Re-Connecting with Faith – Finding Your Home – Adult Retreat January 25-27, 2008

September 7, 2007 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Church New Member Process, Religion 

Re-Connecting with Faith: Finding Your Home – Adult Retreat
Johnsonburg Presbyterian Center, Johnsonburg, NJ
January 25-27, 2008

Are you considering a church home?  Do you currently attend a church, but feel like you’re not getting everything you need?  Are you looking at spiritual alternatives?  Have you recently moved and need to find a new church?  If you answered yes to any of these questions, this retreat is for you!

For a variety of reasons, a large number of adults leave the spiritual home of their youth, or spirituality altogether.  However, after a while, many of these people feel like something is missing in their lives.  Returning to a spiritual community after an absence can be a bit challenging for many people.  Will you encounter the situations that caused you to leave?  Will you be accepted?  Will you be fulfilled?  All too often these challenges result in the person staying away from a spiritual community altogether, and everyone loses.

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This weekend long retreat is held for adults who are currently without a spiritual home, or who are attending a church but don’t feel fed there.  We’ll take some time to tell our own stories; who we are and what it is we’re seeking.  We’ll also look at some of the challenges in finding a spiritual home and what some different churches have to offer.  Come and join those who have gone through this discernment process before and who can help you find your way.  Presbyterianism is optional – the program does not assume any particular denomination.

For more information, contact the camp office at 908-852-2349 or  The camp website is found at
The cost is yet to be determined but should be between $50 and $100 per person; if money is what’s keeping you from the retreat contact the camp – we have limited assistance available.

An article about last year’s retreat can be found HERE.  This year’s program will be very similar.

Feeling a little itchy

August 15, 2007 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Religion 

I’m feeling a bit emotionally/spiritually itchy.  You know – not quite comfortable.  I suppose it’s a bit like the ailment of the month – Restless Legs Syndrome.  Something is not quite right but not such a problem that it’s acute pain.

More on that in a minute.  First an update.

Camp went well on Sunday.  This was a really rough week for check in.  There were 21 units, and something like 225 kids to check in.  The Leadership Training Program (for the oldtimers – that’s Counselor-in-Training) participants were all going into units for the week, so they weren’t available to help out.  With that many units, all available staff were going in unit.  Volunteers were all pressed into service.  I trained my wife Carolyn to be my assistant, and gave her all of the Elementary (grades 1-5 this fall) and Junior (grades 6-7 this fall) units.  I took the Jr. High and Sr. Highs.  First rule of check-in – the little kids show up first.  Carolyn quickly got behind and I found myself with free time.  My campers all came later.  I finally ended up taking the Juniors from her in order to get us finished.  She kept asking if she was being too slow but the truth is that it was just a really rough week.  We had to hand out paperwork to the counselors and age-group directors at dinner after cross-checking the medical information against the nurses and medications received.  We finished 5 minutes before dinner and walked in just after grace.  Whew!

Last night I helped out at church.  For August we’re doing Movie Night on Tuesdays for the Jr. High and Sr. High youth groups combined.  It’s really simple – there is a different PG movie each night with a message and a few questions to discuss at the end.  Last night we got 2 kids.  This was not entirely unexpected – I had checked in 6-8 of the regulars at camp two days earlier.  The movie was Pride – the story of the 1974 Philadelphia Department of Recreation swim team that was built out of an abandoned rec. center and went on to win the regionals.  Nice evening.

Also this week I’ve been making the rounds of blogs.  This week the Presbyterian blogging community (or at least some corners of it) are fighting again.  The question this week is whether or not the denomination can abide people who push the boundaries of Presbyterian belief (if you’re a progressive) or are heretics (if you’re a conservative).  The question is to what degree is each of us responsible for disciplining these people.  The conservatives are making noise about how they can’t stand to be part of a denomination that includes these folks.  The progressives question back – “Why aren’t you filing charges?  Oh yeah, you only file charges against gays.”  It’s all very ugly.

