Lessons in Navigating Non-Traditional Employment: Jessica’s Story

A photo of Jessica, a woman with red-brown hair and wearing glasses, sitting on a couch and smiling as she looks at her computer.

Finding the perfect job can be challenging. When Jessica started partnering with Lifeworks to explore career opportunities, she wasn’t sure how to navigate her options and identify meaningful work. After a series of jobs fell through, she took the opportunity to align her career with her passions. Now, as an online English language tutor, Jessica has the flexibility to set her schedule, while connecting with people from around the world. Jessica learned that she could start a career that she truly loves by drawing on her strengths and being resilient.

Jessica moved to southern Minnesota over 15 years ago. After living in several cities around the state of Minnesota, she was introduced to an opportunity in the town of Worthington. “Foreign language brought me to southern Minnesota,” she says. “I was learning Laotian. There was a need there for people to learn Laotian for the volunteer work that I do. At the time, there was more of a population of Laotian immigrants.” Jessica was introduced to Laotian culture and language through her stepfather in high school, who was from Laos.

Complications out of her control coincided with Jessica’s arrival in Worthington. “I got sick shortly after moving. I knew I had health problems, but I hit a wall after moving to Worthington,” she recalls. While focusing on her health, she learned she could find work while applying for disability benefits. She began working with a vocational rehabilitation counselor to locate employment programs that could support her. This brought her to connect with Lifeworks in 2017.

Initially, Jessica didn’t know where to look for work to accommodate her lifestyle and health needs. “That’s where Lifeworks really helped because we were able to focus on what I would enjoy and what my strengths and weaknesses were so that I could focus my energy.” Jessica remained resilient, even as a few job positions fell through due to unforeseen circumstances. “Nothing else worked. We went through the wringer trying to find things.”

That’s where Lifeworks really helped because we were able to focus on what I would enjoy and what my strengths and weaknesses were so that I could focus my energy.

Jessica recognized the barriers that made her job hunt difficult. Along with her health, she is frank about the perceptions of people with disabilities in the workforce: “They automatically think you’re unreliable.” Along with misconceptions that many employers have, she also says, “It had been so long [since I had worked], and the workforce has changed over the years.” Through her partnership with Lifeworks, she hoped to address these barriers. “I needed an advocate for someone who has disabilities because it’s very difficult.”

Jessica in conversation with someone on her computer.Finally, at the beginning of this year, Jessica learned about Cambly, an online platform that connects people from all over the world with native English-speaking tutors. Jessica was relieved when she learned she had been accepted to tutor online. “It has been such an upbuilding experience and confidence booster.”

Jessica primarily tutors on weekends when she is more available to teach her students lessons. She appreciates that she can limit her hours to the weekends but also has the option to add more as she pleases. “I basically set my own schedule. I work when I want.” This flexibility gives her more time to be a caregiver for a family member and do other things that she values, like volunteering, reading, and continuing to learn new languages.

One of the most rewarding aspects of Jessica’s work is engaging with people from other countries. “I’ve had students from Japan, Korea, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Brazil, and Mexico already. It’s fascinating.” Jessica teaches her students one-on-one and meets with a range of ages, from children in school to professionals who want to improve their English proficiency. While she is primarily teaching her students, she says she is also learning from them. “I learn as much [as I can] because a good way to learn vocabulary is asking about their job and communicating about it.”

Jessica also finds her worldview changing. “We have a very limited and narrow perception because it’s based on the information we have,” she says. She learns more about the world through their firsthand experiences. “You get so many different viewpoints.” Through these encounters, she finds commonalities with others, whether by talking about contentious elections or popular 80’s movies.

Jessica smiling and holding a disposable coffee cup.Jessica has been tutoring with Cambly for the better part of the year. Even though she found her fit, she continues to meet with her Career Navigation Counselor, Amy, to identify ways to improve in her role. Recently, Amy has partnered with Jessica to search for classes that will help her progress her skills. Jessica says that Amy “helped me [learn] how to best advocate for myself. It is difficult, and you have to bring it up.” Amy noticed over their time together that Jessica became a better advocate for herself. Amy says to Jessica, “You never settled. You kept looking. You wanted to find the right fit, even if it took a few years.”

Amy supports other individuals as they navigate their careers and sees Jessica’s success in a non-traditional employment setting as something that could benefit others. “I am more willing to look outside the box now [when supporting other clients]. Jessica has really taught me that. It’s not all 9-to-5’s or going into the office.” Amy states that the COVID-19 pandemic significantly impacted the job market, which provided new opportunities for our clients. “There are a lot more work-from-home opportunities now. That has helped a lot of my clients because they have mobility or transportation issues.”

Jessica hopes other folks who partner with Lifeworks will also consider seeking non-traditional employment. She believes it offers new opportunities for those who have experienced barriers in traditional employment settings. There were many roadblocks in Jessica’s journey to becoming an online English language tutor. Still, she feels all the better for it. She advises others going through the same process: “Have fun, don’t settle, and do something you are passionate about. Something will work out with something you love.”