University of North Carolina, B.A. Journalism & Mass Communication
Amanda Pittman realized pretty quickly that if she was going to spend 40 — or sometimes much more —hours of her week at work, she’d need to find a job she was truly passionate about. Since her favorite things (dogs, kids and beer) didn’t seem to fit in the same job description (yet!), she instead found herself landing a position at a nonprofit tasked with improving teen literacy through poetry and spoken word.
Though she didn’t have nonprofit experience, as operations and finance manager of Get Lit | Words Ignite, Amanda relishes applying her for-profit skills while working toward a greater good. “I can see the effects we’re having on kids lives on a daily basis,” she says. “Every day, I get to look around my office and see how the work we’re doing directly impacts those statistics and completely wipes them out.” For Amanda, the types of days that have her jumping from number crunching to organizing poetry slams are just what she needed to break through the corporate America doldrums. And while she’s still got the idea for a dogs-welcome, craft beer bar floating in the back of her mind, Amanda is pretty confident she’s found her true passion at Get Lit.
Being calculated and ‘logical’ are certainly admirable qualities, but you can’t find out what you really love to do unless you dream a little.
For those of us unfamiliar with Get Lit Words Ignite, what can you tell us about the organization and its environment?
Get Lit is a Los Angeles nonprofit organization striving to increase teen literacy in urban areas through the combination of classic poetry and spoken word performance.
Our curriculum is taught in 45+ high schools in Los Angeles County and we’re working to expand to middle/elementary schools, as well as across the country. It’s truly an incredible organization that does so much for so many teens in this city. Our office is always full of teens — either writing or practicing — or just generally hanging out. Coming from a corporate job background, it’s a really different environment for me, but it’s certainly a welcome change!
What is it about your job that makes you feel it’s the right fit for you?
As cheesy as this sounds, it’s all about our mission. Managing operations and finance is pretty much the same anywhere you go, and it’s a job I really enjoy. What’s different about Get Lit is that I can really see the effects we are having on these kids’ lives on a daily basis. Believe it or not, California teen literacy rates are second-to-last in the United States and Los Angeles County teen literacy rates are second-to-last in the state. That said, I get to look around my office every day and see how the work we’re doing directly impacts those statistics and completely wipes them out. Our kids are so unbelievably talented and they have the ability to make such a positive impact on their communities. Being around them and being able to work for an organization that makes these kinds of changes possible is what makes coming to work every day truly a pleasure.
How do you organize your day?
I try to get the most tedious tasks out of the way first, like listening to voicemails and responding to emails. When I see my email building up, it stresses me out, because one of the most important things about my work style is being responsive to our teachers/students/parents/community leaders/board members. But in a job like this, no two days are ever the same. One day, I may have my head completely stuck in the budget and be crunching numbers, and the next, I’ll be packing up supplies, folding t-shirts and prepping for some big event we’re holding that weekend. I just try to make sure I’m organized enough to prioritize my tasks and handle the most important things first. And I have this handy-dandy little whiteboard that allows me to see everything we have to accomplish in the coming weeks with one glance! It’s seriously a lifesaver.
Is work/life balance ever a problem with you? If so, what is one no-fail tactic you use to create balance?
I almost hate to admit this, but I think I manage balancing work and life pretty well. Both of my parents are business owners, so I was lucky enough to have really good role models in learning how to effectively manage a business, but still make time for your family. I’m always available to the executive director and my staff when I’m not in the office, but I do my best to try to avoid reading emails or getting caught up in work-related issues when I’m at home; unless it’s urgent or we have a major deadline.
The one tactic that I’ve found works best is just to put my phone aside. Those little number notifications drive me crazy, so if I see one, I have to check my email if for no other reason than to make that little “1” disappear! If I just put the phone on the table and leave it there for an hour or so, it helps me separate from the workday long enough to enjoy spending time with my partner (and my ridiculously cute dog).
What is the absolute greatest aspect of working for a nonprofit?
The absolute greatest aspect of working for a nonprofit is, hands down, the other people in the organization. My co-workers are some of the most passionate and talented people I’ve ever met. It’s inspiring to be around people who care so much about what they’re doing for a living. I’m not overly creative, so being around that kind of vision and vibe is invigorating!
Recently, I was helping to coordinate our annual poetry slam, and as I was watching one of the slam bouts, all I could think was, “This is my JOB!” I always found the corporate atmosphere stifling, so working for a nonprofit has been a breath of fresh air.
What are some of the rules you live by?
1 / Take a vacation. Even if it’s just a long weekend, a vacation helps me recharge and come back to work with more focus.
2 / Exercise regularly. I sit behind a desk all day. If I don’t work out in the morning before work, I get so antsy by the end of the day that I can barely sit still. There’s no way you can compare a profit and loss statement and a budget if you’re squirming around in your chair!
3 / A smile, a good attitude and a quick wit will get you a long way. No matter how frustrating a conversation or a situation might be, I try to make sure I maintain a level head and a certain amount of “Southern charm” during the event. Most people will respond more positively if you’re polite and friendly, even when confronted with a difficult situation. And, if all else fails, slipping into a syrupy sweet North Carolina accent can really help smooth some feathers!
What qualities do you feel it takes for someone to be successful in your line of work?
Master the art of multi-tasking and be willing to help out with pretty much anything. Organizations like Get Lit are “all hands on deck” environments, so you have to be prepared to break down a stage one minute and read a balance sheet the next. Develop thick skin and be diligent and determined. You can’t know everything. But a willingness to learn and to accept constructive criticism will only encourage future success.
What one piece of advice do you wish you could tell a 21-year-old version of yourself?
Don’t take the safe route! I learned more than I could’ve ever imagined on my current career path, but I was never much of a risk-taker. Being calculated and “logical” are certainly admirable qualities, but you can’t find out what you really love to do unless you dream a little.
P.S. You’re not as smart as you think you are!
Where do you see yourself in five years?
I tell our executive director every day that there’s so much potential for Get Lit. I’d really love to stay here as long as possible and help grow the organization to a national level. But, if I end up washing out of the nonprofit world, I’ve always wanted to own my own business and my dream has been to open a dog-friendly craft beer bar that caters to local breweries and homebrewers. Like I said before: dogs, kids and beer!