This led me to go back to foundations.  One blogger made the statement that we are all collectively responsible for the pastoral care and discipline of people who stray from the essential tenets.  I went back to the Book of Order (having determined that going back to Scripture is pointless in these disputes – any given verse has different meanings depending on who you talk to) and sure enough, there it is:

That our blessed Savior, for the edification of the visible Church, which is his body, hath appointed officers, not only to preach the gospel and administer the Sacraments, but also to exercise discipline, for the preservation of both truth and duty; and that it is incumbent upon these officers, and upon the whole Church, in whose name they act, to censure or cast out the erroneous and scandalous, observing, in all cases, the rules contained in the Word of God. (G-1.0303)

Yikes.  I’m one of those officers, as a deacon (though I suspect the author of these words was thinking of elders and Ministers of the Word and Sacrament).  I’m supposed to censure or cast out the erroneous!  I AM the erroneous to some extent.

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If you read the BOO passage above and the comments of my fellow bloggers, we are each responsible for applying the disciplinary system of our denomination to anyone who strays from the essentials of our faith (which we can’t agree on either, and I prefer it open-ended that way).  According to these same bloggers, failure to take such action amounts to an endorsement of the other person’s ideas.  That seems to be the justification used by those who are filing heresy complaints against people across the country that they’ve never met.

This is what’s making me itchy.  I’m pretty uncomfortable being in a position where I’m responsible for the beliefs of ANY Presbyterian.  I’m also uncomfortable that if I say the wrong thing my Session may get complaints about me.

I’m also profoundly bothered by the natural conclusion.  This says that our officers are responsible for controlling our behaviors and beliefs.  If you remember things I’ve written earlier, I left the church 20 years after I concluded that church was all about a small group of people controlling the beliefs and actions of a larger group of people.  This seems to confirm that – the church really IS all about control of one group by another.  Please note that I’m completely comfortable with God’s control – it’s the control of my peers that bothers me (particularly when a number of them want me to believe and do the exact opposite of what I feel God is calling me to do).

I’m also a little itchy in that I’m not sure that I’m “good enough” for the church work that I’ve been asked to do.  I watched our seminary student intern last night working with the youth and he seemed so comfortable.  I’m still feeling my way around (not literally – that would get me in trouble!) with youth work and I’m not completely comfortable leading.  I’m pretty good with being the second or third or fourth banana, but not the main guy.  Thankfully I’m not expected to be one at the moment.  This in turn leads me into a spiral where I wonder if I’m even competent to lead the committee that I’m leading.  These worries aren’t paralyzing me, just making me spiritually and emotionally “itchy”.

The Lighter Side

I just got an e-mail from a co-worker that read “Sorry for the incontinence.”  It appears that if you misspell “inconvenience” in a certain way, Microsoft Outlook gives you “incontinence” as the first choice in spell check.

It’s Friday afternoon, it must be time for a roundup

August 10, 2007 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Life, Religion, Sports, Work 

You may be wondering why I do these on Friday afternoons.  You see – my employer does something called Summer Hours between Memorial Day and Labor Day.  Employees who choose to take advantage of the program work an extra hour Monday through Thursday and go home at noon on Friday.

I do not choose to take advantage of Summer Hours, so the place is quiet on Friday afternoons.  I have time to write a little on break.

I had a good conversation about career paths and discovery and discernment with my boss this week.  This is probably setting off alarm bells in most of your minds, but we have a really good rapport (we’ve worked together since about 1996) and I fully trust her to be discrete.  There are benefits to both sides in being open and honest with your boss, and we plan to make good use of them.  I can’t say more here.  I’m glad that it went well.

I had a medium-sized project go live today.  It was a bumpy installation – caused mainly by a consultant who doesn’t know our setup and change management package.  It’s not his fault – everybody has a hard time the first time.  Once we got the issues worked out all is running correctly.  I have another one going live soon, and a third larger project going live at the end of the month (with pieces continuing to be worked on into September).

I am getting a brand-new laptop at some point in the next few weeks.  They’re here, but I’m a low priority replacement (others have broken systems or are new employees working on “loaner” PCs).

Work has been generally busy.  In the last 2 weeks I’ve had an overwhelming number of problems, issues, and small requests.  It’s like everybody decided to hold them until the last week of July and then dump them all on me at once.  I think I’m through most of them, but the workload did increase for no apparent reason temporarily.

