Career 

Paul Powell: Overcoming Addiction and a Difficult Past

At the age of 43, Paul Powell found himself in a dark place.

Fifteen years of running a carpet-installation business had taken a toll on his body. Lacking health insurance, he began to self-medicate and became addicted to prescriptions drugs. Although he eventually was able to overcome his addiction, that was not the end of his troubles. Money was running low, and his truck was repossessed. He had a wife and child to support, so he desperately needed to find a new line of work. But he had never finished high school. Powell wondered who would hire him.

Then he found out about WorkOne. This state program, which offers job search and training assistance, helped Powell get started on his high school equivalency (HSE) diploma. An assessment found that he was performing on a seventh- or eighth-grade level.

“Now he has exactly the career he wants: driving a truck in town, so he can be home every night with his family. He has health and life insurance and a retirement plan.”

His education had been disrupted by what he describes as a “chaotic” upbringing, even spending years in foster care. He had attended 12 schools by the time he quit in high school to support himself.

But 30 years later, he decided to give it another try. Powell says going back to school in his mid-40s was “pretty terrifying.” But he put his head down and passed the HSE test.

“That was a pretty good milestone, getting my GED (General Education Diploma). I didn’t know it was going to feel as good as it did,” says Powell, who received the certificate at the same time his younger daughter graduated from high school.

The HSE class helped prepare him for the reading and memorizing he had to do to succeed in his next endeavor: an intensive commercial truck driving course. For Powell, who had never driven a tractor-trailer before, it was intimidating.

“It was almost like boot camp,” Powell says. “I took advantage of it. I didn’t slack on it. I got to my classes. Sometimes I was the only one there. But I was there. I was up in the middle of the night going through stuff. I knew I had to do it. It was almost do or die.”

Powell passed the commercial driver’s license certification exam on his first try. Thanks to WorkOne, the training and tests—worth several thousand dollars—didn’t cost him a dime.

“It pretty much saved my life, because I didn’t know what else I was going to do,” Powell says.

Now he has exactly the career he wants: driving a truck in town, so he can be home every night with his family. He has health and life insurance and a retirement plan.

But WorkOne doesn’t get all the credit. “My wife is the rock behind it all. There would be no balance without her.”

His advice to anyone looking for a fresh start is to persist. “Don’t be shy,” Powell says. “Don’t be afraid to ask questions and talk to the people you need to talk to.” He recommends following up with potential employers over and over again, by phone, email or in person. “Hunker down, do it, and don’t get scared. Use all the resources that you possibly can.”

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