Dear Sarah Von,
I’m a sophomore in college in an odd transition period – I’m transferring to a college in the Pacific Northwest in the fall and studying abroad this spring to get away from where I am. I am curious about your college-to-current-career path story, you’ve said snippets of it on your blog but I want details! Politely requested, of course!
Oh, dude. You flatter me! The story of my career is (like most people’s) a series of wrong turns + lots of hard work + a generous sprinkling of luck. But I’m totally happy to share what I did and the lessons I learned. Also: may I suggest reading my two posts on how to become a grown up? Cause that ish is help.ful if I do say so myself.
So. Here’s my (summarized) professional history and what I learned from it.
Intern at my tiny hometown newspaper, earning minimum wage and answering phones. But I also get to write stories that appear on the front page, interview people, take photos, proof submissions, and re-write press releases. The pay is so low I have to get a second summer job managing the local thrift store and I feel deeply jealous of my friends working at bars and factories making $16+ an hour. Befriend a co-worker who eventually recommends me for my next internship.
Lesson learned: Connections and work experience are worth way, way, way more than cash.
Intern at a local ad agency. Again, minimum wage. I do all sorts of boring intern things like stuffing envelopes, place follow up calls, fax press releases. But I also get to write press releases and copy and things that appear in national media. Sometimes I get free tickets to ridiculous concerts. Like Michael Bolton. Obviously, I attend said concerts.
Lesson learned: You are never above any type of work
Summer of 2002
Teach English in Brazil. Go to the rain forest by myself. Fend of dicey host dad.
Lessons learned: What you think makes you happy and what actually makes you happy are quite different. Also: you are so much tougher than you thought.
Autumn of 2002
Work as an event planner at a fancy agency in Minneapolis, earning so, so much less than you think event planners earn. Boss is The-Devil-Wears-Prada caliber awful. Spend almost every night and weekend working events. At one point, I stay up for 36 hours straight. I start to get anxiety stomachaches every Sunday night.
Lesson learned: It doesn’t matter if your job seems cool and fun, if you hate it and it’s making you sick, quit.
Burn out on the corporate world. Become an ESL teacher. Teach in Taiwan, Italy, New Zealand, Peru, Nepal, Thailand, Minnesota.
Start Yes and Yes because I can’t find the type of blog I want to read, so I figure I’ll just start one myself. Instead of using the journalistic or pr or academic writing voice I’ve used in the past, I write in my own voice about the things I want to talk about. Somewhat surprisingly, people seem to be totally into it.
Lesson learned: As cliche as it is, being yourself and doing what you like really can lead to success. Not always – but when partnered with lots and lots of hard work you can get there.
Companies and individuals start to approach me about writing for them and helping them navigate the internet. Because I’ve been blogging seven days a week for 2+ years and I have a background in pr and marketing, I feel like I can help. So, I do. And it works!
Lesson learned: Skills you learned outside of the office are just as useful as all that spreadsheet stuff.
early 2011 – present
I officially hang out my shingle, start promoting myself and my services and taking on more and more clients. I tell my friends what I’m doing and they refer people to me. I tell my blog readers what I’m doing. I write guest posts for other blogs. I have a million coffees, with a million people who want to ‘pick my brain.’ When locals want my help and can’t afford me, I tell them to buy me dinner and bring a notebook and I’ll just tell them what to do.
Lesson learned: Tell people what you’re doing. If they don’t need your help, maybe they know someone who does.
Whew! So that’s how I got from $4.75 an hour, writing about firefighter competitions to working with million dollar brands. I hope you’re still awake.
But tell me about you! What are the lessons you’ve learned in your professional journey? Are you surprised at where you ended up?