During a nearly 30-year career working in customs brokerage houses, Sandie Seymour often found herself helping co-workers and friends prepare their resumes and find new jobs.
Now, at age 59, the Surrey, British Columbia, resident has transformed that occasional avocation into her full-time work by helping Canadian immigrants find jobs and adjust to their new homes. Best of all, Sandie said, “I love it. I wish I’d done it earlier.”
Sandie started re-orienting herself toward a career change in 2002 and 2003. She worked for her husband in a customs brokerage business, and “things weren’t going so well, relationship-wise,” she said. She took some time off and went through a career exploration course, which concluded that she was best suited to employment counseling or religious work.
She wasn’t surprised by the result. In fact, a few years earlier in another class called “Building Your Field of Dreams,” she determined that she wanted “to empower women to live the lives that they had the potential to live. So I was thinking about that in terms of career.”
Based on the results of those two programs, Sandie set about changing careers. With lots of support from her family and friends, she took a six-month employment counseling diploma course. A government grant paid for the course.
“I loved the course. The biggest challenge was personally. I was going through a really rough time with my marriage and with my children … It was pretty topsy-turvy emotionally.”
Even with the employment-counseling certificate, the career transformation didn’t happen immediately. She and her husband split, and she found herself needing a job. There were no immediate prospects for an employment counseling position, so she fell back on her experience and went back to work in customs brokerages, first in Saskatoon then back in Vancouver. “It was easy. I knew it.”
Role in play leads to volunteer position
But after a couple of years, she was unhappy and bored. One day she decided to try out for a part in “The Vagina Monologues,” which was being performed to raise money for a local non-profit agency. “I never expected to be actually cast, and I was!”
Coincidentally, the non-profit was launching a new project to provide employment counseling for homeless people on Wednesday evenings and Saturdays. She volunteered to help, “and it was an immediate fix. I fell in love with the people and the job and everything I was doing. I felt like it was my real job. I was working 40 hours a week at this other job, and every Wednesday and every Saturday I was working at this other job with the agency.”
“I don’t know how to quite describe the feeling. I was totally 100 percent present … and I would say that at my other job I was probably 95 percent absent.”
Twice the agency posted a full-time position in the program and asked Sandie to apply. She turned them down, once because she wasn’t confident that she was ready, and the second time because her daughter was about to get married, and Sandie didn’t feel it was good time to start a new job.
The posting was closed, and a month later Sandie asked who had gotten the job. She was told they hadn’t found anyone they liked. She asked if it was still open, and they gave her the job. She worked there for four years before moving to her current position as workshop facilitator for S.U.C.C.E.S.S.
She laughed when I asked if she had to take a cut in pay when she took her first employment-counseling job. She expected to because the hourly pay rate was $1 an hour less, and she made plans to cut back some of her expenses. It turns out her work week was 2.5 hours longer than she expected, and because she was working for a non-profit, her benefits weren’t taxed as they were in her previous job. She ended up with more take-home pay, plus she had more vacation and holiday time.
“I was better off with this new job, even though I believed when I took it on that I would be worse off.”
Looking back on her career transformation, Sandie said the most important thing was the volunteering. “When I started volunteering it was from my heart. It was something that I was compelled to do — compelled from the inside. The best advice I could give to anyone is to follow your heart.”
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