How I Changed Careers and Started Over
Today I’d like to introduce myself by relating the series of events that led me to change careers, going from being a long time ESL teacher and freelance writer to my current work as a speech coach specializing in training human trafficking survivors and their allies.
Ever since I can remember I've been particularly disturbed by the plight of homeless people, refugees and those “hidden” sufferers, like prisoners, who are largely unseen but nevertheless quite numerous. I’d imagine their misery and wonder why other people weren’t as bothered by it as I was, and wonder why these social problems still existed in the face of “big religion(s).” I wondered why I didn’t do more. But between these times of wondering, life continued. I married, had children, a home, and all the accompanying responsibilities. In some respects, I became the person that I had vowed I would never be – one so invested and consumed by presumed every day needs that my dreams of working in a refugee camp or serving poor communities never materialized.
Life continued to go on, my children grew up and one day I found myself single and, much to my surprise, actually quite free to make a new start. I had another chance to go after those dreams that I had abandoned so long ago. I began investigating a new career. Eventually, I took the plunge and made some big changes. I quit my day job as an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher at a nearby university. I downsized and went paperless. I made a conscious decision to try to live minimally and accumulate less. I moved to the beach, a long time dream, and I even became vegan. During this time, I kept asking myself, what is it that I really want to do? What would feel meaningful to me?
My focus returned once again to the displaced, marginalized, and poor. I watched the commercials and imagined life without clean water flowing freely from the tap, and wondered what it would be like to be a woman who needed to devote hours every day to carrying buckets to a well, waiting in line, carrying those heavy buckets back home, and doing it all over again that night. And the next day. And the next. Clean, easily accessible water. It seemed a good cause, one that affects women and girls disproportionally. I thought about it a lot.
I also listened to great songs performed by international musicians and produced by the wonderful organization Playing for Change. They use music as a means to educate and transform children’s lives. As a teacher, mom, and music fanatic, I was transfixed, excited, and ready to jump on board. But I kept reading and looking, somehow knowing that I hadn’t yet found exactly what I was looking for.
Then in May of 2016, I sat on a flight from Dallas to Boston, trying to hide the fact that I was weeping. I had been reading the book Half the Sky by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, and when I got to the chapter about sex trafficking, I just couldn’t help myself. Although this certainly wasn’t the first time I’ve considered becoming involved in the anti-trafficking field, this was the moment when I felt a resolve that I had never experienced before. This was the moment when I thought to myself. This is it. This is what I need to do.
So I began educating myself about all the fields related to this kind of work. I read everything I could get my hands on about human trafficking. I learned about non-profits and researched social marketing. I took online courses on storytelling and social enterprise. And I began thinking about how I wanted to fit into the bigger picture. For a long time I felt like Noah, telling my friends for what seemed like forever that I was building a boat (you want to do what?) and it was going to take me, uh...somewhere...somewhere good, lol. I felt like I was swimming through muddy water; I had a vague sense of where I was trying to go but not at all sure if/when I was going to arrive.
I finally realized that what I really wanted to do was speech coaching. I consider speech my “roots” - I participated in many speech competitions in high school and got my undergraduate degree in Speech Communication. I've also taught many speech classes, and they were among my favorites. It’s a field I’ve always loved. I knew I could do it. I could be good at it, even. I could make a difference by helping others. That’s all I really ever wanted to do.
The problem was, I’d never had the courage to start my own speech coaching business. I didn’t see myself as an entrepreneur. I found the financial aspect terribly intimidating. But I realized that the only thing holding me back was my own fear. For a long time I had this quote by Sheryl Sandberg written on my chalk board: "What would you do if you weren’t afraid?" I hated the idea that I would have a speech coaching business if I wasn’t afraid. I hated the idea that my fears about “putting myself out there” were stopping me from doing what I really, really wanted to do. So finally I pulled the plug. I had my website built and started working to promote my business as a speech coach.
Not long after that I went to a trafficking conference and felt both validated and energized. I listened as many presenters with impressive expertise gave “ok” or “good enough” presentations. The potential for high impact was there, but most speakers were not able to deliver what I would consider a great talk, presumably because they lacked the proper training. I saw that there was a tremendous need for what I’m good at, and I knew I was on the right track.
Since then I’ve been working hard to let trafficking survivors and their allies know that I’m here to help. I’ve begun coaching individual speakers and it’s been immensely gratifying. I’m learning new skills to stay current and thus provide more value to my clients. I’m also learning how to promote my business on social media, and becoming bolder about getting in touch with strangers to talk about my services. Little by little, I’m moving forward. It’s an exciting time.
Many articles like these end with impressive evidence of “success” , e.g., clients now numbering in the thousands, or interviews with famous people. I’ll be honest. I’m not there yet. I’m not anywhere close. But that’s ok, because little by little, I’m making a difference doing what I’m good at. That’s reward enough.