Sunday, April 29, 2007

Other stuff I've been up to lately

Notes on various things I've been up to:

This past week, I attended a concert, a lecture, and three masterclasses that were all part of the Art of the Song Festival at Santa Clara University. It was a perfect opportunity because I love art song and all of the events were free! Not to mention that I'm now able to go to daytime weekday events, like the masterclasses. I enjoy sitting in on the classes; I get a lot out of watching the students get critiqued. Plus, voice lessons aren't cheap, so I try to avail myself of free educational opportunities when they arise. Santa Clara has voice students in a range of levels, including a few really stellar singers.

My social life is improving and I'm grateful to have more time to spend with people than I did when I was working. Most recently, I've had lunch and dinner get-togethers with college friends who have been in town, a number of former coworkers, and some other friends. More get-togethers are forthcoming.

As a bonus, some of the folks I've been getting together with have gone through, or know someone who has gone through, a career transition like the one I'm attempting, and they are enthusiastic in sharing their experiences and information. I had dinner with R. and B. yesterday. R. spent some time sharing with me the results of the What Color is Your Parachute? exercises that he found most helpful in planning his past career transitions. B. has transitioned from high-tech HR into management/leadership coaching. She recommends the Cupertino Rotary Job Search Support Group as a local resource for career changers in addition to regular job hunters. I bet she also has some good insights from both her careers as well as her personal career transition experience.

I'm making slow but steady progress on the piano. Most days I work on scales, exercises, and a couple of songs from Schaum Book D. I've made it to song #5, a cheesy medley of stripped-down Strauss waltzes :) As part of each practice session, I try either to sight-read some new piece of music (often a piano accompaniment to a choral/vocal piece that I'm working on), or play through some music theory exercises from my harmony and counterpoint textbook.

I've been knocking myself out, putting together a transitional résumé that I want to email to New American Dream next Monday. It's been quite a few years since I last updated my résumé. I'm trying to create a hybrid résumé that includes not only my software development experience but also my activism and volunteer work. My goal is to have my résumé convey the following messages to New American Dream: the section on software experience says "I'm smart/technical/experienced enough to do the job", and the section on activism/volunteerism says "I'm motivated to work for New Dream because I'm committed to your issues and have the track record to prove it". My résumé also needs to compensate for the shortcoming of not having the exact skill set and background needed for website development.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Voice lesson #2

Yay! After postponing a couple of times due to my family emergency followed by a cold that temporarily messed up my voice, I finally made it to voice lesson #2. We did some vocalises, and also worked on “Lasciatemi morire” by Monteverdi.

I’m beginning to get a glimpse of how challenging it will be to study voice! After 15+ years of singing experience, I thought I would be (or at least feel) more prepared than I am. But it turns out I still have some old habits to break, and new ones to form. I’m looking forward to the challenge, though.

I felt like my performance of “Lasciatemi morire” was kind of crappy. It’s partly because my teacher gave me four new things to incorporate into my technique that run against the grain of my current singing habits. It puts my performance off-kilter because of course I can’t master the new stuff 10 minutes after it’s introduced. (Which is what practice time is for.) The other thing is that I have a great deal of respect for my teacher, which actually makes me nervous and slightly intimidated to sing in front of him by myself. I’m sure I’ll get over the nerves eventually. In the meantime, thank god for patient voice teachers who can listen to crappy singing and yet still recognize any potential one may have and understand that improvement will come with time, practice, and patience.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

A date with destiny: calling New American Dream to explore job possibilities

I just wrapped up a call with M., a staff member at New American Dream, to explore employment possibilities there. I got a really enthusiastic reception, and M. described several of their recent initiatives for which she thought I could be a good fit. The response was so promising that I am a little scared and breathless now, know what I mean?!?!

In retrospect, I think the most critical actions I took are the ones I describe in "What I did to prepare for the call (long-term)", below. I didn't realize it at the time, nor did I deliberately take those steps with a job hunt in mind. But in hindsight, those actions helped me build relationships with the New Dream staff and demonstrate a track record of activism and enthusiastic support for their mission. They laid the groundwork for today's call.

