This blog is on topics of interest to early career professionals who work with people with disabilities. Blog contributors have diverse perspectives on leadership, professional development, and success in changing systems to better serve people with disabilities and their families. For more information on Early Career Professionals, check out the website: www.aucd.org/ecp

18 August, 2010

Learn, Learn and Learn!

Little did I know when I made early education choices what impact they would have on my early career! While long-term planning is not one of my strongest skills, I have always tried to learn as much as possible about everything. And so far it has proven very helpful and I have come to realize that in my current position I am using knowledge that I had thought virtually useless.

When I was in high-school in my native country Romania, I took intensive computer programming and database management classes, which back then I found interesting. But by the end of high-school, I decided I did not want to see the blue screen of death in Turbo Pascal anymore. So I went to college and got my Bachelor’s Degree in Economics, with a concentration in Tourism Management. When I was in the last year of undergrad, I —on a whim— applied for and was offered an eighteen month position with Marriott International. In my thirst to discover the world, I excitedly took the job and in September 2006 joined the team of the Renaissance Hotel in Washington, DC, as Event Operations Supervisor.

This position at the hotel gave me the opportunity to meet diverse people and work on a variety of meetings and events. There are several conferences I worked that I remember in particular. AUCD’s Annual Meeting and Conference is definitely one of them. It made a lasting impression on me because I became aware of the organization’s dedication to helping achieve inclusion of people with disabilities. I don’t think I have shared this memory with anyone from AUCD before, but I would like to share it with you. During one of the sessions at AUCD’s 2007 Annual Meeting —while I was on the Renaissance staff— I joined the attendees in walking around and looking at posters set-up on the sides of the ballroom. As I was glancing at the poster of a red-haired healthy woman smiling happily at me, a lady approached me. She was in a wheelchair, and we talked for a couple minutes. Then, as we were both looking at the poster of the healthy woman, she told me it was herself before ALS affected her… Needless to say, her story moved me. But beyond that, I developed a genuine appreciation and admiration for an organization whose mission is to help improve others’ lives. And since this lady attended their event, it was clear proof that not only was their mission a very generous one, but they were also doing a wonderful job.

During my eighteen months at the Renaissance Hotel, I started to consider some options for a master’s degree. I researched further, and as I was enjoying my position in the Events Department, I decided to apply for the Master of Tourism Administration, a professional degree offered by the George Washington University School of Business. I was admitted into the program, and started in the fall of 2008. I was a full-time student, and I was also working 20 hours a week as a Graduate Assistant. Even though my schedule was pretty busy, I decided I wanted to do more. Well, coincidence or not, I received an email via the school listserv, which advertised a Meetings Intern position with AUCD! I thought it was a great learning opportunity for me and I also remembered the admiration I had for the organization. I still knew the names of a couple staff members I had met during the Annual Meeting! So, I crafted the best cover letter I could and applied for the internship. They remembered me too, and I was excited to get the internship. It was a pretty busy time juggling school and work, but I feel I learned very much and came to discover that AUCD is indeed a wonderful organization.

After graduating this past May, I became a full-time staff member at AUCD. As Project Assistant, I am using the diverse knowledge I talked about in the introduction of my blog. I am helping with meeting planning and coordination, which is what I started with as Meetings Intern. But I have also taken additional responsibilities and am putting to work the computer programming and database management skills I gained in my earlier education. It feels good to use these skills again, and I am ever so glad that I can contribute even a tiny bit to the generous and meaningful work of integrating people with disabilities. Moreover, I have understood the importance of a job that is driven by mission, and that is my strongest incentive to come to work every day.

In the end, I would just like to emphasize again the importance of continuous learning. My story illustrates how knowledge I gained just for its own sake became surprisingly useful later in life. Constantly look for something new and improve your knowledge. Remember to expand your horizons, because everything you learn will serve you someday, maybe when you least expect it. Having a long term goal and vision is very useful to guide your career steps, but at least in the early days, don’t be afraid to learn as much as you can and take on challenging opportunities. And remember to always enjoy what you are doing because that will motivate you to do your best and exceed your limits. After all, the journey is more fun than the destination!

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