Gerald Garth: From Administrative Assistant To Director Of Operations
Many aspiring professionals are consistently looking for opportunities to work that evokes passion, purpose, and evolution. My journey has taken me through a winding road with my career beginning in accounting. I will share with you my Journey and 7 tips to Maximizing Your Opportunities.
I did undergraduate studies in accounting and English and moved directly into work in accounting for about 7 years, working in insurance and risk management. I was on a CPA fast track CPA and had been promoted to lead of a 7-member team of accounting clerks managing multi-million-dollar regional accounts. While I had lots of responsibility and upward mobility, my heart was not in the work. I realized it was important that I was doing work aligned with my values, work where I felt a direct and positive impact.
With that, I decided to reposition myself with a complete pivot into the nonprofit sector with a relocation from Baton Rouge, Louisiana to Los Angeles, moving from a competitive salaried role with a high-powered risk management firm to a part-time hourly accounting associate for a small nonprofit organization. And while, I had to completely rearrange, restructure, and minimize my life, the peace of mind and fulfillment I received was priceless.
My entre into community-based work allowed me to discover and homed in truly on my passion for people. During my time, I was promoted three times in four years—from associate to coordinator to manager.
I left the one community-based organization to again take a pay cut but position myself for the growth I knew I deserved and wanted to see for myself. I initially moved laterally—from Manager of Prevention and Care to Manager of Programs Operations, but I knew the position and the organization would give me the space and opportunity to grow personally and professionally.
Currently I serve as Director of Programs and Operations with the AMAAD Institute (Arming Minorities Against Addiction & Disease), overseeing a team that has grown from two in 2017 to a present-day, rapidly growing team of nearly 30. The role to date is my most rewarding, fulfilling, and best compensated.
As readers look at their own journeys and aspirations, I would like to share my Seven Tips to Maximizing Your Opportunities:
Know Your Worth
Being valued goes beyond any tax bracket. While earning a livable wage and being positioned for growth opportunity is key, being connected to good people and good work that allows you to see yourself where you want to be is paramount. When interviewing, not only is your potential new organization interviewing you, but you are also interviewing them. Make sure you are aligning yourself to be valued, in every sense of the phrase.
Be Your Own Biggest Advocate
Whether it’s negotiating salary, roles and responsibility, or tuna instead of turkey, speak up! Position yourself to speak up for what you need and what you want to see for yourself. If your current role does not look like what you’d like it to, have a candid conversation with your manager about professional development opportunities. When interviewing, talk to your interviewer about your own goals and how the role might be able to support your growth.
Stay Committed to Growth
Upon entry, you might not see or have access to the fullest of the organization’s development opportunities, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be committed to your own growth. Put yourself on a training calendar, read a book a month, identify a mentor, take a weekend class, or connect with YouTube videos and podcasts that give you what you need to get you where you want. Your role might not be able to back fully your immediate next steps, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still grow. In this digital age, the sky is the limit!
Embrace A Non-traditional Path
There’s a phrase I was raised with that says, “How you start is not how you have to finish.” What that means to me is that sometimes life takes you a different journey that you might have thought, but still gets you to your destination. For me, the journey was from corporate accounting to nonprofit leadership. I wouldn’t have imagined, but I see how the dots have and still are connecting. What do the dots of your journey look like? While you might not have all the answers, take a look at where you are and where you want to be and be open to what that process might look like.
Don’t Be Afraid to Take Risks
As cliché as it is, this is still a major component of personal growth. Sometimes you have to jump out and make it work. A phrase I read years ago said, “Step out on nothing and land on something.” And sometimes you have to do just that. Of course, use tact and wisdom, but be mindful not to talk yourself under a rock. Some of the best experiences come when you think big and move big. There’s nothing comfortable about your comfort zone.
Align yourself with people and opportunities that reflect what you want to see for yourself.
Authentic networking and relationship building are great ways to grow your circle and opportunities. Many interest-based groups and alliances can help connect you to people that may be able to support your next steps even in your current position. Take some time to clearly define who you are and join up with people and spaces that can give you insight and support.
You are the expert of your own experience.
No matter what you do or don’t do, nobody can tell your story like you. No matter what you do, show up as your authentic self. I say all the time, “People have to like you before the can like anything you bring.” With that, proudly and wholly acknowledge and own every step of your process. More often that not, it is your individuality that sets you apart above anything else.
On the surface, I was seemingly “all over the place,” but I realize that each of those steps prepared me for this moment—and these moments are preparing me for the next. I did not have a traditional path and many of us don’t. I finished college at almost 30 and had a career change a few years after.
Many of our experiences come together to point us in the direction for our next chapter. “Body of Work” by Pamela Slim is a great book that has helped me see that all of our experiences, good and otherwise, come together to grow us personally and professionally.
I believe no knowledge is wasted knowledge. Readers should be encouraged to follow their own journeys, give yourself some grace along the way, and know that your process is like no one else’s—and celebrate that and enjoy the ride!