The next big thing

Jun 17, 2013 by

Four years. That’s how long I worked at Smart Growth America (SGA). That’s twice as long as I’ve been at any job before (hell, that’s longer than most political terms of office or a Hollywood marriage). The last four years have also included some of the most profound personal, professional and business-related milestones I’ve ever experienced in my life: getting married, buying a house, starting my career coaching side hustle, serving as a YNPNdc leadership team member, being appointed to serve on the Arlington County Transportation Commission and probably dozens of other things I can’t even remember.

My experience at SGA, combined with all of these other experiences, have led to me to where I am today: accepting a job with Rescue Social Change Group (Rescue SCG) as their Youth Engagement Director. This new position is quite a departure from the work I was doing on smart growth, community development, land use and transportation to a focus solidly on social change among youth, with a particular focus on health issues – especially anti-tobacco use and anti-obesity. I wasn’t particularly looking for this opportunity (or any other job for that matter), which seems to make it even more serendipitous.

But here’s the thing: it’s exactly where I need, want and PLANNED to be, right from the beginning.

Remember how I was going to change the world? My method for doing that was to organize, outreach, advocate and create social change by training and teaching others to do it effectively. Several years ago, I decided that my goal was to lead the field department of a major national nonprofit. Now, Rescue SCG isn’t a nonprofit – it’s actually a for-profit so this will be my first foray into that sector – and they don’t technically have a ‘field’ department, but I will be managing a team of staff on the ground, working with youth to do targeted campaigns to reduce tobacco use and obesity among their peers. In other words: I get to do almost exactly what I set out to do over 10 years ago when I started this journey known as my career. Awesome!

After my last big job search, I wrote a series of posts sharing a bunch of tips and resources for job searching (here, here, here, here and here). While I’m still completely on-board with those tips, I thought I’d write a little bit about the different type of job search inherent in a director-level job.

Here are three things I think were a big part of my success in landing this new job:

  1. While I was asked to apply for this new job, I wasn’t 100% qualified for it – and I knew that. Taking over a large team scattered all around the country when I have only supervised a few associates, fellows and interns based in a central office? Managing multiple client relationships simultaneously when I’ve only ever managed one or two at a time? I didn’t have everything I needed for this job. But what I did have was lots of different kinds of experiences in management, client relationships, etc., a willingness to learn, grow and get better and a fire in my belly to take this next step in my career. In fact, I was actually told that this fire was part of the reason I was hired. That fire and the drive to succeed can and will be recognized by those hiring for senior level managers.
  2. Again, even though I wasn’t actively searching for a job, I was prepared if an opportunity came up (you know how I feel about being prepared, especially as a job seeker). When I got asked to apply, it only took me a few days to pull together my application materials; my resume was already updated and I had writing samples ready and waiting. The only thing I needed to write was the cover letter. Maybe more importantly, I had a storehouse of good, recent examples demonstrating my management skills, budget experience, campaign knowledge, etc. The ability to answer some of those difficult questions with relevant examples certainly made interviewing easier for me and likely helpful for my new employer in making their decision.
  3. Finally, I interviewed them as much as they interviewed me. I must have asked at least 15 to 20 questions in each interview I did and of course did a ton of research on their website, did Google searches and checked out LinkedIn profiles. When accepting a senior level position with a lot of responsibility, I think that its only fair to have a really complete picture of what you’ll be expected to do as well as when, how and what types of serious organizational decision making you’ll be asked (or required) to do. Even if your goal is to gain that decision-making authority, transitioning from a role where you don’t have much of it to one where you may have all of it is pretty daunting and you need to know where you stand before you say ‘yes’.

With all of this in mind and the promise of a very busy schedule for the foreseeable future, I’m going to take a hiatus from writing in this space for the next few months. I want (and need!) to be able to get a handle on everything before I can reasonably split my attention again. But don’t worry: with my new role, new responsibilities and new challenges will come lots of great fodder for the blog. In the interim, you can of course connect with me on Twitter and I’ll still be offering career coaching services, especially resume and cover letter review.

