On Changing Careers Again
by Tim Gatewood
When I was in 8th or 9th grade, I took Junior ROTC instead of Physical Education. As we lived in Mobile, Alabama, then, with its large U.S. Navy presence, it was Naval JROTC.
What I remember from that experience is joining the drill team to (unsuccessfully) impress a girl, marching in one of the Mardi Gras parades (behind a group mounted on horses), visiting the moth-balled U.S. Navy ships in the Mobile Bay, and studying textbooks that were too old to be useful to any active duty service member.
Emotionally, what I came away with was respect for anyone willing to subject themselves to military service, along with a conviction that it was NOT something I ever wanted to do.
There are days when I wonder if a major purpose and function of JROTC is to weed out those who would be a bad fit for the military. There are other days when I wonder if deciding to stay out of the military was the best or worst decision I’ve ever made.
From the vantage point of today, looking back over the many years since then, it certainly feels like taking that class and making the decisions that followed from it were a major turning point of my life, one of those moments when I turned from that path onto this path.
All this came back to me recently as I considered what to do about my future with the disruption that technology is bringing to my career of the past 15+ years. I have come to believe that what I have been doing is unlikely to sustain me into retirement years, so I’m going to have to change careers again.
That means it is time to review where I’ve been and what I’ve done and learned in order to plan where I go next. If I simplify things a bit, my work life can grouped into five phases so far, although only some of those phases would qualify as a career.
My first “job” was making potholders and selling them door-to-door when I was in 7th grade. That taught me the importance of planning what I was going to say before the prospective customer opened their door, as well as the difference between income and profit. At the time, I did not think of it as being “self-employed” — it was just a way to make money that did not involve doing chores at home.
Other jobs while I was in school were the standard entry-level retail, food service, and such. Those taught me to be on time and to keep my own records of what I did.
The summer between high school and college, I had a job as a night watchman and janitor at a country club. Seeing the sun come up every morning over the kudzu-covered hills at the distant edge of the golf course and the birds rising up from their slumbers was the best thing about that job.
While in college, I worked in a law office for an interim term project. I was considering a career as a lawyer when I started there. By the end of that project, I had allowed myself to be convinced by an associate attorney at the firm that such would be a bad choice for me. From this, I learned that sometimes people may tell you the truth but do so for motives that are selfish (such as discouraging competiton) or to test your resolve. I also learned that the law is much more fluid than most people believe and that there are several types of laws and rules and authorities that interact in various ways.
I drove an ice cream truck for one entire summer and part of another while I was in college. This reinforced the lessons about the difference between income and profit, as well as teaching me that changes in the market place (grocery stores had started carrying many of the same products at a lower price than I could offer) can undercut your ability to make a living. I learned that a contractor is not independent if they are getting their equipment and supplies from one source, especially if that source dictates where and when they will work.
After college, I had a pair of jobs as a manager trainee. The main thing the first manager trainee job taught me was to think about how other people may put their fears or needs above justice and that anything you say has consequences, and not always the ones you expected.
From the second manager trainee job, I learned that there are types of wages that should be illegal, that no one can work from 7 am to 9pm six days a week and have still have any kind of life, and that far too many people get caught by their own short-term thinking into traps where they harm themselves. This job included collections and repo as part of the duties, and that led straight into my next phase of work.
Collections and Repo
As stressful as collections can be, there were some good days doing this type of work. The repo jobs reminded me that I enjoyed being out and about during the day time. Both repo and collections jobs taught me that I could use my talking skills to get positive results if I was persistent. It also showed me that many people react with abusive language or violence if you increase the stress that they are already under. I moved from Birmingham (Alabama) to Memphis (Tennessee) when I stopped doing repo and shifted to collections only.
Administrative Assistant and Legal Secretary
After several years of collection work, I was burned out on that, so I needed some experience in other fields and I signed up with a few temp agencies, where I mostly focused on administrative assistant and clerical work. I developed a much deeper computer literacy and learned many different software programs while doing temp work.
I did several types of clerical or administrative assistant work besides the ones offered by temp agencies. That led to my first job as a legal secretary, which taught me even more about how the legal profession operates. While at that first legal secretary job, I learned how to create websites.