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This weekend is a bit active.  My parents are coming over on Saturday evening and we are headed out to see a Trenton Thunder baseball game.  The Thunder are the AA affiliates of the NY Yankees and have been playing in Trenton since 1994.  Our seats are behind the 1st base side dugout and I think they’re the 2nd row behind the dugout (or maybe the first row).

Then on Sunday I head up to Camp Johnsonburg for check-in for the last week of regular camp.  I’m going to be in charge of medical form paperwork this week due to my friend Jill’s vacation – she is usually the person doing the job.  It’s looking to be a bit warm.  I think there are lots of kids from my church going this week, but I’m so far away from the actual check-in tables that I probably won’t see them.  This isn’t my last visit for a long time – I’m also planning to attend the Youth Worker Training on September 7, and I’ll be chaperone when my church’s Sr. Highs attend the camp Sr. High Retreat in November.

We’ve finally got the Welcome and Outreach Task Force started.  We have 8 members with 2 outstanding invitations.  For the month of August, we’re doing optional reading assignments on our topic.  I’m reading The Present Future:  Six Tough Questions for the Church by Reggie McNeal.  In September we’ll get everybody together face to face and really get started.

The Youth Director came all the way to Bristol for lunch earlier this week.  We talked about my career search and the upcoming Confirmation Class.  He had lots of good input on the career discussion.  For the Confirmation Class, he’s asking how he can get me involved without overbooking my time.  At this point it looks like I will end up being the Cat-Herder for the group of mentors assigned to the confirmands.  That’s an easy assignment – a bit of work up front but after that just keeping people on schedule and watching for problems.  I’m also probably going to teach a few lessons – probably polity and beyond that we’ll see.  I really want to be involved in this process because the youth that I know who are the right age are really great!

All other areas of my life are fine at the moment.

Have a good weekend!

On the new laptop

July 31, 2007 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Work 

I got my “new” laptop (really the old one reformatted) back today.  I think I have the few extra pieces of software installed and I think I have my environment back to stable.  It’s nice to be home again.

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Friday Roundup

July 27, 2007 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Life, Religion, Work 

For reasons that will be clear below, I’ve been quiet this week.  Here’s a roundup.

The big event this week happened on Wednesday.  My work laptop (which I’ve had since 2001) caught a virus mid-morning.  It appears that this virus’s purpose in life was to download other viruses, spyware, trojans, pop-ups, and to take over the box so completely that the machine was unusuable.  I finally had to resort to contacting our Desktop Support folks (I prefer to fix my own problems most of the time) and we agreed that there was no point in saving the box.  The hard drive was wiped and is being reloaded from scratch.  I have a loaner PC for a few days while they complete the reload, and then I’ll have to spend time getting the reloaded PC back to the way I like it.

I’m an IT person.  For us, the loss of a PC or changing PCs is a very emotional thing.  We spend at least 8 hours a day working on the PC.  To us, the PC is a lot like home – we install applications that make life easier, we change the background, we have our lists of bookmarked websites, etc.  Losing the PC to a virus or hard-drive crash is like your house burning down.  Moving onto a loaner PC is like staying in a hotel – you can’t really do much to it and it doesn’t feel quite like home.  The one exception to this rule is a better PC.  That’s like selling your 1500 sq. foot house and moving into a 2400 sq. foot house.  It’s an upgrade!

I may also get upgraded in the near term – I’m waiting to hear.

Also happening at work this week – the division that I support got a new top guy.  He is something we haven’t had for many years – knowledgeable about the business, makes good decisions, and is a friendly person who is easy to work with.  We haven’t had that combination since about 1998.  This bodes well for the business.  If he were able to get the culture changed (which includes people outside of his control – so I don’t think it’s likely) I might consider staying.

I’m headed back to camp for check-in this coming Sunday.  I’m looking forward to it, as I always do.
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Our new Associate Pastor ran the service last weekend alone – our senior pastor is on vacation.  She did a great job.  I wonder if anybody else saw her take a deep breath just before she stood up to speak the first time.

