It was a couple of months ago that we got connected to Aliza Sollins, the Founder of UniteGrow.
Aliza, like many of our writers and contributors, followed a more unconventional career path and as a result, has gained tremendous insight on her journey to professional purpose. We couldn't wait to interview her during our month of Career Readiness.
Read some of Aliza's story here, and be sure to check out her incredible feature in En Root, "Four Lessons in Finding Comfort in the Chaos."
Tell us about the most significant moment or turning point in your career or professional journey.
I'm not sure if there has been a "most significant" moment, but rather a series of small, pivotal points that slowly coalesced into a path.
Here is a list of turning points:
1. Feeling a lack of meaning in my administrative position a decade ago, and seeking out a local
community garden to regain that sense of meaning and connection
2. A partner's job change led me to move to Kentucky, where I was able to work on a 500-acre organic farm and co-manage a farmers' market
3. My mom's cancer diagnosis which brought me back to Baltimore and re-connected me to my sense of place and belonging
4. Having an a bit of a meltdown during the last day of a summer farm & cooking program for 30 youth! I unfairly punished the kids and felt like I had failed them.
How did this experience prepare you for the professional road ahead?
These experiences have taught me about the importance of consistent and steady organization, slowing down and taking care of yourself, setting intentions, listening, failing forward, learning from mentors, and learning to go with the flow!
How did this experience change the course of your life, your career or your outlook?
When I was in my twenties, I consistently felt like time was passing me by, and often felt a sense of existential crisis at not knowing what I wanted to "be." As I have reached my mid-thirties, I have learned that my slow process of exploration and discovery in the world of administration and farming has opened up so many avenues and given me me a very handy tool-kit of skills and connections that a single career path would not have given me!
What would you say are the top three most important career competencies for budding professionals today?
Seek out a mentor or support network (even if you think you don't need one), continually grow your skills, and be confident!
If you could go back in time and give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?
Live in the moment and focus on growth, rather than the end of the path.
What are some words of wisdom that you would offer students exploring the possibility of an immersive professional experience?
As you go through the experience, stay tuned to what "sparks joy" in you so you can learn about your strengths and interests, or what to let go of.
What is your favorite quote? “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am not for others, what am I? And if not now, when?” ― Hillel Rabi
What's next? What are your next steps toward growth in 2019?
Wow - I am currently working on a plan for a website that will include a list of sustainable agriculture events in the Delmarva/DC/PA area!
Aliza Sollins lives, loves, and grows in Baltimore City. She has worked as an administrative assistant at an arts college and a non-profit foundation, managed a gardening program for resettled refugees, worked on a 500 acre organic farm in Kentucky, co-managed a farmers' market, organized field trips and educational programs at an urban farm in Baltimore City, and recently set up shiitake mushroom logs at her home as an exciting new project.