I took a pause, and reconnected with myself. - Monica Gutierrez
I would like to start telling you a little bit about myself. I'm an Environmental Engineer from Colombia that just recently moved to Toronto to start a new life. I chose engineering 9-years ago instead of journalism or biology (my other two options) mainly because I thought I would have better job prospects and a more comfortable lifestyle. Currently, I am settling down in Canada, doing a volunteer job and looking for the perfect career opportunity. The path I have chosen is challenging and I'm still working hard on figuring it out. But since I like challenges, I'm enjoying every second of it, and that's why I decided to share it with you.
Have you heard your family telling you that it is important to work at a multinational corporation or some recognized company? Well, I heard that back at home a couple of times until I convinced myself of that idea. I remember my parents telling me that it was better to work at that kind of organizations as it was going to enhance my resumé and with that, I would have a better job and salary.
The fact is that my parents were right. I ended up working for those companies and had financial stability, met interesting people, learned about how business is done and did good networking. I even got a leave of absence to visit my boyfriend (who later became my husband) and came to study here in Canada, which was a very uncommon reward given to employees at the company I was working for at that time. However, when I went back to Colombia, I wasn’t happy and didn’t feel professionally satisfied. I was working over 40 hours a week, doing the same type of things I did before I came to study project management at Ryerson University, and wasn't seeing tangible benefits and impacts resulting from my work. It didn’t feel rewarding.
Fortunately, I found a parallel job during weekends. I started to give horseback riding classes at an academy for kids and it was there that I felt again happy and satisfied. It simply didn’t feel like a job. I didn’t care waking up on a Saturday morning and not partying on Fridays because I knew I was doing something good for someone else and for me. By that time, the contract with the company I was working for was terminated, and so I decided to come back to Canada and look up for new opportunities. I knew this was the perfect moment to start a new life and seek the perfect job I was after. I was sad because I was leaving home and family, as well as the horses, but at the same time I saw a great professional opportunity here, and needed very badly to be with my husband. I knew that here I would find a broad variety of job positions that you can’t find in Colombia and could find an opportunity to redefine my career path. But before I started my job “research” and apply to as many jobs as I could, I took a pause, and reconnected with myself.
Reconnecting with myself
I wrote down all my characteristics, my passions, my fears, my hobbies, and my skills and visualized how I pictured myself in a couple of years. I thought about what kind of lifestyle I wanted and how I would like to spend my free time and savings. After reconnecting with myself, I heard that “inner me” wanting to do social work, communicating things of social interest and wanting to develop and exploit my creativity.
Once I was conscious of who I was and where I wanted to go, I started my job “research”. I researched on job portals to see what was on the market, what type of jobs were available and what qualifications I needed to have in order to successfully apply. From that exercise, I realized that as an immigrant I need “Canadian experience” and so, in that catch-22 situation I looked for volunteer opportunities. I found a very interesting one and the next day I arrived here, I had the interview and started.
As I mentioned at the beginning, I’m currently volunteering for a conservation non-profit organization, attending to sustainability and environmental events and doing as much networking as I can. I think I'm still in the path of a professional and personal transition as I'm in a new country, with different traditions and culture. But the important aspect is that I'm happy. I listened to my internal voice and I'm determined to find a suitable and fulfilling job for me.
I strongly believe that self-awareness, strength, perseverance and patience is all that is needed to successfully transition careers. For those who are on the same page, I wish you good luck!
Monica Gutierrez is an Environmental Engineer specializing in project management, with work experience in environmental management and Sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in the oil & gas, mining, manufacturing, and food & beverage sectors. She is presently exploring opportunities in environmental sustainability and volunteering for a conservation non-profit organization.
Keep an open mind, be prepared to take risks, take time to step back from your situation and ask yourself - is this really what I want to be doing? Am I happy? - Sean Magee
When I finished University, I had very little idea of what I wanted to do with my career. In fact, I wasn’t even sure whether I wanted a career in the traditional sense of the word. Money wasn’t my main focus and neither was stability. I graduated from Simon Fraser University with a bachelor degree in environmental science, with a focus in biology. I was debt free, because I worked my way leading up to and through school. The world was my oyster as they say.
My university experience left me wanting to do something significant with my life. To be more specific, I was seriously concerned about climate change and issues related to social and environmental justice. To be honest, I was drawn to these topics before University, but it was while working as a field technician during my summers that truly set me off on my current career adventure.
