Eric Wolverton is back on the show and back at Habitat for Humanity. We discuss why he left a good job with benefits in the public sector to return to the busier, more stressful job as Director of the local Habitat for Humanity organization. We also discuss his choice to go straight into the workforce outside of high school instead of going into higher education and how that affects him now.
00:06 Speaker 1: This is Do Good, Be Good, the show about helpful people and the challenges they face in trying to do good. Your host is Sharon Tewksbury-Bloom, a career do-gooder, who also loves craft beer and a good hard tackle in rugby. Sharon speaks to everyday people about why they do good and what it means to be good.
00:26 Sharon Tewksbury-Bloom: Welcome back, this is your host Sharon Tewksbury-Bloom, and I’m excited to bring you a continuation of Eric Wolverton’s story. On last week’s podcast episode. We re-broadcast episode number three in which I had talked to Eric Wolverton about what it had been like for him to work in the food center, as well as at Habitat for Humanity. And at that time he had made the jump to leave Habitat for Humanity and start working for Public Radio. Well, now he is back on the mike and, spoiler alert, he’s back at Habitat for Humanity. That’s part of why I wanted to bring him in, is because he did something that is somewhat unconventional.
01:09 ST: He went back to a role that he had had previously, and I was really curious to find out why and how it’s going. So that’s a big part of what we talked about today. Although you would enjoy this episode without having heard our previous conversation, I do recommend that if you haven’t heard that yet, go back and listen to that one first. It should be the last podcast episode in your feed, or you can check it out on our website at dogoodbegoodshow.com. Re-broadcast episode number three is what you look for. All right, let’s jump right into it.
01:45 ST: So you are back at Habitat?
01:48 Eric Wolverton: After being gone for three years, I’m thankfully back and have been back for the last 14 months.
01:55 ST: I saw you hit the ground running when you started. There was already exciting things happening.
02:01 EW: Well, we had to create exciting things because unfortunately, while I was gone in the three-year time span, we only built one home. Honestly, when I left Habitat, my goal and what I was hoping I positioned the organization in was to be able to build at least one home a year. So from the sidelines, I certainly was kind of bummed out. When I got back to Habitat and I had that great opportunity to really go back home, I also recognized that not only was I the only one dissatisfied but the community forgot who Habitat was. That’s when I challenged our board and I said, “Well, we’re gonna build two homes,” and they said, “We only have money for one.” And then I tried to compromise and I said, “Well, then let’s build one-and-a-half homes. And if we can build the second one out with some money, then let’s do it.” That was a game plan that the board could get behind. Thankfully, and I’m very grateful that the community did step up, they saw our impact, they saw what we were doing on a large scale. When we were done with the houses, our coffers were just as good as when we started. For us to be able to do that out of the gates was fence housing.
03:28 ST: Yeah, I mean, as a total sideline watcher, [chuckle] I felt the excitement that you were building around that. I mean, it was great.
03:38 EW: Well, for me, it just came down to the passion. After being removed for three years, I never really got to touch the mission of where I was working. Even though I was working in Public Radio, well, I was only doing one facet of what I’m used to doing as an executive director. I was going out and I was asking businesses to sponsor Public Radio. And that’s great and I’m behind Public Radio. I listen to it every morning still but the problem though is is that for all good reasons, I’m not gonna write a new script because I don’t have that background. I found myself getting very, very bored there, and I would go home and be, quite frankly, quite depressed. My wife would say to me, she’s like, “You know, there’s really only one thing that satisfies you, and that’s when you’re touching something that’s gonna end up helping somebody else.” Again, gratefully, when the opportunity presented itself, I could go back to my family over at Habitat.
04:47 ST: Was there anything that, in retrospect, do you feel like you were taking for granted at Habitat?