Another amazing thing.  An “older” woman (older than my parents) had some sort of back issue.  When I started attending last year, she was essentially permanently bent over at a 90 degree angle using a walker with wheels.  Then she disappeared for a while, and when she showed up at church she was standing straight!  This past week she was the musical soloist, and at her age she still has a very strong and true voice.  It’s good to see her get back to something else that she had lost.  Very inspirational!

I’m a little worried about the youth group.  I didn’t go on the Mission Trip a few weeks ago.  I’m sensing that the group is at least temporarily breaking into two groups – those who went on the trip and those who didn’t.  After the fund raiser for the trip at the beginning of June, the youth director stopped inviting people (students and advisors) who weren’t going on the trip (reasonable – the meetings were about the trip).  I spoke with the adults and youth who went on the trip and I felt a fairly universal vibe from the youth – if you didn’t go on the trip you let them down.  I would have hoped that the folks who stayed home (including some of the students) would have been formed into the “Pit Crew” or “Support Team” or even “Prayer Team” supporting those who made the trip.  On the up side, I seem to have been active and supportive enough that I’ve been included in the group that plans things for all 3 groups (Jr. High, Sr. High, Young Adult) and we’re meeting next week.

Wife is good.  House is good.  Cats are good.  We need to paint a few things around the house, and we need to get the fireplace chimney fixed/replaced.  Otherwise all is well.  I’m most of the way through the new Harry Potter (no comments with spoilers, please).

That’s the Friday roundup.  Have a nice weekend!

What’s Going On? Redux

July 13, 2007 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Life, Religion, Work 

It’s been a while since my last post, so I’ll give you another wrap-up.

This past Monday at work I experienced what might be a last-straw event.  As last-straw events tend to be, this was a little thing that pointed out a pattern that I had seen before.  The short version – I was helping a co-worker and a Vice-President work through an issue.  The Vice-President said some rude things and cut off discussion with an “I make the decisions, I don’t have to listen to ideas I don’t like” attitude.  I responded by starting to walk away, and then returned to finish the discussion when drawn back by my co-worker.  I was upset and talked to my direct supervisor about the situation.  I was even more hurt later during a conversation with my co-worker.  She stated rather vehemently that she didn’t want to get involved because you can’t take on a Vice-President and it would only end up hurting both of us.  I found this ironic because I have fairly recently gone WAY out of my way to help this co-worker.  I’m pretty sure that I don’t want to work in an environment where power and position bring the privilege of behaving badly towards lower-level people.  I also expect myself and others to speak truth rather than avoiding conflict.  I really don’t think I fit in here anymore.

A confession:  My birthday is coming up rapidly.  This will be a year ending in “9”.  I kinda wish that nobody would notice this year.  (THis is NOT a veiled attempt to drag birthday wishes out of my readers – it’s an emotional statement.)

Last Sunday I went back to camp to help out with check-in again.  As it turns out this was a good idea; there were about 230 kids to check in – nearly every unit between just short of capacity and just over capacity.  We ended up dividing the medical form job that I learned the previous week between three people and were able to hang on and keep up.  I was only there for a few hours – I went to church back at home first and then drove to camp.  I didn’t stay for dinner – it was 94 in the shade and all those bodies in the very full dining hall would be … ripe.  Camp must really mean something to me to get me to drive 3 hours round-trip to spend 4-5 hours working.
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I was scheduled to fly again tomorrow but the club canceled the flight – the plane I had booked needed a repair.  I just looked and another plane is scheduled to come out of maintenance just when I need it, so I don’t think I’ll chance scheduling that one.  I probably won’t get into the air this weekend, but that’s OK.  I have family stuff to do Sunday afternoon so Saturday I really need to spend the day on chores.

Job discernment continues.  I’m reading Parker Palmer’s Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation right now.

That’s the roundup.  Lots going on in my head, but most people in my life wouldn’t notice.  The important people in my life do.

What’s going on, Mark?

July 3, 2007 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Life, Religion, Work 

Just an update to say “I’m still here” and let you all know what’s going on.

