How would you describe your career path?

Barry Crossno, Friends General Conference

My interest in design has never left me. I’ve really come to rely on what I would consider systems thinking or design thought, because I look at design as being about cohesive systems. It’s very much allied with my interest in history. History is a record, not so much of the past, but of what’s possible in the future. It gives a record of human possibility. The history and design pieces are very much interwoven for me, and so is the spirituality. When I was in graduate school, I worked for a special collections library which took me into a curatorial role part time. I was the assistant to the curator for photographs, and then assistant to the curator for manuscripts. I then jumped to museums and became a fundraiser for the arts. All the while, my love of politics had never subsided, and I found in my late twenties I was exploring a run for county commissioner in Dallas.

However, my life was about to take another detour. I resigned from my fundraising position to start a company, thinking about making this run. I went on a vacation in New Mexico with my then girlfriend, who is still a good friend, and had what I call “the accident.” This is where spirituality and career really started to collide for me. I was in the desert, and I had some sort of health event. Stroke? Heat stroke? Don’t know exactly, but it was life-altering. It was a year’s recovery, punctuated with really severe panic attacks. It really opened an existential can of worms for me. I ended up doing a very unexpected reevaluation of my life, while I was incapacitated. Realizing that, at the time, I didn’t know if I would ever hold down full time work again, whether I would actually ever be fully functional again. It was also a time where I started to have my spiritual openings become much more intense. Mystical experiences were happening more frequently, sometimes in my waking life rather than mostly in dreams as before—and I realized I had to make a massive life change. I went to work for my cousin, and found over time I could hold down a full-time job again. It actually was a really wonderful transition for me, and I am very grateful. He didn’t expect any more of me than I could do as the year was progressing. It allowed me to slowly get back into the world, and it allowed me to use a lot of the skill sets I had built up. That was great until we outran our cash flow and had to let go of the business.  I learned a lot from that experience about judicious growth and planning.  While he very successfully started another company, it was at that juncture that I decided to go to New Mexico to explore the spiritual leadings that were growing in me.

I ended up working for Lama Zopa Rinpoche, and that experience was extremely Spirit-led. When the company went out, I was looking for the next thing to do, and I had gone out to see my best friend Scott Affleck. I had spent a great week with him and was getting ready to go back to Dallas, because I had been admitted to get an MBA at University of Texas, Arlington. Scott looked over at me and said, “Why are you going back?” It was crystal clear in that moment. I thought, I don’t know why I’m going back. I sat there a while longer, and I said, “You know, I’m going back just long enough to get my things together, and I’ll be back.” And he said, “Ok. Let me know what I can do.” I went back to Dallas and started getting my things together. It really felt like Spirit was intervening over and over. Even though I didn’t have a job, I knew I would still leave Texas for New Mexico. I ended up getting a job at the Buddhist Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition. That’s when all the various pieces around career and spirituality really started to plug into each other. It’s also when my Quakerism really took root. It was when I was working for Lama that I became a committed Quaker and was receiving a lot of direct guidance from Spirit. This was my path and where I was getting my energy. There was purpose in serving the Dharma at this juncture. Those experiences of serving the Dharma for those four years really set the stage for my walk now as General Secretary.

For more of Barry’s story, click here

Diane Randall, Friends Committee on National Legislation:

I think the idea of teaching is a theme. Even as I’ve gone from teaching to working in nonprofits- and I guess I’ve really gone from teaching to running nonprofits-I also think about the teaching element of engaging people. I think that has applied in the work that I’ve done leading organizations, it’s not just, “Oh, I’m in charge and I make all the decisions,” but “All right, I’m willing to put myself in this place where I will help manage and organize and provide a voice and a front for it.”

For more of Diane’s story, click here

Jen Karsten, Pendle Hill:

Unfolding. I don’t feel like I’ve known where I’m headed far in advance, but I like to be tested and I really want to be well used. I never want to have a job that just has me doing functions to perpetuate status quo. I want to be doing something that leads to the kind of change that I value and feels important to me. If I’m not feeling as though my contributions are leading to that on different levels, then I will be stagnant and poorly used. I like what I do with others when there’s excitement and a big goal to accomplish. I feel like there’s “unstoppability” when excited, creative, talented groups get together. One of the best mindsets that I’ve ever enjoyed is loving the mystery of what’s coming next. If you can’t retain a sense of mystery around vocation, where you spend the bulk of your waking hours every day and every week, that’s sad! I don’t want that! I don’t want to know what I’m doing next.