04:51 EW: Oh, absolutely, I was taking for granted that we were doing so well. Quite frankly, I don’t feel like I work hard at my job. I just work diligently at my job. We had great success my first three years with Habitat before I left to go to Public Radio so phenomenally well, in fact, that I really honestly thought, okay, even though, when I found Habitat, they were struggling, but when I left it after three years, they are in a great position, and I can emotionally walk away, because I was being sought after by Public Radio with this idea of that I could earn a job that was easy. And unfortunately then I thought that sounded really good. But when I got there and I recognized that I wanted a little break from being a leader, the guy that the buck stops here, I did want an unemotional break from that, but I didn’t recognize on how important it was for my psyche to be in that role, on a day-to-day basis. And so then going to a place that I couldn’t find myself emotionally fulfilled by the job, then it was meaningless.
06:14 EW: Public Radio gave me great opportunities to expand my knowledge of the community and a lot of other things including being able to spend more quality time with my daughter in her single digit years, which are very important. But nonetheless, I wasn’t reaping any benefit. Just the things around me were becoming easier, because it’s easier, I learned a really hard lesson, it’s not fulfilling. And so, that grass was so green when they first said to me, “Come on over here,” and, “The studio is warm, all the time.” It sounded great, but boy, I’ll tell you what, that grass was very, very, very not as green as a thought.
07:00 EW: And then, in hindsight, I recognized how perfect I was at Habitat. It’s like a break-up, that’s what I had. I broke up a relationship. I’m the one that started it, [chuckle] because Habitat was being real good to me. But, for some reason, I felt like I fulfilled everything that I needed to, and that I could move on and move up. I found out almost immediately after the break-up that I made a terrible, terrible choice. [chuckle] Granted, I had to learn a really good lesson at KNAU, and there’s no regrets. I’ve always told myself that a regret is just a leash, and it holds us back from being able to grow and be better. I look at those three years as being great, because I wasn’t thrilled, but I persevered. I wasn’t really maybe super pumped up about the job, but I did it well, and I made sure that the numbers were always the best that they’ve ever been.
08:07 ST: I asked Eric about the perspective he has gotten from working in different non-profits in different fields.
08:15 EW: And you know, it is really interesting to be able to go from food insecurity over to housing. The correlation is very direct because food insecurity is always going to be the first cut from any budget. It’s the only thing that we have, in terms of our needs, on a financial scope, every month, that we can manage. So, we know that our gas is gonna be $50, and we know our electric is gonna be $50, and our water is gonna be this much. All those are set in stone, and so if we’re hurting financially, there’s only one budget line item that you can mess with and that’s food. And then, that’s how people end up becoming food insecure, because they take that unfortunate but necessary step that sets them back, and then it’s hard to get back on to the regular path again. And once somebody’s there, then obviously, it’s very easy for folks to say, “Well, I’ve cut all the food I can cut. Now I’m gonna start missing a payment on this utility, or missing a mortgage payment, or what have you.” And so it can turn into a downward spiral.
09:29 EW: I am just thrilled at what I get to do with Habitat is that I get to work with the workforce of Flagstaff, and ensure that they have an opportunity to stay in Flagstaff. And living here for 22 years everyday, and I’ve owned my home for 10 years now, but still, everyday is a battle to keep that home. We look at job opportunities as being sexy, if they have health benefits, if they have a pension attached to it. And the reason why we do that is because we need a sense of security, right? But I think what ends up happening, though is by… And this gets a little political, but by allowing our employer to create that sense of security, it also then disadvantages our ability to keep the passion, sustain the passion, find those things that really make us wanna work hard.
10:39 EW: And so I’ve always made the argument that it’s not an employer’s role to provide benefits, or provide a pension, because now you’re just stuck. But all of those great people, and they are great people, that may feel stuck. If we had universal healthcare, if we had a very good social security safety net, which doesn’t exist, then those people would be able to challenge themselves and take their entrepreneurial spirit that all of us have and go do something with it. And take a risk, because that’s what all business is, it’s taking a risk.
