Okay, so I don’t work a 9-to-5 job — that doesn’t mean I’m not proud of the things I’ve accomplished in my career. But some narrow-minded folks out there believe that if you’re not ascending a stereotypical vocational ladder in the socially-proscribed manner, it doesn’t count. (These people are morons.)
In defiance of “The Man,” I decided to lay it all out in one document that violates every possible principle of effective resume-construction — too damn wordy, written in prose, using colloquial language, with a handful of profanities thrown in for good measure. So sue me. (It’s not like I’m planning on submitting an application to anyone’s corporate HR department anytime soon!) But it is kind of fun, pausing and looking back down the protracted-and-twisty road I’ve taken to arrive at today. Won’t you join me on this trip along amnesiac lane? (And if that’s still not enough fer ya, I’ve got more story to share here, here, here, and here.)
Like everything else in my life, ye olde educational plan went through several odd permutations. Initially, I wanted to be a space shuttle astronaut (the 80s) — until I discovered that roller coasters made me puke. Then I considered medicine — but decided I didn’t want to be collecting social security at my graduation. I thought I might teach — before accepting the fact that that I’d prolly send some kid home black-and-blue and get fired my first day on the job. I even contemplated a B.A. in English — but much as I adore a good broadway musical, I didn’t want to end up living on Avenue Q.
After a great deal of dithering and vacillation, I finally found my calling — curing the world’s ills as a Social Worker. Just five short years and $10,000 in student loans later, I was an official job-seeker!
Back when I de-matriculated, a college degree wasn’t quite as useless (or prohibitively expensive). True, the only openings after graduation were either late-shift babysitting of homeless patrons at a shelter for minimum wage (fine use of that spendy shingle on my wall) — or executive-directing an entire agency (the thought of by-some-fluke landing this in-over-my-head position made me want to piss myself in terror). But it only took six months of temping before I found a for-realz job. Way the hell better than kids do nowadays.
Most who hire interns do so under the guise of mentoring industry up-and-comers — but it’s really just a way to dump crap gruntwork on peons who can’t quit without failing the semester. (Higher education and big business, working together to build a better America!)
I however, was blessed with slave-wage employers genuinely interested in helping me discover which career path would best suit me, so I could find my place in the job market. (I don’t blame them at all for the fact that I later fled screaming from my chosen profession.)
And I’m pleased to say that my own collegiate minions have universally walked away with oodles of real-world experience. To be fair, they all worked virtually. And it’s hard to process a dark-roast-with-soy-milk-no-sugar over the interwebz — but still, I’m trying my damndest to pay it forward. (If you’d like to consider a work-and-learn position in the exciting field of “doing-whatever-the-fuck-strikes-your-fancy-each-morning,” lemme know. I’ll be happy to use and abuse you in the name of indentured servitude!)
I started my Social Work career bright-tailed and bushy-eyed — committed to serving disenfranchised populations with the respect they deserved, ridding the world of injustice, and making sure no one ever went to sleep in an unsafe place again. Yep. That’s how I began.
Friends said, “You’ll end up punching a time clock, just like all those other cogs in the government machine.” I slammed my little fist on the desk and told them (in the most righteously indignant tone of voice I could muster), “No way — I’m not a stereotype! I’m going to make a real difference in people’s lives!” So young. So naive.
I’m not sure who I became or exactly what I accomplished — but I do know that after three years, I was exhausted, disillusioned, and feeling exceptionally gear-like. (Not to mention the fact that every member of my tribe was bleeding from the mouth, as they tried their damnedest NOT to say, “I told you so!”)
My initial job involved re-certifying Section 8 recipients whose vouchers were up for renewal. (As exciting as it sounds.) Mostly, this meant filing a lot of paperwork, affixing massive amounts of red tape, and wading through a ton of bullshit. However, I didn’t recognize those first steps along the path toward ratcheted-wheeldom — because I found something truly rewarding in my personal interactions with clients.
These folks had grown far-too-accustomed to being maltreated by the system — so just to mix things up, I decided to address each individual on my caseload as I would a paying professional customer. I can’t tell you how many times I had someone hug me at the end of an appointment and thank me for being nice. Apparently, the bar is set so low that all you have to do to make a person’s day is simply regard them as a human being. It’s pathetic that a little kindness is considered “going above and beyond” — but those moments of connection made the intolerable government stupidity worth it. (For a while, anyway.)
7/95 to 3/96 — Atlanta Housing Authority, Special Housing (Housing Advisor)
At this point, I was asked to assist with a wide-scale mandatory tenant relocation. You see, Atlanta had the oldest public housing in the country — I’m talking decrepit, blighted apartment buildings that were next door to falling down. (Nasty-ass places to live, and quite legitimately dangerous for residents.)
