After Austin I was so incredibly lost, it was as if someone had come in and quite literally pulled the rug from under me. My dad had made it seem like getting a job and moving onto adulthood from the magnificent, protected pseudo-adulthood that is college was easy and maybe it was in 1977 or even 2007, but after the economy crashed it simply put was not, even for those of my peers that knew what they wanted to do.
It is funny now as I reconnect with friends from long ago they all say the one thing I knew in college and way before…. I did not and was not cut out to sit in an office for 8-10 hours a day. When I recount to friends how I have been working with a career coach and realized that the office thing is never going to workout for me the resounding answer from anyone that knew or knows me well is “I could have told you that!”. You were always the dreamer.. the person that never quite fit in the box, the hot pink crayon in the neutral section of the box.
If I had listened to myself which is often an incredibly hard thing for anyone to do, especially a former people pleaser, I knew that too. In college I purchased a book about careers that wouldn’t keep you chained to a desk, but still I had this non-stop nagging voice in the back of my head of what I should be doing or preparing to do, coupled with an unspoken expectation from my dad about following in his footsteps.. being the child of his that went to the corporate office and did the thing everyday, climbed the ladder and ended up with more money and in his mind happiness than I could ever fathom.
However, if we take this story way back to when people first start asking you what you want to be when you grow up in pre-school and kindergarten I never, ever once had the same answers as my peers. While they said firefighter, mom, teacher, accountant, police officer, nurse, doctor, I said rockette, dolphin trainer, astronaut. There was never one part of me that wanted a conventional life.
Fast forward many years and I would read a book in my education program on child development that would basically assert that who you are in kindergarten is fundamentally who you are in life. The principle being that while there are somethings that you will grow out of there are far more things like parts of your character and personality that will not change, they will actually only grow stronger with age and experience.
Well, I can tie this back to my dreamer status as a child, other kids would say you can’t be a dolphin trainer that’s not a “real” job for grownups. I would reply with well I can be whatever I want. By the way that stubborn, sort of bossy, confidence is still very much a part of me, though it disappeared for a bit during the middle school years.
Despite what I knew about myself after Austin I went back to something I had informational interviewed about while in college, public relations and the communications industry.
Back when I was a sophomore I had spoken with a woman, Lulu, that worked for my dad in Miami, running Latin American PR for the large corporation he was working for at the time. Lulu was perhaps the coolest woman I had ever spoken to and probably someone if my dad had actually known her he would not have had me talk to at all, for she herself had lived an anything but conventional life until she was forced out of it. She had been a dead head who followed the Grateful Dead around until her boyfriend got her pregnant and quite literally left her barefoot and pregnant in San Francisco to continue his journey with the dead. At that point Lulu decided to put herself through college and took a job on Bill Clinton’s staff as a Public Relations person. She ensured me this was the best way to learn what you wanted to learn about PR, work in DC first then move on. Well politics did not interest me in the slightest, but what she did on a daily basis intrigued me. She met with the press, held press conferences, was out in the community as the spokesperson for the corporation and got to travel a lot. Public relations sounded pretty great to me then so circa 6 years later I figured why not give it a try??
So I reached out to my network on LinkedIn and started applying for every public relations and marketing job I could find while also thinking of alternative ways to break into the industry via promotional modeling and brand ambassador positions and sure enough those positions were easy enough to find.
Of course during this tenure of life I was back to what I called at this juncture.. my day job … serving crab cakes to tourists as brand ambassador and promo modeling positions are rarely full time.
Promotional modeling and brand ambassador positions honestly taught me more about people, marketing and public relations than I feel I honestly would have garnered working at any firm.
I worked for Phillip Morris, even though I am probably one of the most anti tobacco people you could ever meet and one of the few people that has never touched a cigarette in my life, and let me tell you if you want to understand marketing from the inside out I highly encourage you to see the subliminal marketing tobacco companies use to target and hook children and keep them hooked well into adulthood. Being a promotional model taught me how to get comfortable selling a product which really means selling yourself on it first. You need to be well versed enough to be believable to the consumer, key things when working in PR.