From these clerical and legal secretary jobs, I learned that I am good at matching people up with resources, that I can create or improve systems for tracking the processes involved to get a task done, and that knowing how my work fits into the mission of the firm greatly boosts my satisfaction with that job. Also, having a boss who appreciates what I am doing, who corrects my mistakes in private, is willing to invest in useful training, and who does not give me impossibly-contradictory instructions is very important.
I continued this type of work until 2003, when I returned to my roots and became self-employed again.
From 2003 to today, I have been self-employed, starting and running one primary and, sometimes, one or two secondary small businesses. I am an independent contractor, small business owner, freelancer, entrepreneur — which all amount to the same thing, just different ways of looking at it.
My primary business has been Notary Memphis, my mobile notary service through which I offer traveling notary services to the general public and notary signing agent services to firms in the mortgage lending and other industries. Notary Memphis is currently in its 16th year of operations, as I started it on a part-time basis while still full-time employed.
From 2007 to 2014, my secondary business was Midsouth Field Services, my field inspection service for commercial properties and merchant site inspections.
From 2015 to the current time, I have been a freelance writer, contributing paid articles to the American Association of Notaries and working on my first two books.
Being self-employed has caused me to update my skills and to apply what I had learned in previous work, and it has expanded what I knew about business, especially marketing, research, bookkeeping, planning, and other areas.
That brings me up to the current day. Many of my previous employers are gone now & those who remain are unlikely to remember me due to the passage of time. What abides are my own records, my memory, and what skills and knowledge I learned along the way about work, business, the world, and myself.
As I update my resume to include what is most relevant to current jobs, I am reminded of how much I also learned from volunteer work, hobbies, or involvements in community groups — and from the 23 years that I was blessed to share with my late wife.
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I am always humbled by your presence on paper. I am stabbing at a book, sort of, and wish I could write. I mean really write like you. I write like me. Not so good. Anyway, your output today is fantastic. Thank you.
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Thank you, Lynda. The trick seems to be to write lots and lots of whatever interests you, edit like crazy, and only show work to others when you think it’s ready. If you saw my works in progress or the scraps of ideas that may or may not become something I’m willing to share, you would realize that writing is about just that — write lots, edit much, publish only the work you are happy with.
I’m working on an article for a paying client about tech trends and their impact on notary work. So, I don’t want to say too much here until after that’s been published. What I can say (as I’ve been saying it on Facebook for a while) is that there’s a platform being used by many firms now that is very disruptive to how we’ve been doing things and that’s pushing fees lower; that remote notary is picking up speed and may totally change the market; and blockchain technology has a strong potential to make notaries and many other types of work all but obsolete. Tech advances are always disruptive, even more so when those who benefit have massive capital backing and those who lose don’t even have one member-led group able to rally the public or lobby the legislature. It may take 5 to 10 years for the full effects of these technologies to be felt, but the platform (whose name I would rather not use) is already here, and remote notary is already legal in 5 states (with 10 or more considering laws on it this year). I expect a spiral down toward oblivion for the notary signing agent business, not a flipping of a switch.
In addition to all the tech trends, there are reports from many reliable sources that refinances are at the lowest level they’ve been since the 1990s. Those are the bread and butter of Notary Signing Agents. I can’t do enough general notary work at what I charge per notarized document to make up for little or no refinance work.
Interesting retrospective of a lifetime of learning, Tim. I am curious: how is technology diminishing a notary business? I too have had a somewhat circuitous path work-wise, but have been able to synthesize the various skills into wherever each job has led. In 2008, during the economic crash, I was 55 and unemployed. I returned to work I had done in the prehistoric days of Exacto knives and wax rollers (25 years earlier) by teaching myself digital design. First, I worked as the staff designer for a local non-profit for four years, and have been freelancing for the past five years for NPOs all over the U.S. (one works extensively in Uganda and Kenya–so I guess my work has even become global). I will be 65 in less than a month and still do tutorials every week to keep abreast of the “youngsters” who are doing what I do. I think you have some interesting insights and look forward to hearing about the new career path you forge. Rest assured: “old” dogs can learn new tricks. Best of luck!
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Thank you, Donna.
Hi, Tim, job search is never fun, but I really admire how you are able to distill from each employment experience what you liked about it, what strengths it activated, and what you learned. That sort of self-awareness should be helpful as you embark on your search. Sounds like you’ve got a lot of skills and interests—and an open, curious mind. These should serve you well in both your search and your next position. Good luck! Keep us posted.
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