Learning from Environmental Awareness
I had first experienced working in one of the last intact temperate rainforests on the west coast of Vancouver Island, British Colombia. I stood next to1000 year old tree stumps with a silent gaze, looking into timeless forests that were standing majestically and helplessly, waiting to be cut down to feed the world’s desire for paper and lumber. The next summer, I was part of a research team that was modeling the nutrient cycling in the Mackenzie River Delta, which is located far above the Arctic Circle, and far away from almost all civilization. It was there that I witnessed the reach of our modern industrial machine from a helicopter. There were scars left from oil and gas exploration everywhere. It was there, while hovering in the air, that I learned that there is no such thing as pristine wilderness any more. Humans have left our physical and chemical signature on virtually every corner of the Earth. These experiences confirmed that something needed to change and it had to happen quickly. But more importantly, I realized that science moves slowly, very, very slowly. Clearly, a career as a scientist wasn’t a good match for me. I didn’t want to spend my life doing research that would be irrelevant by the time it became known to the public-if it ever would at all.
A Passion for Education in Environmental Sustainability
This led me to shift gears to education. I had worked as an outdoor educator and canoe/kayak instructor for about a decade. I knew I loved to teach, but I wasn’t convinced a classroom was the right place for me. Luckily, and I mean it was like serendipity, I found a job working for a small NGO in Vancouver that focused on social and environmental justice education. I coordinated a program that supported high school and elementary students in their efforts to make their schools more sustainable.
Like any other job, I learned a lot of hard and soft skills, but what made me attractive to my next employer was that it gave me credibility as an advocate for the environment, as well as someone that could communicate environmental issues in a simple way.
I left Vancouver to take a job as the spokesperson for a new provincial recycling program that was recently launched in Ontario. Again, I was lucky. I had a connection. I was close with someone that ran a marketing and advertising firm that was tasked with launching this new program, and he thought I was the right fit for the job. I packed my 7 years of life into my friend’s pick-up truck, and in a matter of two weeks I was living in Toronto.
The value of Networking
Working in the marketing and advertising world was a shock to my system. I worked insane hours for several years. At times I would work for nearly 48 hours straight! But it paid very well, I was learning a lot, and I was helping to institute a way to eliminate waste; I think the exhaustion was worth it. I also further built my network, and was constantly reminded that Toronto is one of the best places in Canada to start a career because of the people you meet. This was definitely true for me. After only 7 months, I was an entrepreneur and had my own business. I was doing very well for myself; however, I was working myself into oblivion. I didn’t know what a weekend was for over a year. I’ve heard that this is pretty typical for people that are self employed. It wasn’t the life for me. My career went on hold and I went back to school to become a teacher.
I did my bachelor of education at the Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto. I was fully dedicated to becoming a teacher. When I applied I was fully aware of the abysmal job market for teachers, but I didn’t care. I was prepared to move to South Korea, Bhutan, or northern Canada to get my start in teaching. And maybe I wouldn’t come back. Ultimately, I felt like I had found my calling. Even though being a teacher wasn’t going to fulfill my desire to change the world quickly, I was going to be part of cultivating the next generation of amazing people that would be capable of solving the challenges they faced.
Then, bam! There was another surprise. Through one of my colleagues in the advertising world, I received a job offer, right in the middle of my teaching degree. This wasn’t any job offer; it seemed like the perfect job for me. I thought that I was pursuing my dreams in becoming a teacher; that I had finally found my calling at 28 years old. Yet, every time I thought about this new offer, I found it hard to resist. It fit all my criteria: focused on climate change, solutions oriented, quick results, working with people, education, etc.
Before I had graduated from teachers college I had accepted the job offer to become the National Director of New Renewable Energy Projects for Bullfrog Power. I’ve been working with Bullfrog Power for just over a year-and-a-half now, and I love it! However, I’m still only 30 years old, and my career path is long from over.
I realize that my career path was made easier because of many of the privileges that I was born with. I grew up with a stable family, I’m white, straight, able bodied, middle-class, male, etc. I mention this because I can’t take full credit for my success. Although I know I worked very hard to be where I am today, luck has also helped me, and I am a product of the rules of the game, and those rules were definitely written in my favour. This isn’t meant to be discouraging, but just a statement of the facts. I don’t want to take credit where it isn’t due, and this is my attempt to do so.
The most important things that I’ve learned so far are: to always keep an open mind, be prepared to take risks, take time to step back from your situation and ask yourself - is this really what I want to be doing? Am I happy? Maintain your networks, listen to your heart, and don’t let your ego run the show.
I sincerely hope that my story helps anyone that reads it.
Sean Magee is the Director of Bullfrog Builds - Renewable Accellerator. Sean works with local communities across Canada to bring new renewable energy projects online. He is a recipient of the Dr. David Suzuki Fellowship Award for Natural Curiosity (2013). To learn more about Sean and his work at Bullfrog Power, follow him on Twitter -@SS_Magee.