One of the first rules of public relations is to make sure you believe whatever you are saying especially in crisis PR, which is where the majority of my public relations career would be. If you don’t believe it the public certainly will not. Brand ambassador positions taught me this as I started to truly believe in some of the brands I represented and their brand story and realized when I did not I was a lot less effective. However, it also taught me spin and how to fake it until you make it. The first day with Phillip Morris I learned that not one person on my team smoked and that we weren’t in fact allowed to actually promote our brand just hype it up without really talking about it which in turn creates even more excitement around the brand because no one knows what it is. My job was in essence to build up hype and get them inside our trailer where we could give them coupons and free trials on our new Snus product and a cool non-branded, organic t-shirt with a peace sign or guitar on it. The irony in a cigarette company offering organic tees is not lost on me, but if you want to know how to sell even when you can’t sell in the conventional ways I encourage you to get a job with a tobacco company.
After a summer and fall spent serving and working the brand ambassador/promo modeling angle I landed a job with a fellow BUFF who was starting a endurance fitness based retreat company. I was to be the one woman communications team, meaning I would be trusted with everything from event planning to press release writing to pitching and meeting with the press to running the events and writing press kits as well as answering inquires and finding staff to train clients on these retreats and locating the venues with the best amenities for clients. This was to date the best job I have ever had because I was not micro managed and I loved what I did. I am a huge health, wellness and fitness fanatic so combining that passion with a paid job was a dream. The owner even listened to me and found a charitable organization for us to donate a portion of proceeds to. I was on cloud nine, however it was 2011 and the economy had not recovered yet so people just were not spending like they were pre-recession so unfortunately the did not make it, but now I was convinced PR and communications were for me after all. This was how I would spend my life’s work, but maybe for a non-profit where I could give back more, as that passion for social justice was still very much alive inside of me and I had continued to fulfill that through a volunteer position at a soup kitchen tutoring adults to help them pass the GED, as you can see the education sector was always an influence as well and this particular position came out of an experience I had at my first job at 14 where I worked with a chef that could not read. I spent time after my shift helping him decipher the English language and I remember thinking to myself oh my goodness this man was born and raised in the US and is 45 and cannot read! I was shocked and horrified and worked my hardest to help him at every chance. I will never forget the first time he picked up a ticket off the line and did not have to have it read to him, but read it himself. It was pure, unfiltered joy. I think even then in that hot, sweaty kitchen I knew I wanted to do something where I gave back. What? Not a clue, but something.
Then I landed a job doing crisis public relations and marketing for an incredible non-profit that is also highly controversial, Planned Parenthood. It was not long until the burnout set in for me. No matter how much I believed in the work we did I could not escape the stress of such a controversial and political position. I believe in affordable healthcare for all men, women and children including reproductive healthcare and a woman’s right to choose what is right for her, to me this is a very fundamental right and something we have far too little of in the United States. However, many people including those in my extended family do not believe the same. The stress from standing up for what I believed in publicly and privately while being berated day in and day out from far right groups and mega churches was simply too much, coupled with the fact that I was very much attached to my desk most days of the week. I was now part of a communications team and the low man on the totem pole meaning I wrote everything, my boss edited it, I corrected it then I put together media hit lists, an internal blog and answered school students questions for their publications. My days consisted of meetings in between cube life. I longed for freedom. It turned out corporate public relations probably was not for me, but trust me when I say I have been through hell and high water and there is always a silver lining in something learned from the experience. For me with this position I learned that I loved listening to the health center managers, meeting with them and helping them devise solutions to getting people in the door for the services they offered as well as promoting the services we offered that few people knew we had. Again the social justice angle came up, along with the lack of a desire to sit at a desk all day and the creativity that most people saw inside of me. I loved working on the solution to the social justice issue of access to affordable health care.
This was the beginning of the end for me and Public Relations, but these jobs were all more than worth it because without all of them coupled together I would have never started to realize that maybe this was not my life work. I was also starting to see or feel that if I was right and that this was not for me that I would have failed and that was really really scary especially for a perfectionist. However, I encourage every single person out there to fail because without failures and dreamers, two things I am no longer afraid to admit that I am not one person in this world would be successful. So yes I am saying it is so ok to fail and I highly encourage it if you ever want to succeed.
“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty six times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”