For more of Jen’s story, click here

Shan Cretin, American Friends Service Committee:

I was always looking for something that I thought was a good and moral and right thing to do that I would feel good about doing, and that got me into public health. I liked teaching. I thought that being a mentor to students was a very comforting kind of thing to be doing with your life, you could feel good about that, and then the research that we were doing in public health seemed good. But every year I would sit at yearly meeting and think about my career. From pretty early, I thought it would be great to work in a Quaker organization and actually work on things, have that be more integrated in my life.

A good friend of mine, Joe Franko, who was a math professor somewhere else, took a leave of absence and he was the AFSC Regional Director for 3 years. He really had never intended to stay that long, and he asked me whether I would apply. He felt like he had fixed some things, improved some things in the office. Around that time, September 11th happened, and that really pushed me. I had been in Seattle, doing work at a meeting, and was at the Seattle airport when I realized I wasn’t going to be able to get a plane back. I had a rental car, and I drove it back to California. It was a very weird drive, very quiet. There were no airplanes in the sky. The radio stations were muted, and it just was a time when I really reflected. I thought, “Yes, I really need to work on peace more than I need to work on health.” So when I came back I applied for this Regional Director job.

Another draw was to think about trying to run this region of the AFSC and apply the things that I thought I knew about how to work collaboratively and how to lead through what the Japanese call “playing catch-ball.” That leadership is seeing things from a high level, but you also need to check it out at the bottom, because the people at the bottom see something that you don’t see, and there needs to be a conversation back and forth that lets you understand whether you’ve heard the right things, whether the leadership you’re trying to provide is in the right direction.

For more of Shan’s story, click here

Gretchen Castle, Friends World Committee for Consultation:

Out of college, I was doing social work in Chicago, in the projects. I think that I learned lot of empathy and what the reality of life for many people is. It only begins to scratch the surface, when you think of the millions of people who have lived in poverty and are displaced. Then I went to graduate school and came out doing training and group work, which I’ve always loved. I went on to do board development: gathering a board who has great passion and expectations for an organization, helping them move into where they want the organization to be in a way that is effective, appropriate, and collaborative. Then I worked for Quaker organizations. When I had kids, I was committed to being at home with them, which was lovely-but I could continue with some of the consulting work. Then I worked for Friends General Conference and I worked for Philadelphia Yearly Meeting.

One of my big leadership experiences was being the presiding clerk of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. As a young person I remember a particular moment when I was aware that I was happy to step in and provide leadership if the group needed it. But I’ve never really felt like I have to be the leader of this or that. Leadership is always in service to the group or the organization. So when I say now that I’d like to work for FWCC until I retire-that’s only if God continues to call me to it and it continues to be useful to the organization. We’ve all had experiences of people who push being the leader, and that’s very different from serving.

For more of Gretchen’s story, click here

Gabe Ehri, Friends Journal:

My first job out of college was for a small internet startup based out of Bryn Mawr. I was working out of my boss’s apartment. He was a physicist turned investment banker turned entrepreneur working to build a different kind of search engine than existed at the time. After three years it was clear that it wasn’t going to take off. At that point I was going regularly to Merion Meeting, so I decided to see if there were jobs at Quaker organizations where I could do meaningful work that was not for nefarious purposes, feel good about about myself, and learn some things. I applied to a few Quaker jobs, and there was one at Friends Publishing Corporation, the institution that publishes Friends Journal. The job was project and database manager. I spent a lot of time working in the mentorship of my boss Susan Corson-Finnerty, who was the publisher and executive director who hired me. I learned a lot over time. I was at various stations on the business side of the organization, so I got to work on marketing, I got to work on fundraising-especially things that involved writing, computers, and technology systems. I credit Susan for being willing to move me around and let me learn these things. I think that was tremendous.

In 2010, my boss decided she was going to retire, and I decided that I would throw my hat into the ring for the position. It was being refined as executive director, taking the editorial piece out of the job, because it was really too much to expect somebody to do both things really well. There’s been tons of learning on the job, but I really feel well used, like this work is making good use of all my attitudes and talents. I feel very blessed to be able to do something that is so engaging. It doesn’t leave me totally drained, so I get some work/life balance too.

For more of Gabe’s story, click here

Christina Repoley, Quaker Voluntary Service:

I always say this to people, especially QVSers, who are at the beginning of their career journey: I think looking back, I can see how a lot of things I did over the past ten or so years make sense, and helped prepare me for what I’m doing now. But at the time, it didn’t really feel like that. I would say more or less everything I’ve done has had something to do with the intersection of social justice, faith, and spirituality. Those have been the common elements, but it doesn’t feel like there was a clear linear path. It was just like, okay, this is what I’m doing now and this is great, and that led to something else, which led to something else. A lot of it was about the people I met along the way, the relationships I built, and the passions that deepened through the things I was doing—but all of it was social justice related to some extent.

