Nick Houser never planned to work in the nonprofit sector. After what he describes as a meandering path to managing youth development programs and eventually the unpredictable environment of journalism, life events made him realize that all that talk about work/life balance wasn’t just nonsense. He also realized that intentional career-goal analysis would be the key to finding the right path for him — even if he was seeking that clarity later than some of his peers.
Now the marketing and communications manager for Sacramento Children’s Home, Houser ended up not too far from his origin in youth development, though you could say he took the long way around.
Houser began his professional career in afterschool and summer program management at the age of 17 because, as he puts it, that’s what his friends were doing at the time. The afterschool programs led to more responsibility as he progressed professionally and eventually led him to transfer from Sacramento City College to UC Davis’ Human Development program in 2006. The program focuses on giving students an understanding of the entire human life span.
Looking back, he says that he chose the program because it fit with the career path he had already been pursuing — a career path he had chosen at a very young age without much thought about the future.
Fast forward to 2010. Houser had been working primarily in youth development programs for over a decade and didn’t like what he saw in his future. Houser and his wife had also started talking about having children when he was hit with another realization. “I was coming home every day exhausted after working with 60 other kids for eight hours a day,” he says, noting that as much as he enjoyed it, the job was taking a toll. “Kudos to the people who do it … I decided that I can’t work with 60 kids and then come home and give energy to my kid. It doesn’t feel fair.”
He and his wife started brainstorming his next move. Because he had always enjoyed writing and had a blog, he decided to give writing a shot. In 2010, he just barely landed an internship with Sacramento Press (he almost didn’t get hired due to his lack of experience) that helped him build his portfolio while allowing him to keep his day job.
In the years that followed he would go on to do freelance work for CBS 13 and intern with, freelance for, and work as a part-time feedback editor for Bleacher Report, an online publication focused on the intersection of sports and culture. He would also land a copywriting job with an insurance company and finally secure full-time employment in 2014 as a managing digital editor with Hearst, which owns Sacramento NBC affiliate KCRA (Channel 3). “I was like, I have made it,” he says. “This is my career now. I’m only doing this. And it was awesome.”
But in fall of 2016, Houser’s team at Hearst received a call from corporate. “They call our team and say, ‘We’re restructuring and reorganizing. We want this team to be under the same roof and we’ve picked WTAE in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.’ Where none of us lived,” he says. The company gave the team several month’s notice, with the official relocation date being January 1, 2017, but Houser wasn’t going to move his young family across the country and that meant he was on the hunt for a new job again.
“It was crushing,” he says. “I had this job that I love and the schedule that I love. I felt good at it and I felt good about it … I went back and forth so many times — I can either really pinpoint what I want to do since I have the cushion of four months and I can make the next job perfect, or I can just kind of call it what it is and get a state job like all of my friends.”
After job hunting for months, he landed a marketing position for a construction firm, but knew quickly that it wasn’t a great fit and put together a plan. “This right here is the time — I should have done this with Hearst — but this is the time where I sit down, write out my goals and pinpoint exactly what I want to do,” he says. “I’m now 32, with two kids. There is no time left to mess around.”
So, he sat down and wrote out everything he had enjoyed about his previous jobs. With journalism, he says that he liked that the job was different everyday, depending on what stories needed to be told. He enjoyed the creativity and flexibility he found in his past work, but he also wanted to tell stories about worthwhile efforts happening throughout the greater Sacramento community. Then his wife brought up the idea of working for a nonprofit and her suggestion put all of the pieces together for Houser.
He began casually looking for nonprofits that were hiring. When he found the job posting from Sacramento Children’s Home, he decided it was the perfect place to apply: He would get to utilize the 10 years of experience he had working with children, the job kept him in Sacramento and it was a managerial position where he could take the lead on projects and make decisions. Plus the organization’s mission resonated. “Just the idea of coming in and being able to tell the Sacramento Children’s Home story, telling the story of the kids who live here and the programs that run in the community … it was just something that I could very easily get behind.” He started in August of 2017.
Houser often thinks about what he might say if he were to ever have a chance to talk to young people about finding the perfect career path. Houser says the most important thing he would want to get across is to be open minded. “You have no idea of where it’s going to turn … at the very beginning you don’t really see what the possibilities are,” he says.
Follow our writer Jennifer Snyder every month as she speaks with people in the Capital Region who have taken unconventional career paths to get to where they are today.
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