What I did to prepare for the call (short-term):
  • Read their annual reports for the last 3 years, looked at trends in their campaigns and financials (both of which could have a bearing on hiring)
  • Read their current job listings
  • Read about their staff members, noted their educational backgrounds and work experience (in case I need to acquire more formal education in certain areas, or more related work experience)
  • Made an outline of my interests/skills that could be useful to the organization (see below)
  • Made a list of questions to ask during the call (see below)
  • Made a list of additional points I wanted to communicate to the organization (see below)
  • Browsed some websites about informational interviews to get ideas about what questions to ask during the call (I'll post these websites in a later entry)
What I did to prepare for the call (long-term):
  • Supported New Dream financially and through my self-directed volunteer/activism efforts for 6+ years
  • Evangelized their message and promote their programs to others in my community
  • Interacted and got acquainted with several members of their staff
    • Emailed my input, ideas, feedback, and compliments on their work, writings, and programs
    • Kept them updated on my local activism efforts to promote their message
    • Met with them whenever they were in town
My interests and skills:
  • Serving as a West Coast presence for New Dream
  • Applying my tech skills to develop website content and online activism tools
  • Writing for publications and other materials, maybe even grant proposals(?)
  • Developing campaigns/programs
  • Outreach efforts/grassroots activism
  • Contributing lots of energy, enthusiasm, and ideas
  • Administrative work
What I planned to ask during the call (I only got around to the first three):
  • What do you see as the organization's priorities in the next 1-2 years?
  • Which programs are expanding and hiring?
  • What education background and work experience make candidates most attractive to New Dream?
  • What skills are in greatest need at New Dream?
  • What kinds of personalities are the most successful at New Dream?
  • Is there anything else I should know about the employment outlook at New Dream?
  • Is it ok if I contact you once or twice during the coming year to follow up and get updated on the hiring situation?
Additional points I wanted to communicate during the call (I only got around to the first):
  • Working remotely for New Dream is my #1 dream job.
  • I prefer full-time, but I'm open to alternative work arrangements - part-time, contract, unpaid/volunteer (but only on a temporary/trial basis - I still need to pay the bills :-)
  • My interest in working at New Dream is long-term. If nothing is available in my desired timeframe, please continue to keep me informed about opportunities that arise at a later time.
  • Whatever the outcome of these career discussions/explorations is, it will not affect my future support of New Dream financially or otherwise. I have a fundamental belief in your mission and will continue to support it to the extent that I have the resources to do so.
What I learned during the call:
  • New Dream is in the process of transforming from an awareness-raising organization into one that advocates and achieves actions (on a collective cultural/institutional/governmental level as well as individual/personal actions). They want to expand their message and philosophy from a limited realm of "cultural creatives" into the mainstream culture.
  • Their programs and their coverage in the media have been growing so quickly that they have been swamped with work. (Sounds like it was a good time to approach them for a job...)
  • New Dream has been doing a lot of hiring recently and plans to do more hiring in the immediate future.
    • Specific positions:
      • Carbon Program Director: someone with a lot of organizing experience, an extrovert, go-getter, very persuasive person.
      • Development Officer: to develop a database of small/emerging donors
    • General qualifications:
      • A college degree
      • Lots of energy and drive, on fire about the issues addressed by New Dream, thinks about this stuff at night (M. said that I fit this profile!)
  • High-priority programs in the coming year:
    • Carbon program (new): They have recently been awarded several grants for this. It will include a program with six steps that individuals can take, a component for assisting local county/municipal governments with meeting their CO2 reduction goals, and other initiatives. Most of the program content will be new; the only existing campaign to be folded into the carbon program is Declare Your Independence from Junk Mail.
    • Alternative Gift Registry: An online gift registry for weddings, baby showers, and other occasions that includes not just traditional material gifts from a variety of stores, but charitable donations and non-material gifts as well (e.g. "babysitting for a day", "mow your lawn for a month", etc.)
    • Conscious Consumer website: Will be expanded significantly. It will also incorporate an "epinions" feature with user reviews of the various green products recommended by the website.
    • A general revamp of their website
What opportunities I found exciting:
  • Definitely the web development stuff for the Alternative Gift Registry, the Conscious Consumer website, and the general website revamp. I heard that their IT guy has way too much web development work to do, so maybe it's a good time for me to step in!
What I will do to follow up:
  • Send a thank-you email to M. Include some of the additional points I didn't get to mention during the call. Request the link to the Alternative Gift Registry proposal and related documents.
  • Contact New Dream's IT guy. I have some ideas on how to market myself to the IT guy; I'll post these in a later entry.
  • Think about a possible collaboration between my Resources for Sustainable Weddings website and the Alternative Gift Registry; follow up with M. on this.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Non-profit positions at About-Face and Hands On Bay Area

Filing these for future reference. I'm not taking action on them at this time, but I'm noting them down as examples of opportunities that are available locally and may match some of my interests.