Thanks so much and wish me luck!

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Faster than the speed of light: my review of 2012

Dec 31, 2012 by

My good friend and life coach extraordinaire Rosetta Thurman of Happy Black Woman recently posted some incredibly helpful questions to help guide her readers through a review of 2012. I’ve used these questions to take a look back at 2012. Coming up soon, I’ll be borrowing her questions to take a look forward at 2013.

Balboa Peninsula at sunset. - November 18, 2012 at 08:42PM

Balboa Peninsula at sunset.

This review was really helpful for me, partly because it just forced me to sit down and think back on what has been an incredibly fast, busy, crazy, stressful, but ultimately satisfying year. I encourage you to give a try too, even if you just write it down for yourself. (And my photo year in review sprinkled throughout the post – courtesy of Instagram)!


What I Want to Remember About 2012

What was the most valuable lesson you learned this year?

What I learned is really something that I already knew (or should have known), but needed to have reinforced: that I’m extremely privileged in many ways, but that I still don’t know everything. In fact, I know almost nothing. Knowing and owning that was the only way for me to move forward through some of the most difficult challenges of my life.

What was the biggest personal milestone you reached this year in your relationships, health, finances, education and/or lifestyle?

My husband and I bought a house! Obviously this has lots of financial, personal and lifestyle implications and so far I’m really happy with the decision. While I don’t believe in the necessity of ‘checking the boxes’ to get to grown-up-ness, it does feel good for both of us to attain a mutual financial and life goal.

What professional accomplishments (at work or in your business) were you most proud of this year?

Long Beach harbor, as seen from the Queen Mary. - November 20, 2012 at 09:21PM

Long Beach harbor, as seen from the Queen Mary.

I’m most proud about developing, almost from scratch, a brand new set of trainings for folks around the country doing planning, land use, transportation and urban design work. This year, I’ve spent almost 80% of my time (at my full-time job) working with these folks and the opportunity to build and deliver trainings that are useful to them has been really satisfying for me.

What was your favorite family/friends moment from 2012?

I have two favorites this year: First would be my family’s ‘Christmas in July’ camping trip earlier this year. Though my sister couldn’t attend due to a last minute work issue, we still had a great time. My mom brought a small Christmas tree that she fully decorated and also wrapped up a bunch of presents for us. And of course we did our usual family camping activities: sitting in front of the fire, eating, drinking (lots of) alcohol, playing lawn games and occasionally taking a short walk (we’re a lazy bunch, as you can tell). It was great!

Second was the Team Awesome Reunion of YNPNdc Communications Committee members, hosted by my good friend Emily and her husband Neil at their lovely house. We had been working together for two years but rarely spent any social time together and so we had a long, leisurely barbecue and just talked. There is almost nothing that I love more than spending time with friends so this particular party was ideal.

What was the best book/blog/song/movie/restaurant/city/country/etc. you discovered this year?

This is a tough one. I read voraciously, watch lots of movies and travel all of the time so I’m constantly discovering cool new things and places. Here are a couple highlights:

  • I read the Hunger Games series (3 books) at the beginning of the year and they really shook me to the core. With the most complicated, frustrating, amazing protagonist, beautiful writing style and diverse, devastating thematic elements I’ve read in a long time, they are definitely at the top of the list.
  • The City of Portland, ME – A couple of colleagues and I visited there for a training and we were completely charmed. Granted, we stayed in the most tourist friendly area, Old Port, but I was still impressed by how picturesque everything was. Plus, there are plenty of direct flights there, tons of amazing restaurants everywhere and plenty of cute shops for me to spend my tourist dollar in (I always try to support locally owned businesses when traveling). My husband and I now have it on our list as a vacation spot in the future.

    Beautiful flowers from my sweet husband on our first anniversary. I'm the luckiest woman in the world!