I had a great time at camp last weekend.  The weather was perfect (low to mid 70’s, dry, blue sky with fluffy clouds) as Carolyn and I helped check in 12 units full of kids.  That’s a light week for Camp Johnsonburg, undoubtedly due to the holiday.  I was trained to do the medical form coordinator’s job.  This is a relatively new job for check-in.  Jill, a friend and fellow former camp alumni, made it her purpose in life last summer to organize the medical form process.  This has resulted in a significant reduction in chaos and an increase in making sure that medical information (particularly received prescriptions) is right and that the campers are safe.  She is going to be away one Sunday in August so I’ve been trained to cover that week.  I’m also going to write up the procedure for the camp because right now it’s all in Jill’s head.  I might go up to camp immediately after church this Sunday – they’re bringing in 20 units next week and they’ll really need the help.

I’m working every day this week except Wednesday – no long weekends when Independence Day falls on a Wednesday.  I might get out a few hours early today if management is willing.

I’m undergoing a career questioning process.  My job is frankly not challenging right now and there are other reasons that it is getting increasingly uncomfortable (very few having to do with me or politics – it’s more of a “do I want to be here?” issue).  I’m wondering whether or not it’s time for a career change rather than a job change.
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At one point about a month ago I thought that the ministry might be a career for me, but I’ve since decided against it.  I think it was a fit of overenthusiasm for church-related things in general due to lots of things at happening with me and church.  In talking with others about this idea, the reaction has ranged from shock/surprise to “Are you sure?”  That’s not really a rousing sign that I should be considering such a career.  I really don’t think I have the right personality as an introverted technical thinker who happens to care deeply about people.  I’m really a behind-the-scenes kind of person.

So now I’m trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up.  This might be a mid-life crisis (if you take my life expectancy at birth and divide by 2, you get something less than my age), or it might just be the start of a 2nd career.  Or maybe I’ll determine that I’m really supposed to be doing what I’m doing now.  I might even be at the right company.  Who knows.  What I do know is that when I work really hard at camp or at church it doesn’t feel like work.  That might be “a change is as good as a rest” or it might be my real vocation peeking out.  We’ll have to see.

And that’s the roundup for today.

2007 All-Church Retreat

June 11, 2007 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Religion, Youth 

This past weekend, Carolyn and I attended the Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville Annual All-Church Retreat at Camp Johnsonburg.

We arrived early on Friday in order to avoid rush hour traffic on the way there.  This enabled us to choose our room in the lodge (a good move) and to sit in outdoor lounge chairs when everybody else arrived.  Most of the group arrived in time for dinner Friday night, followed by tie-dying preparation.  Friday night itself was hot and muggy and sleeping was not easy.

Saturday was lovely but still a bit humid.  We started the day with breakfast.  Carolyn and I were both signed up for Low Ropes (group building and personal challenge activities near ground level).  We both participated in the first two activities (marshmallows on the dangerous Chocolate River – get the group across, and untying human knots while balancing on a teeter platform).  At that point anybody participating in the Leap of Faith had to leave in order to get there.  Carolyn continued with Low Ropes and did some challenge exercises like walking a steel cable balancing with a rope and crossing a series of tire swings.

Low Ropes
Here we are crossing the dangerous chocolate river on floating marshmallows.  I’m the one in the green shirt and Carolyn is right behind me.  I’ve mentioned Jill Cifelli here a number of times – she’s the woman in gray standing in line.

The Leap of Faith is a zip line suspended above a low spot in the trail – forming a bit of a valley.  Somehow the Ropes course staff managed to run 30 of the 35 people signed up through in the morning.  I helped out (as a former staffer always will) by being the person who unhooked the last participant and running the zip line back to the top of the hill.  For this activity I was rewarded with praise and sweat (lots of sweat).

After lunch on Saturday we finished tie-dying and I got my chance on the Leap.

Leap of Faith - Mark #1
This is me in flight.

Leap of Faith - Mark #2
This is me waiting to be unhooked. (A thought bubble would say “Hurry up – this harness is giving me a serious wedgie!”)

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Between all of the Ropes activities we only had 3 refusals – one very small girl who didn’t do the Leap, and a boy and a girl who didn’t complete (or start in one case) the High Ropes.  I add myself to the list – having done it 20 years ago as a counselor I had no interest at all in doing the High Ropes.

