Originally published August 24, 2018
Do you ever travel through some part of your daily life and wonder (with apologies to David Byrne), “How did I get here?”
I am part of a content marketing team at a large technology company. And there are some days where I walk from my desk, set in the middle of the current trendy open concept workspace, to the bathroom, and walking down the hallway, encounter any number of people looking far more professional than I. Sometimes I say hi. Sometimes I try to hide. “Who am I?” I wonder, as if I’ve somehow pulled the wool over everyone’s eyes and fooled them into thinking I know what I am doing. I think to myself, “Corporate? How did I end up in corporate again?”
And by again, I mean, how was I ever in a corporate setting?
I didn’t aspire to rule the content marketing world, not that anyone does. In fact, I am here almost by accident — through a series of career and “work-life balance” twists and turns. And in looking back, I’m surprised at exactly how seasoned a professional I have become.
I have always loved to write, starting with stories when I was in elementary school that my mom had my brother and I write for grandparents on special occasions. So when it came to college, I picked the major that made most sense and didn’t require a math class — journalism. In my senior year, I fell into an internship, thanks to a connection, with the Michigan Travel Bureau, writing press releases and taping radio segments. It was quasi-corporate — a state employee environment, with people much older than me sitting in cubicles and watching the clock. I spent most of my time worried about getting locked in accidentally overnight in a bathroom space shared with the adjacent Christian Science Reading Room. (Though, bonus! Stuff to read!)
With that experience, I graduated and landed a job with a weekly newspaper making $5 an hour. It was one of the worst and best jobs, in that I learned everything about being a reporter with exactly none of the glory of working at a daily. I also learned I was not going to be able to furnish my home paying retail at Pottery Barn. Because, $5 an hour. Had I not been married, I wouldn’t have been able to afford rent and food.
But it was also the place where I first learned that social skills count for something in life. After all, being the only reporter covering three towns, one district court and the county government meant I had to get on the good side of a lot of police chiefs, county commissioners, judges, school boards and business owners.
I loved the writing but hated the hours. With a change in mind, I dipped my toe into corporate waters with a job in corporate communications for a dental benefits provider. I gave up the rush of local politics for better hours, a nicer cubicle and much better pay (Pottery Barn sale rack, here I come!) Thanks to that role, I had a front seat to the birth of the internet as we know it today, helping to launch external and internal web sites, with an entirely different style of writing and approach to communication. And with that job, I learned there is more than one way to disseminate information. Print wasn’t dead, but it was evolving. I also learned office politics is just high school cliques, but with better lunches.
It was also the place where I learned the mantra heaped upon my generation — “You can have it all” — was bullshit. After having my third child, I couldn’t see the sense in working just to pay my daycare bill. I wanted my kids, I loved my kids, I wanted to raise my kids. The people I worked with were fantastic, but business is business and they needed someone that could devote the time and energy to explaining to the dental profession why we paid for certain procedures and not for others. It just couldn’t be me anymore. That, and I was done with nylons and anything that resembled a suit.
I loved to write and didn’t want to walk away, so I was able to latch on to freelance work for about 10 years, for local newspapers, magazines and websites. From this, I learned persistence. Persistence in coming up with story ideas that would sell, and persistence in nagging publishers to pay for them. It also stretched my writing skills in that I was covering just about every topic you could imagine, from sex drive to siding, gardening to golf. And that experience led me back into a more formal set up with a local magazine and website, to another magazine and finally to where I work now, along with almost 9,000 other people. It’s not what I expected to be doing when I was 50, but I am pretty happy to be there. And honestly, it wasn’t like I had any grand plan. Were it not for my career, I could be a crazy cat lady swilling on Boone’s Farm at 2 p.m. in the afternoon, yelling at kids to stay out of my imaginary butterfly garden.
The point to this tale this evening? If I could step into the Wayback Machine and talk to my younger self, I’d probably tell her to trust the journey. Not every step we take is neatly planned or readily understandable in how it fits into a long-term plan. I’d also remind her to be grateful for opportunities when they present themselves. I took something with me that I didn’t have each time I moved from one environment to the next, and they are all valuable lessons that have made me stronger, personally and professionally.
I’m still not bringing back the nylons, though. Nope.
Today’s recommendation: Theft by Finding: Diaries (1977 – 2002) by David Sedaris. Talk about a wild ride when it comes to odd jobs and educational endeavors that brought him to where he is today, a renowned humorist, writer and general observer of the human condition. So damn good.