Reinventing Our Careers support group helps those looking for a change

loberle@islandpacket.comJune 28, 2013 

Mike Pope wanted to make sure he never missed the events in his children's life -- the soccer games, the church plays, the Dads and Donuts.

But as a stockbroker in Des Moines, Iowa, his work required a lot of travel and he struggled to balance work and family.

When his wife was diagnosed with colon cancer, that need for change became urgent.

Suddenly, money wasn't everything.

"The prospect of having her maybe dying was quite the eye opener," Pope said. "I decided I needed to do something with less stress in my life."

Things that had to go: the 4,000-square-foot house with five bedrooms and an in-ground swimming pool; the $450 a month country club membership.

Pope said some of his friends looked down on his decision to live a more simple life. Others, though, were part of Reinventing Our Careers -- a support group for those who were unemployed, underemployed or simply looking for a career change -- and they invited Pope to join.

"(The group) gave me a network of people that I could confide in without being chastised," Pope said. "It was a chance to be with people who were in a similar situation."

With help from the group, Pope was able to find another avenue for his skills, and he began doing commercial sales for a cellphone company.

Pope and his wife moved to Bluffton in 2007, and he now runs Pope Construction, a small contracting company. He started a Reinventing Our Careers group that meets weekly at First Presbyterian Church. He says there are usually a few people at each meeting, cycling through as they gain the stability and happiness they're seeking in their careers.

People have come from various background: a housewife going through a divorce; a construction worker looking for a more permanent career; a car salesman wanting to put his college degree to work; a disabled person.

"There have been successes in terms of people finding jobs, but mostly this is just a sounding board," Pope said. "There's nothing magical about it. I can't find jobs for people, but I have helped some people find jobs. It's helping network and finding ways to handle the frustrations of finding the right career."

During times of self-doubt, the group is there to encourage and relate.

"They come here and find their situation really isn't as unique as they thought it was," Pope said. "I think one of the things is trying to restore confidence in themselves. When you're unemployed and feel down about yourself, it's difficult to give the aura necessary to get a job."

In an ever-changing job market, some come to the group with outdated means of gaining employment.

"The best way to find a job is networking, and it can be the hardest thing for people to do," Pope said.

They work on the basic tools of networking: where to find people, how to introduce yourself, how to make business connections.

"It just offers a fresh perspective," Pope said. "We're in an age where we spend more and more time alone. So having a peer group you can relate to is important. Some days we talk about politics or current events or sports."

When new people come to the group, Pope has them write a newspaper ad for two or three jobs they'd like to have.

"It helps give insight into what some of your interests are," Pope said.

Above all, the group is one free of judgment.

"No one points fingers," Pope said. "We try and make people feel better about themselves and find happiness, whatever that may be."

Follow reporter Laura Oberle at twitter.com/IPBG_Laura.

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