11:23 ST: I think one little microcosm of that is the almost religious zeal that many employers, most employers, have towards having sets schedules for work and prescripting that work must start at this time and end at this time. I mean, when I think about myself and the times in which I wasn’t making the most out of every hour everyday, it was because I was forced to be there during hours where, I now know, I have trouble being very productive, like right after lunch.
12:01 EW: Yep. [chuckle]
12:02 ST: I’m just naturally not like a super productive person right after lunch.
12:06 EW: Nor is anyone.
12:07 ST: I have after lunch slows. So, now that I run my own schedule I can plan around that, and I can say, you know, after lunch I’m just gonna do some chores, I’m gonna run that errand, whatever it is that doesn’t take a lot of mental effort on my part, because that’ll make more productive use of that time. And then, I’ll jump back into my work after that.
12:28 EW: Yeah.
12:32 EW: Just taking a quick break from my conversation with Eric to remind you that you can get the show notes from today’s episode, as well as a transcript at dogoodbegoodshow.com. You can also follow our conversation around the show on Facebook at our Facebook page, facebook.com/dogoodbegoodshow. And you can always subscribe to the show for free in any podcast app of choice, such as Spotify, Stitcher, Apple Podcast, Google Music, wherever you like to find your podcast. And, of course, it would help us immensely if you would rate our show in your podcast app of choice. Thanks so much for listening. Let’s jump back into the conversation with Eric.
13:19 EW: Our job roles have to evolve because our passion can’t be sustained with just one goal. We need to know that everyday we’re going into work not to build a house for Habitat. We’re going in to build a house for Habitat and since we did that last year, that should be a lot easier. Let’s start talking about scholarships for adults that wanna go into trade professions, where it’s so needed, and there’s great opportunity for our youth to be able to fill a monster void within our economy, and that’s just those trade jobs. We’ve ignored those professions for a really long time. And, quite frankly, [chuckle] we have been living in the security of our parents and grandparents to do that work for us. Well, they’re either gone or they’re retired. And nobody in our generation, whether it’s Gen X, Millennial, Gen Y, nobody really is being… I don’t wanna say pushed, but educated that there’s these opportunities.
14:38 ST: How do you see that lack of people being encouraged to go into the trades, the fact that there are not enough workers for the trades here locally? Are you seeing that impact at all, the work that you do with Habitat?
14:54 EW: Oh, it’s insane. It costs a lot of money to get anyone to come out. It’s impossible to schedule anyone to come out. There is just not enough workforce for the need. So, the more young adults that we can get, and not going to the building management direction, again, that’s just people going for the leadership role. Not everybody is the leader and you don’t have to be a leader to make a great living. My friends that are in trade jobs, they find fulfillment when they are done with a project, so if they end up putting electricity in a house, they did something. They physically got that thing so that it has power. And they can walk away, and everytime they go by that house, they can say, “I touched that house. I put power into that house.” That is fulfillment. And they’re doing this, maybe daily, maybe weekly, depending on how big the project is where sitting at a desk, and shuffling papers, and sending out emails, how are you gonna find accomplishment? It’s really hard to drive by your office and say, “Wow, I’m really glad I put out that email yesterday.”
16:15 ST: Yeah, absolutely. You mentioned that that was something that’s part of your story of saying, “I’m just gonna go into work, rather than going into college.” I’m curious kinda how that choice has affected you as you’re now in this leadership role in the community. Did such still show up or was that something that doesn’t even factor in?
16:39 EW: I certainly think it factors in almost daily. So, in high school I made the conscious decision, very early on, probably my sophomore year of I didn’t really wanna go to college. My father worked for the road department, he didn’t go to college. I have two brothers, one went to college and my other brother is a general contractor, and he doesn’t have a degree. I was never against education, though. I think that education is the most important thing for all of humanity. But, at the same time, for me and this was back in 1996, when college was affordable, I didn’t wanna pay for it. That was my big gripe. I was a farm boy that was used to working, and I just wanted to get to the career immediately. To be honest with you, I didn’t wanna do the hard work. I wanted to do the hard work into setting myself up on a professional level that could compete with my peers that were going to college. My argument was like, “When you’re going to school for four years, I’ll already be a supervisor when you’re done, because I am gonna put in my sweat equity into my work.”
