The story of my winding career path and how I learned to embrace it

Let me start off by saying this is my own personal journey, and I wanted to share it in honor of the graduating class of 2020. Life is going to throw you curveballs (hint: COVID-19), but don’t let the world fool you into thinking you have to have it all figured out. You don’t, and you won’t time and time again.

I don’t talk a lot about my career – and especially on my blog. I have tried hard to keep those two things separate. I realized the other day that some of you might benefit from hearing a career story that is full of twists, turns, lay-offs and massive failures (and successes too). That’s what would’ve helped me get through some really rough seasons, so here it is for anyone who needs it.

I graduated in 2009 with a communications degree and a minor in dance. I immediately moved out of my hometown to Minneapolis. My goal was to work in marketing/events in some capacity, and I was excited. I had applied for jobs all summer with no luck, and it was clear the recession at the time was going to hinder my ability to find work. It wasn’t until October 2009 that I was broke and just needed to find anything. Not the picture a recent college grad was hoping for with the goal of a salaried full-time position. I gave in, and ended up taking 3 part-time jobs. I’m glad I was so young, because I am still unsure how I handled it mentally.

I worked 2 days doing data entry for a start-up healthcare company, 3 days working at a non-profit trade association editing journal articles, and weekends staffing trade show booths for a window company. This went on for about a year until I landed my first full-time position with a non-profit working as a program admin. I was relieved to have found ONE full-time job, but it was no where near what I had hoped to be doing, and the work was miserable. I wish so badly I would’ve realized the value a mentor could’ve provided me at that time. I was so young, confused, and really looking for direction and it wasn’t something that was openly talked about. No matter your age, a mentor is critical. Write that down. 🙂

As friends started to land “dream jobs,” I felt pressured to start figuring my life out. This is a message I desperately would love for society to let go of. You will re-invent yourself over and over and over again, and with re-invention and growth comes new passions, new ideas, new jobs. That’s what life is.

About a year in to my first full-time position, I got a call from the company I had been a temp with editing journal articles. They had a full-time position open helping to plan programs and events for their annual conferences. BINGO – dream job. I wanted to be in the event space and this was my chance, so I took the role and off I went into career bliss, or so I thought.

This job taught me a lot about myself and the power of resourcefulness, as well as the type of employee I wanted to be. I learned so much. It pushed me WAY beyond my comfort zone, and I had great opportunities to travel and get a peek into what doing full-time events was like. I loved it for awhile, met amazing people, and then I burned the hell out – haha. 2 and half years later, I was done. I was disappointed; jobs like that were my DREAM (or so I thought). Realizing what that kind of work actually meant, I knew it was time for me to try something else. I decided that corporate might be fun and good for the resume, so I took a contract job with Target in grocery merchandising in hopes to land there full-time. (at the time, it was the best way to get “in the door”).

This is where the story bothers me to this day. I wish it didn’t, but it does. It was the worst and best decision I ever made. Target was NOT what I expected and likely because I came in as a contractor. I was on an island, not with a team of people, and literally doing everyone’s busy work. It was not sold that way to me when I accepted, and I really didn’t spend enough time thinking it through. I took a big risk leaving a full-time job, and it didn’t pay off. Even though I tried with my manager to find ways to join full-time in another area, they eventually went through a massive lay-off, and with that I was gone 7 months in. I felt like a complete idiot and STILL struggle with the confidence I lost from that experience to this day. But, it did teach me something important. Not all risks will pay-off, and you need to be prepared for that. Fail fast, fail forward, but do not sit in the failures. Accept it for what it is, take what you can learn, and move on. I sat in the failure for a LONG time, and it affected me in more ways than one.

Applying for unemployment humbles you in a way I can’t exactly explain. Searching/applying for jobs 8-10 hours a day also takes a toll on your confidence. It was one of the saddest times in my life. Luckily, I was teaching dance 2 nights a week so that helped, but it was still hard. I can’t tell you how many jobs I applied and interviewed for and didn’t get over the course of 2.5 months. Hearing the “sorry, you didn’t get the job” message over and over again was painful, and what was even more painful was that I wasn’t even sure what I was supposed to be doing with my life.

It wasn’t until a recruiter (whom I STILL speak to) came into my life and really worked with me on what I wanted. I wanted to go into marketing since day 1 of leaving college, and she helped me realize it was time to explore that again. I also realized I needed to work for a company that had a mission to help people. With that, I interviewed for a marketing communications contractor job at my current company. It felt comfortable and like home in the interviews, and later that day I got the call that I got the job. I was shocked. I had a varied skill set with some experience in marketing and a degree in communications, but not a lot of background in that particular role. But, they took a chance on me, and I haven’t forgotten it yet. 8 years into my career, I finally had the job I had set out to have after graduation.

Over time, I became a full-time employee and recently celebrated my 5 year anniversary. Has it been perfect? Of course not, but I believe what happened to me at Target put me in the path to have what I have now. I found work I love, people I love to work WITH, and a company that encourages mentorship, career growth and new opportunities. The amount I’ve learned is beyond what I ever imaged when I walked in the door 5 years ago, and I am not the same person I was then either. The hardest part has been finding my confidence again. I’ve struggled quite a bit with it and being unsure of myself. I’m now just starting to come out of it, 5 years later.

I’m grateful to work for a thoughtful and responsible company doing brand marketing & communications, and I’ve got to tell stories from our patients who’s lives have been saved by our products, travel to trade shows (still get a little taste of the event world), and show how powerful marketing & content can be when we listen to our audience. This was never my dream job, but it became my dream job over time and with a lot of hard work and some (lots of) tears.

I guarantee the road will continue to change as I grow even more, learn new things and find out what else I might be passionate about. Every step of the way I’ve not known what the outcome would be, but I followed what felt right in that moment. I tried not to let “having the perfect resume” dictate my decisions. Interviews don’t have to be impersonal and my best advice is to be HONEST. You don’t want to work for someone who expects perfection, so to share how you failed and learned from it shows that you will figure it out again when you fail next time – cause if you are a human, you will. 🙂 Once I embraced my story and realized I was the only one making it a big deal, it was much easier to share these things. I also learned quickly that nearly everyone around me had a similar story – it’s not uncommon.

To wrap this up, no one has it all figured out. Most people don’t know where they will be in 5-10 years. You will continue to change and evolve over time. This is normal, acceptable and encouraged. Work for someone who advocates for you & believes in you, be there for your colleagues, and do more than what’s expected. When you do those things, the winding journey will become your biggest asset.

-Heather

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