My Road Less Traveled: How I Went from Client Services, to Client, to Consultant
I remember sitting at my cubicle and writing my list, the list of how I wanted to move through my career:
I hadn't put a ton of thought into that trajectory, but what I knew then was that I wanted to experience all types of office environments in order to 1. Say that I had, and 2. Feel solid in where I ultimately ended up. I've always known that I work best outside of super-corporate environments, but I wanted to be sure I did my due diligence first by trying them all on before I bought any of them. Looking back, I do feel like there was a lot of underlying shoulds in the back of my mind:
- You should feel more comfortable in office environments
- You should play the politics better
- You should give them all a chance
- You should grow your career under someone else's umbrella before opening your own
But I'm getting ahead of myself here.
I went to college thinking I'd major in Biology and become an orthodontist. I wanted to help people feel beautiful and I liked science. Or at least I thought I did. My grandfather is a periodontist and I always thought it would be cool to work on teeth like he did. Plus, he was his own boss, which really appealed to me.
And then I took college Chemistry and HATED it. I set the curve in high school. In college, I sat in a huge lecture hall and met with a smaller group of students and a surly TA once a week. It was soul-sucking.
So I thought about what set my soul on fire: books, bantering, ideas...I thought maybe I'll be a lawyer like my grandma always said I should be? I declared a dual major in English with a Professional Writing emphasis, and Political Science. I threw on a minor in French, mostly because I was only a few college-level classes away from achieving it, and I thought it would help me with some of the historical literature I had to wade through for my English degree.
In 2008, I graduated in the middle of the recession and thought, Okay, now, where am I going to work for free until I really MAKE it? I romanticized interning and eating Cup o' Noodle at every meal. I wanted to know I had earned my eventual place in the world. I snagged an internship at Seattle magazine (my post-grad Harvard) and taught the SAT across town in order to afford my rent. I worked six days a week and either bussed an hour each way or, on Sundays, drove across town to teach my high schoolers while my roommates slept in. My parents still had to help me pay my bills. But only a little. I wanted to do it on my terms as much as I could. We were never rich in my family, but we were never really poor either (at least, as far as I was aware).
I loved teaching and had so much fun REALLY learning the grammar we don't learn in school anymore. I'm such a word nerd that helping students conquer standardized tests was thrilling for me. At the same time, I was pitching and writing articles for my favorite city magazine. It was hard work, all of it, but I LOVED it all.
I kept seeing in pitch meetings that we were writing many of our articles based on press releases sent to the editors by PR reps. Since I had gone in a more traditional English route in college, I wasn't very familiar with what Public Relations was. I was intrigued. I realized the story didn't start with at the magazine. It began way before.
I knew my six month internship would end and that I didn't want to try to get hired on at the magazine. At the time, traditional editorial felt like a dying industry. The Seattle PI had gone completely online. Layoffs were rampant across the industry. The Seattle magazine editors were mostly grumpy and unhelpful. Their energy made me sad. So I started pitching myself to PR agencies, landed an internship at a small boutique agency that specialized in products and services the owners used themselves (read: consumer products, hotels, wineries, very little tech, which was a big deal in a tech city like Seattle) and worked on communications for clients like Maryhill Winery and Savers/Value Village. I still commuted to teach my high school students how to conquer the SAT. I felt like I was finding my way.
It was during that time that our clients were asking about this new tool called Twitter. It was a way to communicate directly with current and potential customers. It was interesting. It wasn't something anyone understood completely, so they gave it to the intern to manage. Me.
It was in that first PR internship that I started doing social media professionally, too, and where the lines between the two blurred. In a good way.
First Real Job
As my PR internship was coming to a close, one of the owners took me into their conference room and asked, "So, how do you like PR?" I told her I loved it. She told me, "It's really not as glamorous as it seems." I had spent the past six months driving around the city mailing press kits and picking up coffees. I knew it wasn't glamourous. I wasn't sure what her intention was. With a few days left in my internship, I wasn't sure what my next move would be, and I had sat in on a lot of meetings where the owners had spoken less than positively about the big agency they came from. As her monologue continued, she told me they wouldn't be able to hire me on because they would need someone with more experience, and why don't I try the big agency where she and her co-owner had met? If my mouth had been open at the time, my jaw might have hit the floor. I thanked her for the opportunity and the conversation.
When my internship ended later that week, I applied at the big agency. Edelman.
Somehow, I convinced the team there to hire me and interned on the enterprise technology team (my boss and, later, mentor told me, "If you can do deep tech PR, you can do anything," and she was right) for about three months before a position opened on the Xbox PR team. I interviewed for it and got that job, too!
Of everywhere I've worked, Edelman had the best culture. Every day I was surrounded by smart, interesting people who cared about the same things I did. The time off policy was fantastic. We often had a hot dog stand on the roof. The road to the next promotion was clearly spelled out for everyone. The holiday parties were always memorable. People looked out for you.
I ended up staying at Edelman, bopping around various parts of the Microsoft business, as client budgets shifted every six months or so, for about four years. But I had always wanted to be the client. And video games, as fun as they could be, weren't my passion.
I had been casually applying at Nordstrom for five years, and one day, they bit.