18:00 ST: I don’t think that the lack of education has hurt me professionally. Quite frankly, I’ve been lucky enough that my work ethic has been able to shine above any person’s perception that having a lack of education could therefore then directly constitute an inability to do a job, which is very frustrating and still exists today. The things that irk me is If I’m compared to another person only based on my educational background. So, if I have not met someone and they’re gonna interview me and another person, and that other person has a master’s, but I’ve got 10 years more of work experience, then, yeah. I really, really get frustrated when somebody’s like, “Well, they earned that master’s.” Well, what did I do? Are you saying I was just lazy, so I didn’t earn my way up? That can get really hard. But I’m also very proud of where I’ve gotten, and I tell people, proudly, only have 12 college credits, and they’re all from the community college. And I did it under my terms and when I wanted to do it.
19:19 ST: I feel like we’re at a shifting point. I don’t know if I can speak nationally, but [chuckle] certainly in what I’ve seen and I was an instructor at the university for a semester, and I saw how these conversations were affecting the students I was working with, about the fact that college is not affordable at all. And that there’s no guarantee of results when you get out, in terms of employability, in terms of having a career that will pay back your student loans, etcetera. So, I got questions directly from some of the students I was teaching, about… I had one student, in particular, who said, “I don’t think I should be here. I think I have other career prospects that I would be happier in, where I could start working right away, where I could get great experience. I don’t even understand why I’m still here.”
20:16 EW: And that’s exactly why I think a lot of students feel that way. And they should. I mean, again, we’re talking about a vulnerable population, in terms of where they’re at. All of a sudden, they’re 18 and given total freedom. And we all did, too, and it was great, and terrifying, and awesome. And I ate 50 packages of Oreos the first day I had my own place, ’cause I could do whatever I wanted, and that was awesome. But also, I ate 50 bags of Oreos! Let’s think about this. And immediately, like, “Here’s a credit card. Do you know how to use a credit card? Here’s student loan opportunity. Do you know how to pay those back?” All these predatory things that happen to young adults.
21:06 ST: I just have to interrupt to say that, as a freshman in college, they had credit card sign ups stations all over campus, or right outside campus and I once… The only time I did it. [chuckle] I signed up for a credit card, tried to give them a fake name and everything, in order to get a free sandwich.
21:27 EW: Well, at least you got something out of the bank. [laughter]
21:29 ST: It’s like the one blemish on my credit score. It’s like this false account that I set up.
21:35 EW: That’s too funny. But it’s just really… We go back to that food insecurity. You just wanted a sandwich.
21:40 ST: I just wanted a sandwich. I was really hungry and you were dangling a sandwich in front of me.
21:46 EW: So why not take it?
21:47 ST: Yeah, poor life choices at 19, you know. [chuckle]
21:50 EW: Well, and that’s the thing like we all make poor life choices, no matter what age we are.
21:55 ST: I would say and now.
21:56 EW: Yeah, I mean, it doesn’t matter. From my 10-year-old, and I always remind her daily, mistakes are great opportunities. The hard part though is is that when you’re young and you’re impressionable, people can take advantage of it. And we’re setting our future workforce, like five steps back from where they could be. The opportunity of owning a home is so impossible for so many people, because their debt to income is too high because of student loans like, give me a break. Hey, welcome to the world, you’re 18 now. You’re going in to get your college degree, congratulations. You’re making a… The steps we told you to do for success to hit the American dream. By the way, we’re just gonna back you up $50,000. Don’t worry, it’ll work itself out.
