has helped me learn and grow. I am thankful for the understanding that I still have much to learn, and blind spots to address. I am thankful for each new day and the opportunity to work with others in positive ways.


Time Management (will never be) made easy, but it can be better

The reality is you may be overwhelmed and desperate or fighting a low level nagging frustration. We are stuck in a cycle of procrastination and panic (see my earlier post https://jimschmotzer.com/2015/blog/the-3-dreaded-ps) You hear the guarantee, somebody dangles the promise of virtually no work and amazing results. Stop me if this doesn’t sound like every other late night cable TV deal. You decide to take control and change your ways. You buy the deluxe package. And within two, maybe three weeks you’re back to your old habits.

Systems generally work for the developer and other like-minded people. And if you are anxious enough or work hard enough, most systems will do the job. But the probability of sustaining a system is about as likely as the Mariners winning the World Series in my lifetime (sorry for the digression). If you are ever going to dig out of this you need something more.

Let’s refocus and start over.

  • First, Know yourself! For a system to be effective it must compliment your personality. Your values, priorities, relationships, responsibilities and emotional rhythms will all impact your ability to stick with it. The more you can craft something that fits and flows with the essence of who you are the more likely you will be to find success. Knowing yourself may be best done with the gracious and wise support of a trusted Mentor or Coach.
  • Second, Wake up. We live in a fast paced, affluent culture that seems to want us to be overwhelmed and worn out. If you need to please everybody and have it all you might as well quit reading now, because I’ve got nothing for you. I’m not saying you must go all Marie Kondo and move into a “tiny house,” but without making changes, nothing will change. If you are committed to growing toward and living a whole life, you’ve got a chance. Making a change requires moving beyond the hectic pace, affluence overload and instant gratification.
  •  Third, Grow up! This is not about quick fixes or cheap magic tricks. Time management is rooted in a symbiotic marriage of self-management and self-control. Time management is an act of work and responsibility while understanding that none of us operates in a vacuum. Our actions impact others. Frequently people are waiting for us to do something so they can proceed with their next steps.
  • Fourth, make the tough call. Knowing what to say “no” to may be more important than saying yes. Clarity of values creates a way to review opportunities and the extra push for making the tough call. We may hate to admit it but when frustrated with the sense that our lives are too busy and cluttered, we can often trace our current situation back to a string of (poor?) decisions. It is generally easier to add something than to back out on agreed upon commitments. But more is not always better, and it is, practically speaking, more to manage.
  • Fifth, count the cost. We often procrastinate on things we don’t like or “are not good at” thinking “it” doesn’t matter, or we’ll get to it when necessary. The reality is that until we take care of responsibilities we consider negative they imbed in us as emotional power. When doing the things we love, while avoiding completing the dreaded “other things “we may be functioning at less than our best. When we get rid of that which we least enjoy we can be fully focused on our best passions and skills. Somewhere I picked this up, “Do the dirty work first.”

The bottom line is, things can be different. Understanding yourself, clarity of commitment and active follow-through can bring about change. A Coach can provide that needed support and boost to get from dead-end frustration to purposeful action. Let me know if you’d like to explore working together for better days ahead.

Making the most of Adult Learning Opportunities

It doesn’t matter what you know,

it’s how you teach it. Herm Edwards

Nobody wants to sit through a seminar or class and leave thinking it was a waste of time. Good teachers want students to learn and hopefully enjoy the process. Following are some ideas to help make the most of adult learning opportunities:

Know what’s most important
  • Know the purpose, focus and goals
  • Don’t get sidetracked on unimportant matters
  • Know how you will measure success
 Work for true learning
  • Remember learning is more than covering material, notes, script and curriculum
  • Better one thing learned well than many things covered, but not learned
  • Don’t be a fool. Just because people are politely sitting and appear to be listening does not guarantee learning is happening
  • Be careful with handouts. If you give too much upfront people will read ahead and be finished way before you have completed your efforts
 Start from strength, not apologies or excuses
  • Connect, greet, make eye contact and learn names with all possible
  • Know your opening words cold
  • Avoid saying “I have a lot to cover so we need to hurry.” (communicates this is going to be a fire hose of information as opposed to a learning process)
  • Also, avoid saying you are sorry for being late or unprepared (don’t let these happen, be proactive)
  • And, remember to have a clear, concise ending (exit strategy) ready
 Know your audience
  • Ensure that the setting and information are accessible as needed
  • Be aware of what is unique about the setting and audience
  • Avoid minefields, issues or words that may alienate the audience
  • Don’t tell them what they already know
  • Make sure they have needed backstory to understand what you are offering
  • Respect adults by not reading word for word what you have handed out or are showing in a visual (most readers will get quickly ahead of you possibly resulting in losing connection, attention, focus and respect)
 Know yourself
  • Maximize your strengths and minimize weaknesses to balance your effectiveness
  • Discover and grow your voice and style
 Preparation is the real work
  • When well prepared the presentation flows
  • Give learners time to reflect, participate and respond
  • Give breaks (at least every 40 minutes), respect physical needs, sitting too long diminishes learning
  • Be a hero, give the gift of time by finishing a few minutes before scheduled end. No one has ever complained about getting out early, many have been worn down to the place that learning stops before the teacher does…
 Adult learning is a process
  • You are building on their past experiences and understandings
  • All learning is self-learning, teachers can present and encourage, actual understanding and experiencing is the work of the learner
  • Adult learning is collaborative
  • There are numerous ways to communicate, learn about learning styles and mix it up
 Environment matters
  • Temp, light and décor can improve or detract from learning
  • Ensure visuals are visible and sounds are audible
 Be careful with PowerPoint 
  • Do not allow PP to become the center of your presentation. It is a tool to (subtlety) help
  • Don’t leave slides “on” after impact has been made, move to next or a blank
 Humor is a great support
  • Use it to build bridges, incorporate surprise, transition topics
  • Avoid inside jokes (this can easily ostracise those new to the group)
 Be flexible
  • Be ready to adjust and change to meet greater goals
 Get feedback
  • And learn from it


The 3 P’s revisited, with better results

Last year I wrote about the 3 P’s and how procrastination drives many of our efforts (Here is a link the 3 P’s). As a way to go forward with better results, I have a new list of 3 P’s. To help move beyond Procrastinate, Panic and Produce I am suggesting Plan, Pace and Produce. Here are a few steps and questions to successfully guide most any project:

  • Plan – What is to be accomplished? What will be the result of this effort?
  • Pace – When does this need to be finished? Who needs to be brought into the process? What resources are necessary? How do I coordinate this with my other commitments and responsibilities? What are possible distractions and obstacles?
  • Produce – Set a timeline (it can be a simple mental process) and implement. Make necessary adjustments along the way (without panicking because you allowed space for the unpredictable). Finish the work and celebrate!

We choose our style and the related life impact (or we choose to be guided by a reactive whatever happens, happens mindset). Hopefully, we are willing to think beyond our habits and defaults. By being proactive, we can avoid the emotional roller coaster, be a better part of our community and get things done!


I just finished Let Your Life Speak www.letyourlifespeak.com by Parker Palmer. My good friend Seth Thomas has faithfully encouraged me to read the book (for quite some time). A great book on many levels. Vocation, the inner life, wholeness, leadership and more are explored. Seth was right, I needed to read Let Your Life Speak.