First Big Move
It should be noted that life happens while we're working. I always tried to keep personal and professional as separate as I could, but when my dad was put on hospice while I was at Edelman, things got weird. I'll spare all the details, but my bosses at the time didn't handle it well, and I was moved off my team the day after I told them (weeping on the weekly team call) his status. I'm sure their motivation was positive, but it didn't feel good. All they could tell me was that they were giving me more time to spend with my family. I asked what team I was moving to. They didn't know. At minimum, it wasn't thought out or presented well. It was then that I decided I needed to make a move, for more reasons than how they had treated my family situation.
After a year of actively interviewing, somehow my resume passed Nordstrom's scanning system and I interviewed for a dual Social Media/PR Specialist Role with Nordstrom Rack on a week when I was taking a staycation. The stars aligned! I got an offer from Nordstrom Rack and engaged to Raz on the same day. It was all too much good at once, and I loved every second of it.
My job at Nordstrom Rack was a dream. I was doing work I was SO passionate about, creating influencer programs, building our social media strategy and owned platforms from the ground up. We were hosting events and traveling around the country to open new stores. It was, truly, a great time to be a part of the Nordstrom family.
After about two years, though, I felt the culture really weighing on me, and my growth opportunity lacking. I didn't want to move around the company and become a well-rounded Nordstrom employee. I wanted to continue to progress in my specialty, and be rewarded for that. My former boss at Edelman reached out one day, knowing I was considering my next move, and said he knew the head of communications at a cool little cooking company headquartered in Pike Place Market. Would I be interested in him forwarding on my resume to her for consideration as their Social Media Manager? Would I!
Taking a Risk
Start-ups are a very different animal. They are full of big ideas and big emotions. After a very long interview process, I became the Social Media Manager for ChefSteps. It was another dream, especially because it was a start-up that wasn't concentrating just on tech and all things that lived in the cloud. It dealt with tech through the sous vide device the team created, but it was more tangible to me. The most exciting part of it for me was the recipe development the team did. They were artists and scientists and they didn't publish any recipes they hadn't tested for weeks and weeks, often months. And I got to sit right in the test kitchen!
During that time, I got super-scrappy, coming up with fun strategies to grow our Instagram following (nine piece grids, behind the scenes teasers) and working directly with Twitter to become a recommended account for people to follow in the food space. I was making MOVES, and the pace was thrilling. I was also learning a ton from all the subject matter experts I was surrounded by every day. I felt like I'd hit my stride. It felt like Neverneverland.
In the back of my mind, I knew it wouldn't last forever, but I was willing to ride the wave until it crashed against the shore. On a random day in March, after a strange emotional outburst from our CEO a few days prior, it did. It was presented a bit like we'd each be getting apologies, but I knew I was walking the Green Mile. Four of us were laid off in one fell swoop. They had over-invested in social media. It wasn't personal. The head of communications was waiting outside the door with my things.
I called Raz from the corner crying. My Uber driver told me I could make good money driving for them. He had the W2 to prove it.
You'd think this would have been the perfect time to take that step into consulting, but I knew I wasn't ready. I couldn't explain why, but I knew. I had a lot of ego tied up in getting laid off, and wanting to feel like I was hirable. I had to prove to myself that I could get another "real" job.
For five months, I was unemployed, until I got a short-term gig doing communications for Amazon Prime Air, the very sexy drone delivery system that was very buzzy at the time. Another dream that took me to the UK to host lab tours. But I had found out I was pregnant the day I started, and I couldn't bet on being hired on full time. I needed a sure thing. So I took a job at Gene Juarez corporate, a company I'd known as a little girl and was excited to help re-brand across the west as much cooler, less expensive, and less arrogant than people thought it was.
But, in all of these situations, something always felt off. I think, in the end, it was me.
Betting on Myself
Because I didn't qualify for FMLA, I knew that I would get only six weeks of unpaid leave for maternity. I'm not going to get into my personal politics on that, but I can say that I knew six weeks (potentially fewer if I left before I had the baby) would never be enough for me. I couldn't even THINK about giving my kid to someone else that young, paying them half my salary, and dropping him off at daycare every day. I knew it was time to finally take the leap.
A month or so before I had Oliver, one of my greatest friend's boyfriend sent me a text message asking if I'd be interested in consulting on social media for the company he worked for. They needed someone contract and part time. After having a few conversations with him and with their team, I felt like if I started my own company, I'd have a solid first client. It was a sign. I knew it was time.
And that's where I've been for the past several months, hustling on my own, supporting the social strategies of a few key clients, and raising our son. Some days it can be tough to manage my time, but for the most part, I feel like this is where my path has lead me. I set this moment into motion years ago, and I worked hard for it. I've learned along the way to listen better to my gut, to cut out the noise of my own shoulds, and to continually reset my expectations of myself, taking more time to give myself permission to breathe. It's a process, but it's serving me well.
My hope is that this meandering career so far rundown can help you see that your road may be winding, and you may wonder where it's taking you sometimes, but with the right intentions, you will keep ending up right where you need to be. In my experience, no dream job is a dream job forever, and we should all keep reaching for what we want next. Whether it's being a stay-at-home mom or getting a book deal, it's all achievable if you work hard and dream big. Dream, believe, achieve, baby.
Dream, believe, achieve.