    Beautiful flowers from my sweet husband on our first anniversary. I’m the luckiest woman in the world!


What I Want to Leave Behind As I Enter 2013

Which personal development area(s) did you make the LEAST progress on this year: health, finances, education, relationships, family, work and/or lifestyle?

Education. While I did some things in the course of my work that were challenging and required me to learn, I did not spend as much time on it as I wanted. And to be honest, I’m not sure where to go next in terms of my education – barring grad school which I can’t afford for the next couple of years.

What promises (to yourself or others) did you break in 2012?

I repeatedly broke my promise to myself to let go of things more. Out of all my flaws, holding grudges/obsessing over things long over is one of my worst.

What arguments/gossip/hurtful comments, if any, did you participate in or make this year that you wish you could take back and/or apologize for?

Too many to count. My husband and I argued about the house a LOT (far more than we’ve ever argued over anything else in our 7 years together). I gossiped a lot about friends, family, co-workers and others and much of that gossip was judgmental in nature. While I don’t feel the need to apologize for all of it (I don’t think gossip per se is a bad thing but it can easily turn bad), there is a lot I regret.

What opportunities, if any, did you miss out on in 2012 because of fear or procrastination?

This is our kitchen at the moment.

This is our kitchen at the moment.

I missed out on some guest blogging opportunities as well as some opportunities to speak at conferences or meetings due to procrastination.

What did you do in 2012, if anything, that was out of alignment with your values?

I didn’t always pitch in at work when it was needed. I really believe in everyone working together to get a job done, but I let my frustration at specific events obscure that value.


A few more pictures:

Smart growth; Charlottesville pedestrian mall edition

Shenandoah Valley dreaming.

A view of our new neighborhood from our new front door.

Christmas spirit in the office!




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In order to build, sometimes you must first destroy

Nov 5, 2012 by

Here is how the breakdown happens:


As the stress and exhaustion and information and frustration pile on, you begin to peel off. The layers of you. The faces you show the world. The disguises you wear. It all peels back until there is nothing but raw you exposed. Every little poke hurts. Every breeze freezes you. You lose all ability to protect yourself from what once wouldn’t have bothered you.


In short: you break down.


But then, you start to scab over. Your layers start to come back one by one, some more slowly than others. Just like any scab, you may pick at it once in a while and you may even relish the pain. But mostly, you are just grateful to have your skin back. To put on your face. To see your raw self in the rearview. To be built back up.


Here’s the good part:


Every breakdown destroys the structure less thoroughly than the one before. Every build up is done more deliberately and carefully than the last. Because sometimes, you have to destroy before you can rebuild.


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Stressed to the point of breaking

Aug 27, 2012 by

The next 3 months are going to be the most stressful of my life. I tend to handle stress pretty well, but I’m a little worried about it nonetheless.*

In the next three months my husband and I are going to buy a house, renovate the kitchen in that house, as well as paint and do a bunch of other smaller repairs, and then move into the house. That would be plenty, but throw in work travel to no less than five places – Omaha, Knoxville, Portland (ME), San Francisco and Denver, most of which require me to lead trainings either single-handedly or with one other person – and you have a recipe for a very, very, stressed out Elisa.

It’s gonna suck and its gonna be great at the same time.

The suck – in a word: exhausting. Traveling is exhausting under the most ideal conditions (like when I’m jetting off to the Caribbean). Traveling for work seems to exhaust me even more because of well, work. While I don’t feel obligated to spend every spare second that I’m on the plane or in the hotel working, I do need to spend a substantial amount of time writing, answering emails, taking calls, etc. And then after I arrive, I often go straight to a meeting or training where I need to stand up in front of a bunch of people and put my best self forward. As a result, I consume far too much caffeine, tend to socialize with those folks over too many drinks, eat all kinds of food I wouldn’t ordinarily, and avoid exercise in favor of sleep (but still don’t get enough).