The decision was made to bulldoze these moldy-mildewed-rabid-rodent-infested-pimp-ho-and-crack-dealer-laden-bullet-riddled-gang-banger-run health hazards — rebuilding said tumbledown deathtraps as shiny new mixed-use housing. (Some units rented at market rate, others financed by the city.)
I’ll let you in on a little secret. Segregating poor people from the rest of society does not fix their problems. It makes them worse. (Destitution, crime, babies-having-babies — all about folks following their neighbors’ examples, just as much as golf memberships and landscaping in the rich part of town.) Creating incentives for the prosperous and economically-challenged to cohabit not only shows that lower rung what upward-mobility-in-action looks like, it gives the privileged set a much-needed insight into how the other half lives. (How they REALLY live — not the ridiculously inaccurate poverty-shaming depicted on Fox News.)
And you’d best believe that full-price Chester College or Patty Professional ain’t gonna shell out fat stacks for roaches, leaky roofs, and malfunctioning toilets — so subsidized residents enjoy better maintenance by association. Most importantly, since no one unit or building is designated “too-po’-to-afford-the-o-r,” you’d never know whether the family in 1-A is paying retail or on a voucher. Buh-bye welfare stigma!
My job was to help folks who’d only ever known public housing relocate to private apartments while their complex was re-built. I’m not sure I can adequately express what a challenge this was — no matter how crappy the living situation, they did NOT want to vacate. Scared of landing in an unfamiliar part of town, of being surrounded by strangers, single moms worried about finding work and upheaving their kids, disabled/elderly concerned about medical conditions, possibly even losing their support systems altogether. And not a one of them had ever dealt with real-world landlords or utility companies before. Hard work, long hours, highly stressful, but I tackled it with gusto — I am, after all, the resource-master!
4/96 to 5/97 — Atlanta Housing Authority, Special Housing (Housing Mobility Counselor)
After a year of diligently relocating clients, everyone was settled, the demolition was underway — and mama needed a brand new bag. Fortunately, those in authority were launching a voluntary welfare-to-work program. And guess who was chosen (mostly because I clamored for it so loudly) to plan-then-head this new Family Self-Sufficiency Unit?
So here’s how the whole thing worked. My clients’ housing expenses were based on their income — as take-home swelled, one became responsible for a greater and greater portion of the rent. That gave my folks zero incentive to seek better employment, because a raise just forced you to fork out more money on a place to live. (And we’re not talking big bucks here — $7 an hour was a good wage for my peeps.)
Let’s say you started out unemployed, contributing nothing toward your $800-a-month lease — then you got a job, and your bill jumped to $250 (with the government now paying $550). On my program, the taxpayer moolah that your landlord no longer received ($250 in this example) was put into savings for you each month — as your earning power increased, so did your stash. After five years (or once you were covering the full rent yourself), you left Section 8 and every penny of that cash went with you. You could use it for whatever you wanted — car, house, college education. Pretty goddamn good deal for both sides!
I was delighted to be a part of this undertaking — and quite willingly ran around like a cranially-deficient barnyard fowl, locating resources for my enrollees. I networked with adult ed programs. I visited trade colleges to negotiate reduced-rate admission. I talked local unions into offering special journeyman training. I chased down child care, health care, transportation. When folks told me how their lives sucked, I found ways to make them suck less. (Same as what I do now — just a different kind of suck.)
I was in heaven — right up until the moment when my boss told me he didn’t actually care about getting clients off of public assistance, and my government bubble burst for good. I was done.
5/97 to 4/98 — Atlanta Housing Authority, Family Self-Sufficiency Program (Coordinator)
I lost every ounce of interest in being employed by someone else. I had a choice to make — try my hand at starting a charity (which meant endlessly begging for grants), or embrace my inner capitalist (which meant identifying a marketable money-making skill set). Bleh.
That’s when providence stepped in, disguised as a prima donna talk show host. A friend teasingly pointed me toward an Oprah episode on Professional Organizing — joking about my extreme anal-retentivity, suggesting that I could clear clutter for a living. She was kidding.
Little did she know how seriously I’d take her!
I’d been inherently structure-and-efficiency-focused since ovum met spermatozoon (I mean duh, of course) — but I still devoured every book I could find on productivity, space planning, data management, and process improvement. (Yay for no library check-out limit!) Then I started creating order.
