Life after AmeriCorps: How AmeriCorps changed my career expectations

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I said in my last post that one of the best things someone could do during AmeriCorps was to be open to how AmeriCorps might change and shift your expectations of yourself and the path you’ll take. For some people, that might mean a sharp turn in a totally new direction. For me, AmeriCorps expanded my view of my career.

As someone who had just finished my Master’s in Educational Theatre, I naturally wanted to work doing educational theatre, and I still do. But I believed at the time that this meant my year in AmeriCorps, in a nonprofit, would be “just a stepping stone” to working with youth in a theatre company or education outreach program. I hadn’t considered what other possibilities service could open up. Here’s what I learned.

It set the tone for my next career move

As it turns out, I really enjoyed just working with the young men at the shelter, and being there as a mentor, teacher, and friend. In the 11 months of my service, I slowly shifted from wanting to be an arts educator who worked with youth, to being a youth mentor/educator who used the arts. That shift may sound subtle to you, but by the end of my term this was a big difference. It meant I wasn’t searching only to work with theaters or schools — instead I was looking for places where I could nurture, coach, and mentor young people that were open to me drawing on my arts background in that process. That shift in my thinking that AmeriCorps brought about has in turn set the tone for my endeavors to come.

I’m not saying I won’t still end up with a theatre company or education program — but they aren’t priorities anymore. My priority is how I can best use my skills and experience in the service of others. Based on my AmeriCorps experience, that means I have served young people with the knowledge and skills I have, and I will continue to do so.

It helped me hone in on what I have to offer

As I got deeper into service, I had to learn a lot about how to actually mentor and serve the young people with whom I was interacting. I found myself caught between different, opposing impulses: on the one hand, liking how my thinking was shifting and being humbled by that process; on the other, panicking that the shift was pulling me out of my comfort zone and leaving me clueless about how to do my job. How was I supposed to help these young men? I didn’t have mentoring experience, a counseling degree, or any of that.

Many days when those thoughts revved up, I had to say to myself, “Wait. Refocus. What can I offer?” I could share the many theatre games I know, especially the ones that have participants tell their own stories. That, and I could listen. I could offer playful, creative outlets for young men going through a challenging transition. Service didn’t change my career, but it changed the focus, and I honed in on how I could use my own skills in new contexts.

It prompted me to broaden my job search

Toward the end of my AmeriCorps experience, I knew that I wanted to work in nonprofits, with youth, and have my theatre education as my toolbox. But I still really only knew how to job search in schools and theatre companies. Navigating through the plethora of other organizations that were now on my radar wasn’t something I followed through on enough.

I had to do a bit more digging on different paths. Sometimes this meant a simple Internet search of, “Working as a ____,” and exploring work that seemed interrelated but was not always found together. For example, I learned that youth mentoring jobs are not on the same sites or involve the same people as behavioral coaching jobs (despite having similar outcomes). Nor do they have the same commitments or requirements. But neither was on my radar prior to AmeriCorps service.

Case in point, I’m still figuring out the best ways to actually do the nitty-gritty of job hunting. But as I said, being open to the changes that will happen, reframing your career based on the trajectory that AmeriCorps starts, and keeping the job search concurrent with your new discoveries will go a long way. In my next post I’ll get in to some of the doable things I’ve found effective in hunting for jobs, meeting the right people, and starting up something new after AmeriCorps.

What did service shift for you? How did you reframe your work as a result of new experiences during service? Would you career be the same if not for your AmeriCorps term? Share your stories in the comments.

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About Author

Caleb Winebrenner is a teaching artist based in Tempe, AZ. His work focuses on empowering youth through creative play, storytelling, and devised theatre -- and the more he does it, the more he loves it. He is currently working on a book of games and stories for community and youth development and launched a crowdfunding campaign to support it. He writes the blog Discovering Teaching Artistry and tweets, @caleb_teaches.

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