Saturday after dinner, we made banners depicting our concepts of faith and God that will hang in the Fellowship Center at church.  After that, the traditional campfire complete with S’mores.

Saturday night sleeping was easier due to lower temperatures.

Sunday morning after breakfast we had worship outdoors by the waterfront.  One of the parents in the group played a carved flute and pan pipes for the Prelude and Postlude.  The rest of the service was run by a family that directed music, our Director of Children’s Ministries, and one of the Interim Associate for Pastoral Ministry folks (she’s also my new co-chair of the task force).  Worship was nice, and ended just before the rain started.

It rained the rest of Sunday morning, and after lunch we headed on home.

It was a nice weekend.  I was more relaxed than usual as a result, and I’m having a tough time with “re-entry” into the work world today.

One thing that was a bit odd was that Carolyn and I were the only family without kids.  I believe that this retreat used to be the “Family Retreat” and in recent years has been the “All-Church” retreat.  It was a little easier for us than it could have been – we both like kids and since we’ve been doing work with the youth group we were familiar to many of the parents.  I did get to meet about 15 families that I didn’t know (or know well) before.  Hopefully the retreat will attract more younger singles or couples without kids in the future.

I tried to serve as a goodwill ambassador (a title vested on me by one of the parents) for the camp to the church.  There were two of the youth that I tried to recruit for the camp’s Leadership Training Program and it looks like one might consider it (the other isn’t old enough yet).  I hope they do – they’d both make great Johnsonburgers.  I only hope that I wasn’t too pushy – Carolyn’s opinion is that I went right up to the line and didn’t cross it.

Today I’m pooped and a bit sore (there are a few muscles that don’t get used that often) but still more relaxed than usual.

Another Clump of Church

June 4, 2007 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Religion 

I find that my church-related events tend to clump.  In April, I had Youth Sunday on the same day as the Earth Day presentation by the Environmental Stewardship committee.

I’m in the middle of a clump now.

This past weekend was devoted to the Silent Auction fundraiser for the Youth Mission trip to Louisiana.  We received 80-something donations of goods and services (babysitting, music for a dinner party, etc), and on Sunday night during a rainstorm (remnants of Tropical Storm Barry) we raised $3,400.

Next weekend is devoted to the All-Church retreat at Camp Johnsonburg.  We’ll be there from Friday afternoon through Sunday afternoon.  Carolyn and I (mostly I) will be serving as “native guides” for the trip due to our current and prior involvement with camp and the number of first-time visitors in the group.

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To that end, we are meeting with the pastor on Thursday to tie up some loose ends for the task force.  We still have to nail down the rest of the membership (we have one solid member, but the rest of the team is just a list of possible names at this point), and work out the beginning activities.

Things should quiet down after next weekend.

Work is also a bit busy this week, so don’t be surprised if I don’t get a chance to write much.

Good Weekend – bad work

May 29, 2007 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Life, Religion, Work 

The weekend was pretty good.

On Saturday Carolyn and I headed up to Camp Johnsonburg for the annual alumni reunion.  We saw lots of folks that we don’t see on a regular basis, we had some quiet time for ourselves, we hiked a bit in the woods.  Dinner was excellent as usual.  We also dropped off Carolyn’s old car as a donation – it’s apparently going to be the Health Center “drive the kid to the hospital” car this summer.

Sunday was quiet at home – church and evening relaxation.

Monday we visited a friend that we haven’t seen since the birth of her latest child a few weeks ago.
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Then, I came to work.

I found out in a short period of time that the woman who has the cubicle across from me is leaving.  (Actually, it’s more like we share cubes – they are really tiny and essentially open on 3 sides.)  She’s a really talented person who had gotten stuck in a rut here due to the company’s failure to have another person share her job and allow her to grow into a bigger one.  We lost another similar person a few weeks ago.  The good people are leaving my department (and the company as a whole) far too quickly.  I’m about out of reasons to stay.

I’ve recently been asking myself (and a few others) – how can you tell the difference between needing to look for a new job, or needing to look for a new career?  Any thoughts?  The need to answer this question is getting more acute.

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