I systematized filing systems, cleared clutter, and trimmed to-dos. I fixed ergonomically-broken kitchens and offices and garages. I planned-down-to-the-last-details moves and yard sales and meetings. I regained control over supposedly-uncontrollable projects and finances and children. I worked in schools and churches, social service agencies and multi-million-dollar businesses, homes and retail stores. I taught household CEOs, empty-nesters, educators, students, work-from-homers, corporate bigwigs (and even my former colleagues) how to function better and simplify their daily routines — and I freaking loved it!
Within three months, I had more clients than I could handle, and a career was born. At this point (nearly 20 years later), I’ve assisted hundreds of satisfied clients, written The A-To-Z Of Getting Organized: A Grown-Up Picture Book For The Chaotic And Cluttered, and am still going strong — I can’t picture a day when I’ll ever NOT want to help folks take back their lives!
4/98 to present — Professional Organizing Consultant and Efficiency Expert
Then one morning, I woke up and realized how much time I’d been spending in the vastness of cyberspace hunting up tangential products/services/info for my tribe. (How much, you ask? Too much!) And that’s with fair-to-middlin’ search-patience and mad google skillz — god help any disorganized person looking for a quick and easy solution on the interwebz.
So I got the semi-brilliant idea of starting a one-stop-shop offering everything folks could possibly need to create order. At the time, this was one helluva revolutionary concept within the industry — a comprehensive organizing community focused not only on teaching Timothy Tardy and Cathy Clutter how to calm the chaos, but also helping Polly Productivity in her quest to become a more effective business owner.
I spent nine years developing something truly groundbreaking and original. I launched efficiency solutions that might otherwise have never seen the light of day, brought thousands of pages of content to the net (seriously ruining my eyesight in the process) — and assisted scores of newbies in getting their own companies off the ground. I dominated the expo at our annual NAPO conference, won professional association awards in five different years, and turned OnlineOrganizing into a household name.
That’s when my career A.D.D. kicked in and I needed a change.
I sold my precious offspring for a healthy chunk of change (same as I’d prolly do if I had a real child). I packed up my toys, and went off to write The Professional Organizer’s Bible: A Slightly Irreverent And Completely Unorthodox Guide For Turning Clutter Into A Career (while still coaching colleagues through start-up and growth and the next level). Then I watched as the new site owner murdered my baby in cold blood — slowly, painfully, through gross abuse and neglect. She ran a profitable enterprise that had supported me for almost a decade straight-into-the-fucking-ground in less than three years, eventually declaring bankruptcy. The domain’s been decommissioned — but old-timers will tell you it was da bomb diggity.
10/00 to 3/09 — Founder/Creator/Administrator of OnlineOrganizing
Anyone who’s met me knows that my defining communication style is “enthusiastic verbosity.” I have a lot to say (usually quite loudly and with a great deal of fervent gesticulation) about EVERYTHING — don’t get me started on a topic I’m particularly passionate about, or I’ll go on for days! (I blame my English teachers. Had they not introduced me to the joys of term paper research and oratorical debate, while simultaneously failing to set a word/time limit — I’d never have gotten hooked on sharing my observations with such loquacity.) But I can’t complain, ‘cuz most folks seem to like what I have say (long-winded though it might be) — and those who don’t provide a rich source of “let-me-show-you-the-many-flaws-in-your-logic” counterargument fodder!
It’s true that the opinionated mind knows no bounds — too many interests and an endless willingness to share (a deadly combination) means I’ve covered just about every subject imaginable. I’ve taught essential life skills, shared my artistic processes, and ranted about social injustice. I’ve participated in podcasts and panels on topics ranging from the mechanics of writing to effective parenting technique, from life transition to defining happiness, from eliminating debt to entrepreneurial best practices. I’ve created written/video content for other companies (like Smead, Airstream, and Hewlett-Packard). I’ve crafted dozens of workshops, penned thousands of articles — and have either published or am mid-scribage-on a staggering number of publications (business manuals, instructional guides, picture books, socially-relevant YA fiction, wanderlust narratives, recipe collections, art retrospectives, and every genre in-between). Whew!
4/98 to present — Author, Blogger, and Public Speaker
Teaching folks to set up a stress-free calendar or manageable file system (or garage they can actually fit the car into) is fine and dandy — but focusing entirely on these issues eventually becomes a tad limiting. My definition of “order” has always been more comprehensive than mere time-paper-space woes. (I want to improve the WHOLE situation, not just a desk or closet or media collection.) And that’s clearly what my tribe desires — during organizing sessions, I continually find myself picking other scabs at the behest of my clients. I’m asked over and over again for advice tangential to the reason they’ve hired me — repeatedly drawn into discussions about repairing their finances, relationships, health, job situation, child-rearing abilities, and flagging sense of personal fulfillment.
