Exploring New Horizons: Rowena Paz Norman’s Job Search Success Story

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Meet Rowena Paz Norman, the Strategic Planning Manager at Tillamook County Creamery Association (TCCA). In this job search success story, Rowena shares how she transitioned from a career in sales to strategic planning. Through graduate school, experimentation, and a willingness to take risks, Rowena found fulfilling work in strategy and shares valuable advice for job seekers seeking to make a career change.

What do you do for a career? 

I am a Strategic Planning Manager who leads company-wide strategic planning and review processes to ensure the organization maximizes its long-term goals and stakeholder impact. I also manage and provide insight into strategic growth and business development initiatives to support long-term ambition and growth. For example, I am part of a team leading our international exploration. Very interesting problems to solve!

Who do you work for? 

I work for Tillamook County Creamery Association (TCCA), a farmer-owned co-op founded in 1909 that makes incredible dairy products. My favorite is our Tillamook Mudslide ice cream!

How did you find your job? What resources did you use? What tool or tactic helped the most? 

For 13+ years, I was in business development and sales in emerging markets at Google and Feeding America. Even though I “climbed the ladder,” I was unfulfilled and wanted more from my career.

After taking courses at Portland Community College, I decided to return to school full-time and get my MBA at Portland State University with the hope that graduate school would open new opportunities. To make a career change, I experimented through my classes, school projects, internships, and networking. Experimentation helped me discover what I liked or didn’t like and gain new skills.

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I also utilized school internships to experiment. While it was scary starting over as an intern (especially at 36 years old!), my internships were transformative experiences. I’m grateful for my internships because they gave me humility, focus on learning, and the ability to experiment with changing careers in a low-stakes way. My internship in strategic planning at TCCA actually resulted in a full-time offer for the work I do today!

How long did it take you to find this job? 

Two weeks or two years, depending on how you look at it. 

I interviewed and accepted a full-time offer during the last two weeks of my internship. The internship allowed me to show TCCA and its leaders that, though I didn’t have formal strategy experience, I am smart and hard-working. I am grateful that my manager saw my potential, and the success of the internship led to my full-time position.

The two years are the time I spent in graduate school experimenting with new career options and growing emotionally. Internships, coursework, and school projects allowed me to test out different careers and industries in a low-risk way. My leadership classes and therapy also supported my emotional growth to take risks and change careers.

What was the most difficult part of your job search? How did you overcome this challenge? 

The uncertainty of what comes next can be terrifying. Sticking to what is known, while unfulfilling, can be easier. I sometimes wonder if I stayed in sales, would I be a vice president and make much more money? But then I realize how miserable I would be because the work was no longer interesting and challenging.

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Recognizing that my worth is not derived from my work and that my title and paycheck do not determine my value gave me the ability to take the risks necessary to seek more fulfilling work. Strategy, innovation, and operations –– this stuff is fascinating, and I am thrilled that at TCCA, I get to develop these skills every day. 

I will note that starting over in a new career and industry is hard. It is humbling. I was great at what I did in my previous work; success was clearly defined, and I knew how to win. With my new career in strategy, there is no clear win, and the work is more about influencing others. There is so much I do not know and cannot control. However, growth happens in the discomfort.

I would not want it any other way.

What is the single best piece of advice you would offer other jobseekers? 

Give yourself the emotional and financial space to experiment and take risks with your career.

Recognizing that your salary and title do not determine your value gives you the freedom to pursue work that is interesting and challenging. The most valuable job title I have ever had was “intern” because it gave me the humility to recognize that my work is not my worth. This emotional space opened the door for me to pursue work that was interesting and aligned with my values over a fancy title.

Beyond the emotional space, financial space is also important to be able to experiment and take risks with your career. Living below your means gives you the freedom to make career choices that are not driven by finances. My husband and I made lifestyle and financial choices so that it was possible for me to go back to school and make career choices where money wasn’t the determining factor.

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I’m grateful for the emotional and financial freedom to experiment and take risks with my career. 

Why do you love your job? 

I love my work because I help shape the future of an organization that has the heart and charm of a small nonprofit and the vision and ambition of a Fortune 100 company. I am developing my strategy, innovation, and operations skills to help me reach my long-term goal of starting my own business. As I do this work, I am surrounded by people who are smart, driven, and kind and love to eat as much as I do. Also, all the free cheese and ice cream is always a plus. 😊

Everyone’s job search story is different, but each individual story can inspire and empower others who are on their own unique path. We love to hear how our readers have found rewarding careers in Portland, and we want to share these stories with you to inspire you in your job search and to help us all better understand the local job market!