For more of Christina’s story, click here

Drew Smith, Friends Council on Education:

I was going to be a lawyer when I left Earlham, but I thought, “I don’t want to go to law school now. I’ve had enough of school. So I’ll be a teacher at a Friends school for a little while!” I ended up getting a job a couple days after I graduated, at the Friends school in Mullica Hill, being a middle school social studies and language arts teacher, and very quickly realized that 13-year-old people were my wheelhouse. I feel like a lot of my career is “right place at the right time.” When I was 27, I became the the middle school director, not knowing what I was getting myself into. What it means to be a leader of peers hit pretty hard the first year I did that job. What I learned as soon as I took this next position was that, although you can be influential with people or you can be charming and friendly and maybe they’ll do what you’d like them to do or maybe you can exercise some leadership, there’s a discipline about leadership that didn’t occur to me, some thinking that I needed to do about myself.

The next move I made was to be the head of a charter school for five years, here in Philadelphia. My hope was to try to bring some of the things that we Quakers know and practice pretty well to a different setting, where Robert’s Rules of Order was the way the board operated, and people were very used to having adversarial relationships with one another. I feel like we’ve only scratched the surface as Quaker institutions in our thinking about what we’re obligated to offer back to the world. Part of the reason I’m in this job now is, I think that Quakers have a lot more to offer to the world than we’re currently offering, and we really need to get good at leading in the world.

For more of Drew’s story, click here

Doug Bennett, Earlham College (Emeritus):

I was deeply involved anti-war efforts right through graduate school. It was a bit of tension-it was hard to be a focused graduate student and involved in it. I went off to Temple-I wanted an urban, public place. It has just unionized and I was fascinated by the possibility of a unionized faculty to stand up for more faculty control of the university. I taught at Temple from 1973 to 1987, and was tenured there. For most of that time, I was hell on wheels towards people in positions of importance. I was trouble incarnate.

I spent a year at Swarthmore College working with the Provost as a part of a Fellows program for the American Council on Education, and doing intensives with the 30 fellows a couple times during the year. The fellows program requires you to go back to the sponsoring institution for at least a year, so I went back to Temple as an Associate Dean. Later that year, I was nominated to become Provost at Reed College, where I worked for four years. They were tumultuous years with a lot of learning-I wasn’t hired with tenure, and the president who hired me left after my second year. The new president came in and told me it would be my last year, he needed to do a clean sweep.

I’d helped build a library consortium in the Pacific Northwest, and I became its executive director for a short period of time. I moved on to the American Council of Learned Societies. The board wanted a 6-8 year commitment because they knew they had a lot to fix about their operating procedures, finances, and fundraising. I said yes, but with an odd caveat: there are a couple of Quaker colleges that if they were president looking I’d want your permission to apply for them. The president, Stan Katz, wanted me to name them so we had a clear deal, and I named three, and Earlham was one of them. When I came into his office three years later and said “Stan, there’s something I need to tell you,” he said, “I think I read the ad this morning.”

What was that process like for you, since it’s very clear that it was because they were Quaker that you made that exception. What did your faith have to do with that decision?

Doug: There is a divide that opened up in the liberal arts in the first part of the 20th century between a concept of liberal arts that talks about knowledge for knowledge’s sake, which became the dominant view and an older idea that knowledge and the pursuit of a liberal arts education is character shaping. Almost every liberal arts college, you read their material, and you will hear lots of talk about character shaping if you read the front matter of the catalog. But when you read their curriculum, you’ll find that drops out. I had a strong orientation to character shaping as the purpose of education. Oddly, the only places that really are comfortable with that kind of character shaping are three kinds of institutions: Roman Catholic, evangelical, and Quaker. So independent of my being Quaker, if I was going to be president of an institution, it would be one that had a taste for character shaping.

For more of Doug’s story, click here

Colin Saxton, Friends United Meeting:

My joke is, I’ve been demoted consistently. My career path has surprised me. I would never have imagined myself working in the roles that I have. I’ve been really blessed to have these wonderful opportunities. After college, I worked with kids in prison and kids who were in the juvenile justice system, and it was during that time that I felt this call to pastoral ministry. I was a pastor for about 17 years, and then felt this other call and encouragement to think about, what does that look like on a Yearly Meeting level? How can you provide that sort of pastoral support and  leadership and service within a larger community, so that you’re building a sense of a gathered people, and an empowered people? It felt more like, this was the unique call that God had given me, and I needed to live into it, and it was affirmed by the community. So I did that for about seven and a half years. Then this invitation came to be at Friend United Meeting, and it was an extension of that. I think of it as a community rather than an organization. How do we be in relationship with one another across cultures, across worship styles, across all the barriers that we want to create with each other? How do Friends live together in a way that’s healthy and redemptive?

For more of Colin’s story, click here


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