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You @ 25: The Multiverse & Lessons Learned in the Nonprofit Sector

ROI Solutions | You @ 25 Derek Drockelman

I’m a massive fan of time travel and multiverse stories, where you can explore alternate timelines that represent the paths not chosen. In our world, it takes the benefit of hindsight and the help of others to recognize the choices and patterns that chart the course in our personal and professional lives. We go through life reacting to situations and hoping for the best when we make decisions, trusting that they don’t send us in some direction we’ll later regret. I won’t pretend to have decoded everything about why I am where I am at the age of 53; however, there were many foundational experiences and lessons from when I was 25 that programmed the GPS to where I am today.

I married my wife at 24. Still, we had many firsts at 25, such as merging finances, purchasing our first house, learning about medical benefits and retirement accounts, adopting a shelter puppy, and learning to mesh our ambitions and aspirations in a way that continues to bring comfort and stability to our lives. It’s hard to predict whether two people are compatible for the long term, and we feel incredibly lucky to have stuck the landing.

In college, I had no idea where to focus my interests. As part of my honors management program, participants completed required internships during a semester of their junior year. I interviewed with many different types of businesses and was starting to panic when none of them was a good fit.  At a career fair, I met my future mentor from the place of my childhood dreams, The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. I completed my internship across several departments, even staying through the summer and returning occasionally during my senior year. The nonprofit sector grabbed me and wouldn’t let me go. When I was 24, I was hired by the museum into a custom-tailored role to grow the college intern program and help manage the 1000+ youth volunteer program. I learned about interviewing candidates, writing grant applications and proposals, reporting to funders, security background checks, and throwing killer recognition parties.

I hit my stride at 25 when implementing a DOS-based volunteer management system to track demographics, applications, assignments, and hours worked. I learned about confirming requirements, managing duplicates, documenting processes and procedures, and retrieving data from the system. I knew that I had found something I enjoyed; however, I couldn’t have guessed that I’d spend most of my professional life working as a consultant, project manager, or selling technology solutions to nonprofit organizations based on that experience.

I also taught myself to use PageMaker on a Windows 3.1 Compaq PC. I discovered an outlet for creative skills I didn’t know I had, designing and writing newsletters and brochures for the intern and youth volunteer programs. I roamed the museum, taking pictures of program participants in the galleries and then scanning photos on a flatbed into a magnificently crisp 300 DPI. I had very primitive drawing skills, but put me in front of a computer, and what I had in my head came to life. I use that experience daily to create compelling presentations, proposals, swag, email newsletters, and web content.

Looking back from this vantage point, my throughline – a desire to help others and make an impact, a love of the nonprofit community, a need for variety and creative expression, and a keen interest in technology – is pretty clear. My journey from 25 to joining ROI Solutions in 2020 at 50 isn’t as winding as I thought. Instead, it feels inevitable. 25-year-old Derek would be proud.

This is part of an ongoing series of You @ 25 blog posts where ROI Solutions staff, clients, and partners reflect on lessons they learned at 25 (or through 25 years of professional work) that still guide their path today. Do you have a story to tell?  Email [email protected].

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