I Think You’re Looking For Me

June 3, 2011

*This story was a part of the Impowerage “It’s Never Too Late to Change Careers” Writing Contest. Voting is now closed and you can see the contest winner here.

By Cathryn Wellner

Cathryn WellnerGutsiness has never been one of my more noticeable traits. But in December 2003, I picked up the phone and said to the director of Stagebridge, the man I hoped would hire me, “I think you’re looking for me.”

The odds were not in my favour. I was a 57-year-old woman calling a California organization from a British Columbia address. The Bay Area had plenty of applicants qualified for the position.

Still, the job description was a perfect fit. Stagebridge, the oldest senior theatre troupe in America, wanted someone with storytelling, education and community development experience. I had all three. I spent a decade traveling as a storyteller and workshop leader. I taught every level from kindergarten through university. When I moved to a remote area where none of those skills was marketable, I reinvented myself as a community developer.

When I made the call, I was in the early stages of one of those horrible life transitions that come with ending a marriage, moving to a new town, and losing all sense of rootedness. I wrote to a friend, “I think perhaps news of the Stagebridge job came my way to remind me there are many opportunities ahead. I’ve no idea what they are or where they will take me, but even just knowing such a job and program exist gave me a boost.”

Stagebridge Theatre

Home of Stagebridge Theatre, America's oldest senior theatre troupe

The director was neutral but agreed to look at an application. I stuffed an envelope with resume, video, reports—anything I figured would support my strong suggestion he should hire me.

Two weeks passed. Mentally I moved on and set the opportunity behind me. Then came the call. I was invited to participate in a phone interview.

Telephones and introverts are an uneasy combination, but enthusiasm overcame reticence. I was invited to fly to Oakland and spend three days with the company. The hitch was that I had to pay my own flight. My finances were flat, but I didn’t care. I wanted the job.

For Christmas, a friend gave me a box of healing cards designed by Dr. Christiane Northrup. One of the first cards I pulled had this message: “Once you give yourself the time and space to express yourself fully…the Universe will move in to assist you.” I was ready for assistance.

Cathryn- Storyteller

Stagebridge storytellers bring smiles to intergenerational audience

In mid-January I flew from the deep snow of Prince George, British Columbia, to the kindly sun of Oakland, California. The next three days were a blur. The two people who had founded the company (the business and artistic directors) interviewed me for hours. I performed in an inner-city elementary school and gave a workshop with fourth graders. The administrative assistant took me to Sweetie Pie’s and Poppy’s for soul food and talk.

Then came the real test. No matter how well I connected with staff or performed for and with children, I had to win the support of the seniors I would be coaching. That night I wrote to my friend, “Watching faces, I knew they were loving the story I told them. After that we did an exercise to begin eliciting personal stories that might be gems they could take into schools. I gave them feedback, talked with them a bit about storytelling, and then left – telling them they had a chance to be the Romans, giving me thumbs up or thumbs down.”

All thumbs pointed up. I was offered the job. It was a huge risk. My marriage had been a creative success and a financial disaster. I could make better money and save more of it by continuing to do freelance contracts in northern British Columbia. Bay Area’s cost of living would take every penny I earned.

I weighed everything on an internal balance scale. On the “stay” side went better money, good friends, low expenses, and the security of being in a place where I was known professionally. On the “go” side went low salary, no friends, high costs, and starting over professionally.

The illusion of safety on the “stay” side, the prospect of adventure on the “go” side. I chose adventure.

Now I’m nearing 65, with memories of a fantastic experience in the Bay Area. After fifteen months there, I was recruited for a job back in British Columbia. I moved to Kelowna, where I knew no one, couldn’t afford to buy a place of my own, and had to create a brand new position.

Now I live in a lakeside condo with my new partner, but that’s another story.

Never be afraid to take a risk with your career! You never know when you’ll find your dream job.

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