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Writing Your Own Story: A CareerCircle Career Journey

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Image of AnnaMaria with the text "The Story of a Working Mom" on it

When AnnaMaria Sebastino, our Strategic Partnerships Executive for non-profit organizations, was growing up, she dreamed of being a special education teacher. She wanted to make a difference in the world and lives around her.

She may not be in the classroom today, but she is certainly making a difference.

Here’s how she got to where she is today.

Investing in Education in More Ways Than One 

While AnnaMaria had a pretty traditional start to her career journey (getting an after-school job at McDonald’s), her education journey was less-than-traditional. When she was set to become a junior in high school, she actually started her freshman year of college.

“I moved into my first dorm when I was just 15, so I went to college early and that was mainly to get out of my small hometown and high school just wasn’t very challenging for me,” she shared when asked about her start to college.

Before long, she decided to transfer to the University of Alabama where she began working towards her goal to work in education and become the special education teacher she had dreamed of being since she was a little girl.

She began working at a children’s center which had a community autism intervention program for students who were facing roadblocks being placed in traditional classroom settings.

“I worked full-time there while I was going to school and then I also worked in their intensive residential treatment program on the weekends. Looking back now, I see how much trauma was in that space. These are 13-year-olds who had been left behind and were known for lashing out. I was only 18, 19-years-old when I worked there. It was a great experience to be there for those kids, but it was rough and I was constantly bringing my work home.”

She worked hard to stay on top of her job and her degree, and she believed that she was doing everything right to work a job that aligned with her degree.

Then it came time to do her practicums.

Unexpected Roadblocks to Success

Even though AnnaMaria’s job aligned with her degree and what she wanted to do in her career, her work didn’t count because, rather than simply observing, she was being paid to work at the children’s center.

“At the time, I was at a loss. I was 90 credits into my degree. I was a first-generation college student on student loans. I didn’t have the money to just quit my job to be able to do free work. So I turned to my advisor about what to do and they suggested I transfer into Human Environmental Sciences, a Bachelors of Science degree similar to what I was doing that didn’t require practicums, but took me away from education.”

A tip for you: Roadblocks will always pop up in your career journey and what’s important is to remember that you are able to carve a new path. When you stumble, give yourself time to feel what you need to feel and then find a support group to get you back on your feet.

After changing her major, she became a research assistant looking at studies of different nonprofit organizations. Seeing what nonprofits were doing was when she realized that it was time to truly move away from her goals of teaching.

“I was just, like, ‘OK, I don’t think being in the classroom is right for me. Like, I love it and I’m good at it, but just because you’re good at something doesn’t mean it’s what you’re supposed to do. So it was time for a pivot and I needed to find a new path.”

Her skills from her time in education training were by no means wasted, she took everything she had learned and became a program coordinator for multiple departments at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.

Despite often working over 40 hours a week, AnnaMaria didn’t qualify for the benefits she needed because her role was grant funded which led to her working a few hours in one department under one grant, and different hours in a different department under a different grant. She advocated tirelessly for a change, but was met with resistance at every step.

“A better position would open that I had the on-the-job experience to do, but I didn’t qualify because I didn’t have my degree yet, so I was kind of stuck.”

It was this position that helps AnnaMaria bring the empathy she brings to every nonprofit organization she partners with. She knows how difficult it is to live in a grant funded world and understands the expectations for those organizations.

Making a Pivot That Changed More Than Her Life

In 2021, AnnaMaria and her family moved and she began again in finding a new role that could support her. As a mom, she knew she needed a role with flexibility that allowed her to continue to make a difference in the way she always wanted to. 

“I think just having determination and feeling like I didn’t have a choice to fail helped me stay focused. I needed to finish my degree, I needed to get a new job, and I needed to provide for my daughter. It was a lot of nights of no sleep, a lot of crying, and while I often celebrate the work I did, it’s still important to acknowledge that it was really rough. I missed a lot of my daughter’s childhood because of working and I needed to make a change.”

Thanks to her research skills from her research assistant past, AnnaMaria took to Google and began to look for scholarship programs for moms to help her get the training she needed to get a flexible, remote job that would allow her to do her work and be there for her family.

It wasn’t long before she found RISE from The Mom Project, an organization that aims to get moms and people of color certified in tech in six months or less at no cost to the student and partners with CareerCircle to help place graduates and learners in new roles while they complete their certificate. She applied and during the enrollment call when she was talking through the different certificate options, she learned about Project Management.

“This was the work I had been doing. I had done all of this work before, but had no idea that Project Management was an actual industry. I knew that formalizing my skills was the way to go so I started the Google Project Management Career Certificate. About two months into my program, I began applying for roles on the CareerCircle platform where I could use what I learned in my certificate.”

She ended up not just getting a job from the CareerCircle job board…she got a job with CareerCircle!

“I’ve loved so many of the jobs that I’ve worked at, but working at CareerCircle and partnering with nonprofit organizations, like RISE and TransTech Social Enterprises, has allowed me to use every single skill I’ve learned in my career and bring them to people who need them.”

Now, she spends her days reaching out to and working with nonprofits who are helping their members get the upskilling they need to be competitive in today’s job market. Her day-to-day consists of things like pitch meetings, working with the cohort members to help them complete their course, and more.

One of the parts of her job that she excels at is connecting with members and guiding them through their upskilling and career journey so we had to ask what advice she shares with everyone she works with.

Advice for You

“I always tell people to find someone that is doing a job that they would like to do or think they would like to do and reach out to them. Create a LinkedIn. Go to networking events in your area. Look at what programs are available in your area to guide you. Get really good at using Google and researching everything you can.”

AnnaMaria also highlighted the importance of having a mentor who can help you find yourself and advocate for your skills in your job search.

“Find someone who will help you identify your transferable skills and give you the language to speak to them. There were so many times in my career that I stumbled simply because I didn’t know how to explain how prepared I was to take on a role.”

“Most importantly,” she shared, “remember that if you’re not happy with what you’re doing and you want to make a career change, if you put determination behind it and you say, ‘OK, this isn’t going to be my story. I’m not going to stay stuck,’ you’ll be unstoppable. Believe in yourself and affirm your skills because you are valuable and capable and you always have been.”

A tip for you: It may feel silly at first, but don’t underestimate the power of affirmations when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Remind yourself that you are capable of all of the successes you are looking for. Here are some great ones to start with.

AnnaMaria’s career journey is the perfect example that relentless effort truly can lead you to a role that will give you everything you’ve been hoping for and we hope that it has inspired you to tackle your next step with energy and care. 

If you’re ready to take the next step on your career journey, join the CareerCircle community here.

For more career journey stories from the CareerCircle team, check out our posts with Cecily Guggisberg and Daniel Pugh.