This is where the Social Worker in me collides with my Professional Organizing side — creating the vocational equivalent of a Reeses Peanut Butter Cup. “Hey! you got order in my enhanced well-being!” (If you’re not a Gen-Xer, go look that joke up on YouTube.) Turns out I can get away with asking the same annoying-ass questions about OTHER issues, as the ones I regularly use to attack clutter — then put my amazing problem-solving super-powers into play, and end up effecting positive changes all throughout a person’s life! I came to realize that my skills lie not just in categorizing or systematizing, not even in bigger-picture goal-setting and follow-through. I’ve discovered a talent for comprehensively helping my peeps align every part of their existence with their innermost values. I call this concept living “in integrity” — and it’s a notion folks embrace because it resonates at a far deeper level than just “getting organized.”
I despise the term “life coach” (an ill-defined and meaningless title) almost as much as I hate the phrase “it is what it is” (a vague and empty platitude, at best) — so I refuse to call myself that, no matter how many pins you stick in me! I prefer that y’all see me as an Accountability Guru. (How’dja like that?!) I definitely perform traditional coaching functions — pinpointing success-blocking complications, creating a structured work agenda, converting pie-in-the-sky goals into actionable tasks, hunting up relevant resources, and staying on folks’ collective tail-ends to make sure they maintain forward momentum. But this particular “help-me-fix-what’s wrong” relationship transcends your typical co-active model. I don’t just suggest challenges for clients to explore (then leave them to find-or-not-find their own answers) — I actively intervene to make sure my peeps are implementing realistic solutions to their problems. That’s right, implementing solutions to problems — feel the collective shudder within the coaching community.
1/00 to present — Accountability Guru and Mentor
One surprising thing I’ve discovered during my extremely “colorful” career is a talent for business admin. (I started out a leftist and ended up a capitalist — whodathunkit?) This gift appeared during a session with my first enterprise-level client waaaay back in the dark ages of the late 90s. I was playing a rousing game of “devil’s advocate” with the firm’s operating manual — poking holes in their procedures, challenging the board to rethink how they approached the business of doing business, generally being the ginormous pain in the keister my peeps have come to expect when they hire me. I wasn’t sure if this work would mesh with my basic anti-corporate nature over the long run — but in that moment, I was having a crap-ton of fun being exasperating. (Isn’t that what counts?)
Fast-forward to a few months later, when the CEO told me that my recommendations had thus far netted them a 15% increase in revenue — I was hooked! Unfortunately, corporate culture and I don’t get along terribly well. (All those bureaucratic decision-making layers drive me bats — and my nose-rings tend to clash with everyone else’s suits.) So I set my sights on smaller companies and individual executives, folks who could control their own destinies without having a dozen flipping committee meetings about it.
While I have a soft spot for solopreneurs and freelance service providers (especially my fellow Professional Organizers), I’ve found that I can help pretty much any company function more effectively. It’s not just because I’ve read nearly every business manual published within the last 20 years — it’s because I’ve been where they’ve been (no matter where they’ve been). I’ve functioned online and off — both incorporated and D.B.A.ed. I’ve worked alone, as part of a team, and managing staff. I’ve marketed artwork, intangible services, information, and physical commodities — created products from scratch, as well as overseen the packaging and retail sale of hundreds of other people’s merchandise. I’ve turned both my own and my colleagues’ expertise into workshops and books and training programs. And I successfully sold a profitable company that I’d built from the ground up — so I can speak to just about every aspect of entrepreneurship.
1/00 to present — Business and Career Coach
Thanks to my dear departed mother, I’ve always been a “highly imaginative character” (to quote Edward Scissorhands) — forever involved in some crafty endeavor or another. As a kid in South Florida, it was shell sculpture. (Pride and joy was that frog with the urchin-spine cigar in his mouth — until my stupid cat knocked him off the dresser and decapitated him.) As a teenager, I hand-made the most amazingly over-the-top bedazzled-beflocked-beribboned-puffy-painted clothing to sell at our local flea market. (Dude — it was the 80s.) In college, I shifted to hawking decoupage picture frames, foam cut-out Christmas ornaments, and dried flower wreaths at holiday shows. But it wasn’t until my marriage melted down that I formally incorporated these fartsy leanings into my business.
