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Introvert Career Profile – Freelancer + Nonprofit Founder. Meet Catherine Man.

Introvert Career Profile – Freelancer + Nonprofit Founder. Meet Catherine Man.

Catherine Man of Project Alpaca

I love sharing real-life stories of introverts who are living their purpose in creative ways. This story about Catherine gives you a look at how an introverted woman is growing a meaningful non-profit while leaning into community support and her freelance work for income stability.

Catherine is the co-founder and executive director of Project Alpaca. She wears other hats too: instructional designer, educator, Breathwork coach, and mentor. She is based in New York, NY, USA.

If you met her, you’d see how calm, generous, and fun she is. I feel lucky to know her.

I recently interviewed her because I knew you might benefit from hearing the inside story too.

Project Alpaca and How It Happened

Project Alpaca is closing the resource gap for disadvantaged students to help them step into their dream STEM careers, through harnessing the power of a community of passionate, purpose-driven, and inspired advocates.

Their program mentees have the proven talent and drive to succeed in their goals, but they have hit some roadblocks. They come from schools and neighborhoods that did not have the means or resources to guide them to achieve their desired careers. Volunteer mentors are connecting mentees to the knowledge, the opportunities and an unrelenting support that will help them begin their new roads to success.

Catherine - Project Alpaca mentees
Project Alpaca mentees

The idea started organically in 2019 based on an unmet need that Catherine saw at a community college where she worked. She found others to help form an experiment that kept growing. It became an increasingly meaningful community for mentees and mentors, and Catherine too.

They applied for non-profit status and got it at the end of 2021. Catherine jokingly says “now the pressure is on” but she’s so happy about where it’s going. Breathing into it.

My Interview with Catherine about Her Journey

I always love connecting with Catherine, and this interview went deep. (We also recorded a more detailed video interview that will be available inside my course, Bridge to Self-employment.)

Catherine Man and Val Nelson interview
(Catherine and Val talking about the self-employment journey.)

What has been critical to you in helping you maintain your well-being, or a sense of balance for your energy?

Catherine: When I feel overwhelmed or lost, I try to dive deeper within, through meditation or breathwork. Or even just closing my eyes and tuning in. I can listen for my inner voice, or for inspiration. This is how I create a buffer, to grasp a broader perspective. Not going it alone is a huge factor too.

How has it been to let in support or not?

Catherine: In the last few years, I’ve really learned to appreciate the support of community. It has not always been natural for me to reach out for help or to receive support.

In the past, when I was about to make a big change in life, having a community to lean into and people who care, was significant in my experience of weathering that change. Particularly people who are able to see what’s possible for you, who believe in you, and who are happy to give.

In the first year of Project Alpaca, I instinctively knew we had to build a community, one that would support all the members, particularly for our mentees, and also for myself and the volunteers.

I’ve also found two partners who are helping me build this organization, and our skills complement each other well. We are mutually supportive because we each understand the enormity of what we want to build, and how much we care about it. It’s wonderful to realize I don’t have to know how to do everything.

What do you wish you knew before you started toward self-employment?

Catherine: I was so preoccupied with time…how long will it take? How fast can I do this? Why is it taking so long? You get the idea.

What I wished I had paid more attention to is my energy, such as: How much energy does it take me to achieve this versus that? What are my energy levels today and can I adjust my plans accordingly?

Being honest about what I’m able to do in each moment AND being compassionate about it makes any goal more manageable.

I’ve learned to make sure I’m having fun, doing the things I’m best at and letting in support for the parts that are not my strengths.

One thing people worry about a lot is how income stability works out when creating your own thing. How are you making the money work?

Catherine: Financial stability or security is essential, because we need to know that our needs will be met. Plus, having this sense of safety frees us up to dream and pursue our spiritual and emotional needs. How we establish that sense of security is different for everyone.

Even though I would prefer to focus 100% on Project Alpaca, it is not yet viable for me at this stage. I make most of my income now as a freelance instructional designer.

It was not easy at first to transition from a full-time salaried employee to contract work. But I gained flexibility to create my own schedule and shift priorities as I needed to. This career style fits in well with my need for independence. I can’t imagine going back now.

What I finally came to realize is that I am worthy of my ambitions. Living purposefully is totally supported by the Universe, God, however you describe it. I do not write this lightly, as increasing my sense of self-worth was a learning curve in itself.

The more I could embrace my self-worth, the more opportunities came my way.  And there is a lot of money to be made, no matter what anyone says of the economy.

My contract work is still something I like doing, it pays the bills and helped me get Project Alpaca off the ground. More importantly, I have the time I need to ensure that I am developing ways to sustainably build my organization. So I’m seeing this as another transition period. My plan is that running Project Alpaca will become my full-time job.

Learn more about Project Alpaca:

Lessons from Catherine’s Story…

Everyone is unique but there are things we can learn from everyone’s story. I hear at least 5 great lessons in this story:

  1. Building in time for quiet and tuning in can be simple and needed, regularly.
  2. Think more about your energy than about how fast or slow it’s going.
  3. It’s worth facing the discomfort of letting in support, even for us independent types. (Raising my hand here.)
  4. Steady contract work (self-employed freelancing) provides a source of security plus flexibility, while you create something new.
  5. Community is a powerful thing.

I’m enjoying these inspiring stories from introverts and HSPs. I like hearing all the details of how they make it work. More coming soon. You can subscribe below.

Wondering about your own path?

You might like these resources:

Picture of Val Nelson

Val Nelson

I’ve been a self-employed career/business/purpose coach since 2009. I help introverts and HSPs (like me) who want to make a difference — in a way that fits our practical needs too.
Val Nelson | Coaching | Groups | Courses | Newsletter | LinkedIn

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