Hands On Bay Area is looking for project leaders to lead events in their corporate volunteer program. These are paid positions.

About-Face in San Francisco is looking for board members and volunteers. This is a fabulous little shoestring operation that is looking to grow into a fabulous mid-size organization. I've been supporting them for a few years now. Their mission statement: "About-Face's mission is to equip women and girls with tools to understand and resist the harmful stereotypes of women the media disseminates."

More words of wisdom from others

Here are various thoughts and tidbits of advice that people have shared with me recently:

"I'd say to give it time, lots of time. Slow down. Relax. There's time... What I discovered was that it took a solid month before I stopped busily filling each day, making plans and to-do lists and schedules, and simply woke up in the morning, and was present, centered, and relaxed."

"Do you know that Hayward State has a masters in non-profit management? Might be good to have some of those classes on your resume - I think it would demonstrate how serious you are."

"From all I can see, have read, heard etc. it seems one needs, whenever possible, to be self-employed, for at least some of their work."

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The measure of a man

Well, the Messiah Sing at West Valley Presbyterian didn't happen for me, because I suddenly had more urgent business to attend to. A week and a half ago, I got on a last-minute flight to Canada to see my ailing uncle. Only four weeks ago, he seemed in good health, joking, laughing, and playing tennis and golf with his buddies. Then he unexpectedly suffered a series of heart attacks and strokes. Sadly, by the time I arrived, he had already been unconscious for several days, and he died the following day.

I have fond memories of my uncle and much affection for him, but it was only when his family and friends converged to pay him tribute one last time that I finally got a glimpse of his true measure. I was particularly moved by the following two stories that were told at the funeral service, and I wish to remember them as examples by which to lead my own life.

In one story, an elderly woman described how last year she had been waiting at a bus stop on a cold and windy winter day. The bus was more than 45 minutes late. The woman's hands and face were freezing, she felt miserable, and she was too tired to walk home. She saw a car pass by, and a few minutes later, the same car came around again and pulled up next to her. It turned out to be my uncle and aunt, who offered her a ride home, though they were strangers at the time. When she arrived home, she thanked them and invited them into her home, but they had another engagement and could not come in. The woman expressed deep regret that she did not give them a proper thank-you while my uncle was still living, but she told us that she would never forget that one small act of kindness.

The second story was related by a woman who had lived in the same apartment building as my aunt and uncle years ago years ago in Montreal. At the time, they were all relatively recent immigrants from the Philippines. She laughingly told us that when she met my uncle, her first impression of him was that he looked like a shady character, with his big mustache and belt. That winter, there was a blizzard severe enough that people were sent home from schools and offices. The woman and her husband did not have a car, but she managed to get a ride from her office to the day care center where her young son was. She then called my uncle to ask if he could drive to the day care center to pick them up, and although they didn't know each other well at the time, he agreed to come get them. It took him much longer than expected to pick them up, and when he arrived, she found out why. My uncle's car wouldn't start, so he had walked a mile and a half through the blizzard to the day care center to come get them. He then walked them home, against the wind, while carrying her son. Later on, my uncle and aunt, having two daughters but no sons of their own, took the woman's son under their wing. They became like second parents to him, and with the attention and love they gave him, this timid boy blossomed into a self-confident young person.

Having heard these stories, I wish I had known my uncle better. He was a founder and officer of various civic organizations in his community, and led or participated in a number of charitable initiatives, both in Canada and the Philippines. He also recently fulfilled his dream of building a house on the island where he grew up, although he did not get to invite his entire extended family to vacation there, as he had wanted. Before last week, I did not know any of these things about my uncle. Perhaps he would have had some wisdom to share with me about where to go next on my life path.

On a side note, while I was in Canada, I myself was the beneficiary of an act of kindness from a stranger. I met a man who introduced himself as a childhood friend not only of my uncle, but also of my late father. He said he had some old photos of my dad from their scouting days. The next time I saw this man, he showed me the photos of my dad and his scout troop in 1959, when he was 15 years old. Then he gave them to me, saying that the photos had meant a lot to him, but he knew that they would mean even more to me. It was a gift that moved me almost to tears.