Cooking Up Your Career


At this point in my life, I have no idea what I’m baking, but that’s ok because I’m still rounding up all of my ingredients.

If you didn’t attend November’s Breakfast of Champions, this makes absolutely no sense. Judy Alnes, executive director of MAP for Nonprofits, spoke at this breakfast and gave some reassurance to those in the room who had questions or doubts about their careers. Do I go back to school for another degree? How do I stand out in a sea of resumes? How do I better position myself for a promotion within my current organization?

“I like to think of careers as recipes,” said Alnes. In your 20s, you’re gathering the ingredients. You’re finishing your degree; you’re getting work experience; you’re meeting people in your field. In your 30s, you’re sifting, stirring, pouring and mixing those ingredients. This is where you find your niche, where you sharpen your story.

Somewhere in these years, you’ll probably experience heartbreak. I have. Sometimes it feels like the heartbreak won’t ever end. You might ask yourself, “What do I do with these raw ingredients? Where can I take this energy for making the world a better place?” Alnes said the answer to that is wherever the job and organization are right for who you are and what you care about. She said to be brave, and to trot out that willingness to be rejected.

In finishing off the recipe, Alnes said you’re being intentional about what your making in your 40s. In your 50s, you’re almost done; the food is in the oven and it just needs a little more time. Your 60s are for enjoying what you’ve created.

Alnes said through all of this, your entire career, it’s important to focus on the impact you’re making. “Positional opportunities come because you’ve been successful reaching for impact,” she said.

The executive director was specific with those who asked for advice: pay your way through college, think big and act strong, stand out among job applicants by being curious about the organization, and tell your story – even if your story is that you earned a master’s degree from the School of Hard Knocks.

So even though many of us may not know what recipe we’re baking, yet, we shouldn’t let it stop us from getting our ingredients together. This leaves me with one question for Alnes: Is retirement dessert?

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