22:48 ST: Yeah, don’t start at zero, start at negative $50,000.
22:52 EW: Yeah, it’s unbelievable to me. And that’s where I thought, quite frankly, again, getting back to making the choice of not getting that upper education right after high school, especially, was one, I didn’t want the debt. My parents were, God bless them, were really good about teaching me what debt was, and what it meant, and I couldn’t afford school. I just personally thought, “Okay, my greatest opportunity for success is just get into the workforce. And that’s what I did. My first job was a postal worker. I thought, “Hey, I know mailmen and mailwomen that retire after a quick 25 years.” Well, I had to learn that hard mistake that I was not made to be a mailman. And I learned it. It took eight months but I realized this wasn’t my path.
23:50 ST: Was there anything in particular about being a postal employee that actually did teach you a lesson that you carried forward?
24:02 EW: It did. I can’t do the same thing everyday.
24:04 ST: I was imagining that was the piece of it, that it was particularly hard for you. [chuckle]
24:11 EW: It is. And it’s very difficult. And I was very lucky, I was in rural New Jersey, they had a walking route that was five miles. Most people would find tons of satisfaction in that world, but to be honest with you, this was before there were iPods or anything. And so, I’m walking five miles a day, with no exterior distractions or anything like that. I must have came up with a million, million dollar ideas in my brain. None of them in fruition. But, nonetheless, I was kind of driving myself a little batty there.
24:48 ST: Yeah. What I’m hearing, though, really, is the next time you need a career break you should go get a job like that where you have lots of time to think and physical exercise. And then that’ll set you off to your next million dollar idea. [chuckle]
25:04 EW: You know what it will do and much like my break from Habitat? It will put in perspective of what’s important in my life. And again, that’s why I’m really thankful, and everyone should be really thankful that when times aren’t great, they’re still good. And we can try and look back and say, retrospectively, “How do I get back to great, then?” And it might not be the old path, it might not be like Eric. “Oh, he went from Habitat to this and back to Habitat.” I was lucky. But that doesn’t mean that there’s other great opportunities. We started the whole thing off, where I felt like I broke up with Habitat, and then we got back together. That’s what work is. It’s just a slew of relationships. You might not be in a good one, but… And it’s hard to get out of it, it’s really hard to get out of a bad relationship.
26:03 ST: And it’s interesting, actually. I like this metaphor, because you talked about how we get medically and financially sort of trapped by the benefits and things and jobs. And that can happen in relationships, too. You own a house with someone or you have some sort of financial connection.
26:24 EW: No, I think you’re spot-on. The thing that I lost the most about leaving Habitat and, quite frankly, in my history at the food bank, nothing rewards me more than walking away from my desk and being able to participate in the mission, whether it’s putting food in food boxes, or installing floors at the Habitat homes. Honestly, that’s what I need. That’s my passion. Putting out the five emails that I joked about is my job and I do that all the time, and it’s part of creating the passion. But, nonetheless, I’d probably be just as happy if I just put in floors and physically could do so all year long.
27:11 ST: As long as you don’t have to do it everyday.
27:14 EW: Yeah, not everyday.
27:16 ST: I hope you enjoyed my conversation with Eric. And thanks, Eric, so much, for coming to my home studio to record. I’m really grateful we got to have you back on the show. Thank you for listening to Do Good, Be Good. For show notes on all of our episodes, visit dogoodbegoodshow.com. Today’s episode was edited, produced, and everything else by me, Sharon Tewksbury-Bloom. Don’t forget you can always subscribe for free to this show in any podcast app of choice, be that Spotify, Stitcher, Apple Podcast, any of them that you like. You can just click the button to subscribe, and you’ll get each episode as soon as it is released. Music in this episode is Bathed in Fine Dust, by Andy G. Cohen, released under Creative Commons Attribution International License, and discovered in the Free Music Archive. Until next week, this is Sharon Tewksbury-Bloom signing off. [music]