Charles Amuzie learned a lesson early on that can take some of us years to figure out: What you set out to do with your career might not be the thing you stick with.
Amuzie studied law at the University of Florida. After graduating in 2008, he tried his hand as a paralegal in his home state of Georgia but ultimately decided it was something he didn’t want to pursue. Fueled by the belief that we owe it to ourselves and those around us to create a just world, Amuzie has now shifted his focus to politics.
Currently in Washington D.C., Amuzie’s had range of experiences from a communications internship at America Votes to two research fellowships at the New Organzing Institute (NOI) to his current stint, Research Assistant at the advocacy firm Beekeeper Group.
His career path has been one shaped by exploration - including an instance where being let go spurred him to find his true passion.
In this condensed and edited interview below, he talks about why being let go can be a good thing, the benefits of building a support network, and why sometimes your parents are right.
You were on the law path for a short while after college. Why did you decide to ultimately not to pursue it?
When I was little, my parents encouraged me and my three sisters to pursue any career we wanted with the advice that it should follow three guidelines: it should be a place where we could learn and grow, a place where we could financially sustain the kind of lifestyle we wanted to have, and a place where we could make the community around us better.
I started out in Savannah working at a firm that did criminal defense. We had a lot of underprivileged clients. That satisfied one of the categories, but it wasn’t sustainable financially.
Then when I moved up to D.C. I worked at a firm that did a lot of white collar work - congressional investigations, business litigation and things like that - which was much more successful in satisfying the financial end. But I didn’t feel like I was becoming better or making my community better.
It wasn’t until I moved away from the legal sphere, when I was let go, that I found something more rewarding.
Why were you let go? What was your initial reaction?
I'm naturally an introvert, but that winter I made a concerted effort to step outside my comfort zone and meet a lot of industry folks.
I was a paralegal at a firm in D.C. that focuses on family practice. It was a part of a period of time when I was exploring different areas of law to try to find an area that fit and satisfied my criteria.
This for a time looked like it was one of those positions. But there were some internal difficulties between me and another paralegal. I wouldn’t say we butted heads as so much she found my presence abrasive and urged they seek out someone else.
I was surprised at first. Then disappointed.
Shortly after that, I guess because of my nature, came planning. I thought about it for a while and decided this might be the time to really dig in and look at some of the things that made me happy. And make the leap from just satisfying the financial end of things to being able to go to sleep at night knowing I made a difference.
What were some of the planning steps you took?
I was unemployed for about 2 ½ months. At one point I was doing music full-time so I offered lessons, using it as a gauge as to whether or not music was a thing I wanted to do.
This was an enjoyable experience, but not nearly as lucrative or consistent as I had hoped it would be. One lesson I learned from this was that love of music isn't enough to sustain a full-time career in it. A career in the arts, especially one predicated on freelance work, requires a lot of careful planning and work to ensure the stability that comes with more conventional work.
I also attended NOI’s RootsCamp in December and some of the conversations I had there started me on the path to working full-time on progressive work. Many of my friends had worked on political campaigns or in nonprofit environments that often entailed long hours and a lot of dedication.
They had a lot of experience with asking themselves hard questions to really probe what they wanted out of a career and how they wanted to impact the world around them. Some of those questions were: Can the type of work that I want to do support my lifestyle financially? What am I willing to sacrifice in order to get the kind of job I want? Time (long hours)? Money? Will I have a network of support around me, like family or friends? Will I have to, and be in a position to build one?
Before RootsCamp, I didn't have a concrete sense of how to go about thinking along those lines in a real way. I ended up asking myself the same questions.
In that time period, did you have any moments when you thought it was going to take longer to move forward than you had anticipated?
Definitely. I was fortunate because at the time I had a little bit of savings. I was unfortunate in that it lined up with the holidays, the most expensive time of the year. Also, in D.C. it’s a tough time to be unemployed right toward the tail end of the year. There’s not a lot of hiring that takes place.
Political work in Washington is very cyclical. I had a vague sense of how that played out, but it wasn't until I was unemployed at the tail end of 2013 that I talked to people about the best and worst times to try to find a job. As it turned out, a lot of people were waiting until after the holidays to pick up hiring again. Having that information was really reassuring for me.
I was lucky in that I had a really solid support system of folks who worked in progressive politics for a while. And if they didn’t have specific answers to my questions, they knew who to direct me to. Not everyone has that as a resource.
What do you think the key is to building a support system like that?
I think it’s openness and willingness to put yourself out there. There are lots and lots of networking events that cater to building that kind of system. And on top of that there are a lot of people who have come through the system and would be more than happy to mentor someone if given the opportunity.
It just takes making that first step and being willing to shake some hands and put your resume in front of people.
I'm naturally an introvert, but that winter I made a concerted effort to step outside my comfort zone and meet a lot of industry folks. I was surprised by how many people were willing to exchange emails, take a phone call, or grab coffee with a relative stranger who just wanted to get a better understanding of the employment landscape. So many people have been on both sides of that conversation, and it's great to see how helpful the community is, as a whole.
It’s been a few years since your experience of being let go. What did you learn from the whole experience?
One of the best ways to get a clearer picture is to talk with professionals in the industry you're interested in or curious about.
I learned it’s actually possible in a lot of circumstances - and this probably isn’t true for everyone but it might be - to find a place where you are satisfied with yourself as a person and your needs are also met. It’s possible to find something that’s more if you know how to look and where to look. I think the key to success here is to look closely at what you need in a job to be fulfilled.
It's also extraordinarily helpful to always have a little bit saved up, because you never know when you may have to rely on it.
What advice do you have for others who are going through a similar situation?
I would encourage people to explore not only within themselves, but to check out what’s out there and see what positions and organizations not only fit with your beliefs and work styles, but inspires you to become better.
One of the best ways to get a clearer picture is to talk with professionals in the industry you're interested in or curious about. I ending up asking people about work/life balance, what types of concessions they had to make (often, taking junior positions that were high stress, but didn't compensate very well was expected), and what steps were necessary to be a good candidate for a second job after landing the first one.
An open mind and a positive attitude will go along way. And don't be afraid to ask for help. People are more willing to help than you may think!
By Celeste Hamilton Dennis