After I ran away from home and began to rebuild my life, I met a man whose artistic drive rivaled my own. His passion fueled my passion, my imagination threw lighter fluid on his — day after day, we encouraged each other’s wild ideas and fantastic visions, until we ignited a perfect firestorm of creative chaos. (Hooking up with a prop-maker, set-designer, actor, web-series-producer, and screenwriter does wonders for stimulating your corpus callosum — I guess that’s why I decided to marry him!) Ben introduced me to a local creative writing group. (I’ve now completed a play, am working on a novel, and am co-writing both a film script and a musical with mah sweetie.) He’s helped me achieve clarity when it comes to my visual art (both the “paint-a-picture” kind and the “screw-around-with-found-objects” sort). And he’ll tell me wonderful lies like, “No sweetie. That’s not too weird,” when I push an envelope. All creative-types need one of these!
As with everything else, I’ve got a serious case of artistic A.D.D. — I have a new project idea approximately every 30 seconds, and I’m physiologically incapable of limiting my interests to just one discipline or medium. The good news is that I’ve got enough entries on my “art to make” list to keep me busy until the day I die!
5/09 to present — Artiste Extraordinaire
I have nothing against career climbers — I just don’t happen to believe that a pile of superfluous certifications equals success. (Sure, I was in the Who’s Who Of American Business — so flippin’ what?) One thing I’ve learned as an entrepreneur is that I don’t need 3rd-party degrees and designations to prove my services have value. (An eye chart full of letters after my name ain’t nowhere near as satisfying as changing a client’s life.) Plus, so much modern-day “credentialing” is little more than a money-making racket. Newsflash — purchasing an impressive-looking-yet-hollow resume doesn’t prove shit about your ability to do your job!
I’ve also never felt compelled to join every professional association on the planet, because most business groups are just an excuse to have meetings — and I hate meetings. Don’t give me that look — it’s not like I didn’t try! I’ve communed with women execs and the self-employed and a half dozen different Chambers Of Commerce throughout my career — but I never got enough out of these organizations to stick around. The list of affiliations that have made a lasting difference to my career are few (VERY few). I prefer to direct my energies toward accomplishing goals, experiencing the world, and having a positive impact on those around me (rather than listening to motivational speakers and eating stale doughnuts).
Just like professional credentials, I don’t hold a lot of stock in awards. I’m immediately leery of folks who start off a relationship by telling you how awesome the world thinks they are. Just be real, okay? I’ll probably like you better in the long run than if you act like a self-aggrandizing twit.
And seeing a vague term like “award-winning” attached to a product or service is an immediate red flag for me. (Just remember, a book that gets the Bad Sex In Fiction trophy is just as prize-garnering as one that earns a Nobel or Pulitzer!) Plus, even the meaningful recognitions fade over time. (Yeah, I was once Florida College Student Of The Year — big deal. The plaque is long-since donated to a thrift store.)
That having been said, I’ll admit I’m considered something of an innovator in the Professional Organizing industry. (God knows how — the way I flout conventional wisdom, break every rule the powers that be put in place, and manage to piss at least one person off with any decision I make!) But my dear colleagues have been gracious enough to honor me a number of times, so I feel like I should acknowledge their accolades.
What I do with my free time is as important to me as the titles on my business card. I relish the chance to try a new extracurricular — especially a weird one most folks have never considered attempting. I’ve played drunken softball and grown-people-pretending-they’re-grader-schoolers kickball. I’ve parried and dodged (fencing), shimmied and slid (belly dance), emoted and projected and broken the fourth wall (acting). I learned to cave (where I overcame a pretty nasty fear of heights) and scuba dive (where I conquered an even more heart-stopping de-oxygenation worry). You got an activity I might like? Bring it on!
I take advantage of every opportunity to dress like a fool in public, develop a bizarre skill, cause myself a life-long injury, or make a joyful-if-not-entirely-pleasant noise. It would be impossible to list them all, but these are a few of my favorite organizations to frequent when I have a little free time to spend.
PS: Wanna instantly rack up some serious virtual cred? I've made it easy for you to share this content with your social networking friends, e-mail it to your peeps, or republish it in your own blog (thereby showing off how smart you are) with these links.
(iCopyright widget here)
Ramona Creel is an award-winning 15-year veteran organizer and member of the National Association Of Professional Organizers. As well as having birthed “The A-To-Z Of Getting Organized,” Ramona is also the author of “The Professional Organizer’s Bible: A Slightly Irreverent And Completely Unorthodox Guide For Turning Clutter Into A Career”—and the creator of more than 200 “quick-start” business tools and templates for use by productivity professionals. She writes seven different blogs, has worked with hundreds of clients, and has delivered scores of presentations on getting organized. Ramona resides on the roads of America as a full-time RVer—living and working in a 29-foot Airstream. Learn more at and RamonaCreel.com.
If you would like to reprint this page, please contact me
Comments are closed.