Buying a house, renovating it and moving are also sucky; each in their own special way. Giving up my life savings and the next 30 years of my money to a mortgage company is terrifying and involves more paperwork than I’ve dealt with in my entire life combined. Renovating brings paralyzing fear of screwing things up or having a contractor do it for you, spending even more money and then potentially having to live in a house where you have to wash the dishes in the bathroom tub. Not fun. And of course moving: packing, purging, cleaning, breaking, losing, organizing, re-organizing and so much more.

I’m so tired just thinking about it.

On the other hand…there are lots of great things here too.

The decision to buy a home is a direct fulfillment of one of my themes for this year: to shit or get off the pot. After much discussion and weighing the pros and cons, my husband and I decided that, in the short term, buying a house was a better decision for us than me going to grad school (I’m still planning to go in a few years once our savings have recouped). The place we’re buying is a great deal and it feels even better because we stuck to our guns through a really tough house hunt to get what we wanted. We’re finally going to have a second bedroom, the opportunity to have pets and a little piece of the American dream.

All the travel I’m going to be doing for work is actually very exciting since I’ll be doing what I love most: training and teaching people. On top of that, I get to train them on some of the skills that I have the most experience in and passion for: organizing, outreach, stakeholder engagement, messaging, communications and coalition building. The trainings will allow them to do their work better, thereby improving thousands of lives all over the country; it’s everything a dyed-in-the-wool idealist could ask for.

How am I going to handle all of this?

I’m going to focus on getting enough sleep, eating right, and exercising whenever I can, even if its just for a short while. I’m going to take lots of deep breaths and moments to myself whenever I can. I’m going to ask myself constantly: “What is the most important to do right now?” And then I’ll do it. I’m going to rely on my support system of friends and family. And I might just cry once in a while – its a great way to release that gigantic stressball for a bit.

What other suggestions do you have when dealing with stress? What should I do to keep relatively happy and healthy? Let me know in the comments!


*I may not post as frequently for the next few months, so bear with me. I am thinking about some posts around the training topics I’m working on for my travel, but I’m always open to ideas and suggestions from my readers.

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Moving on with gratitude

Aug 6, 2012 by

After two great years, I’m wrapping up my YNPNdc leadership position. It’s time to pass the torch onto others who can help lead YNPNdc to even greater things. But just like a lot of transitions, this one is bitter-sweet.

I’ve learned so much since I started with YNPNdc: organizational operations, board operations, maximizing content across multiple communications channels, working with others (especially when you have no power or authority over them), and so much more. I’ve made so many great friends that I know will be there for me in the years ahead; these same people are outstanding professionals in their own right and having them in my professional network will be valuable in the future as we all move into leadership positions in our organizations. I know that I’ve grown as a person and a nonprofit professional from this experience and I believe I’ve been able to help others grow as well.

On the other hand, I’m excited to reclaim a large chunk of time to use in different ways. I’m happy that my email volume will be reduced (by a lot) and that I’ll be able to really focus on other things that matter to me. And my husband is happy that I’ll be home more :).

So what’s next?

For a while, I think I’ll take advantage of the extra time by reading and catching up on some of the household and life chores that I’ve been putting off (for instance: the nearly one-year-old pile of stuff to put in my wedding scrapbook). Then I want to follow my own advice and develop a plan for growing my career coaching business significantly in terms of number of clients, type of work and financial gain.

And in a year or two I would like to join a board again; this time, I’d like a position on a strategic/advisory board as opposed to a working board (which is what YNPNdc’s is). There are so many great nonprofits in the DC metro area and I can’t wait to work with one or more of them!

I can’t express enough how grateful I am to the other leaders of YNPNdc – especially the communications committee – for welcoming me into the fold two years ago and letting me grow and learn with them. It’s been such a fun and rewarding experience and I can’t recommend it more highly to all of you out there.

Thanks for the memories YNPNdc!


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